EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Clarify Protection for Nation’s Streams and Wetlands

April 4, 2014
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Julia Q. Ortiz):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) today jointly released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources. The proposed rule will benefit businesses by increasing efficiency in determining coverage of the Clean Water Act. The agencies are launching a robust outreach effort over the next 90 days, holding discussions around the country and gathering input needed to shape a final rule.

Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. For nearly a decade, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked for a rule-making to provide clarity.

The proposed rule clarifies protection for streams and wetlands. The proposed definitions of waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”

“America’s waters and wetlands are valuable resources that must be protected today and for future generations,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “Today’s rulemaking will better protect our aquatic resources, by strengthening the consistency, predictability, and transparency of our jurisdictional determinations. The rule’s clarifications will result in a better public service nationwide.”

The health of rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters depend on the streams and wetlands where they begin. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities – they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. They are also economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.

About 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S. only flow seasonally or after rain, but have a considerable impact on the downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely in part on these streams. These are important waterways for which EPA and the Army Corps is clarifying protection.

Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act and based on the science:

  • Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected.
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
  • Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant. However, to provide more certainty, the proposal requests comment on options protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis.
  • The proposed rule preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. Additionally, EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 56 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements. The agencies will work together to implement these new exemptions and periodically review, and update USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation practice standards and activities that would qualify under the exemption. Any agriculture activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.

    The proposed rule also helps states and tribes – according to a study by the Environmental Law Institute, 36 states have legal limitations on their ability to fully protect waters that aren’t covered by the Clean Water Act.

    The proposed rule is supported by the latest peer-reviewed science, including a draft scientific assessment by EPA, which presents a review and synthesis of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature. The rule will not be finalized until the final version of this scientific assessment is complete.

    Forty years ago, two-thirds of America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters were unsafe for fishing and swimming. Because of the Clean Water Act, that number has been cut in half. However, one-third of the nation’s waters still do not meet standards.

    The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. The interpretive rule for agricultural activities is effective immediately.

    More information: http://www.epa.gov/uswaters

    Watch Administrator McCarthy’s overview: http://youtu.be/ow-n8zZuDYc

    Watch Deputy Chief of Staff Arvin Ganesan’s explanation: http://youtu.be/fOUESH_JmA0

    From the Denver Business Journal (Caitlin Hendee):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper joined 15 GOP senators Thursday to urge the Obama administration to reconsider a rule that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate marshes, ponds and streams in states…

    Hickenlooper expressed concern to federal officials that the rule change would stonewall the state’s ability to manage key water systems, and could negatively impact the Colorado economy.
    The rule-change would give the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers clarification on what wetlands and waters they can manage and regulate, such as asking the state to pass a water-quality certification…

    Hickenlooper’s worry was expressed by 15 GOP Senators in a letter sent to the Obama administration that faulted the EPA for asking for the ability to regulate the small water systems before a government peer-reviewed scientific assessment was complete. The senators are concerned about the power invoked by the Clean Water Act and the impact it might have on drought management in several Western states…

    The EPA’s draft scientific assessment, used to inform the proposed rule, will be reviewed and completed at the end of this year or early next year.

    From Water Online (Sara Jerome):

    Conservatives and industry players are skeptical of the proposed rule. Critics are describing it “as a government land grab,” according to a Fox News report. “The proposal immediately sparked concerns that the regulatory power could extend into seasonal ponds, streams, and ditches, including those on private property.”

    “The…rule may be one of the most significant private property grabs in U.S. history,” said Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in the Fox News report.

    Bloomberg BNA reported: “All natural and artificial tributaries and wetlands that are adjacent to or near larger downstream waters would be subject to federal Clean Water Act protections.”

    “The agencies also included an interpretive rule, immediately effective, that clarifies that the 53 specific conservation practices identified by the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect or improve water quality won’t be subject to dredge-and-fill permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” the report said.

    One thing seems clear: This proposal will probably land the government in court. “The regulatory action might provoke legal challenges from several economic sectors—including the agriculture, construction and energy industries. Opponents say the rules could delay projects while permits are sought for dredging, filling, or drainage in more areas,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

    But proponents of the rule said it’s a no-brainer. “The rule simply clarifies the scope of jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, ending years of confusion and restoring fundamental protections to waters that serve as the drinking supply for 117 million Americans,” said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, a nonprofit public-interest law group, in the New York Times.

    From the Associated Press (Hope Yen) via ABC News:

    Industry groups and more than a dozen GOP senators are urging the Obama administration to reconsider plans to regulate many of the nation’s streams and wetlands, saying the proposed rule hurts economic activity and oversteps legal bounds.

    In a letter Thursday, the senators faulted the Environmental Protection Agency for announcing a proposed rule last week before the government’s peer-reviewed scientific assessment was fully complete. They are calling on the government to withdraw the rule or give the public six months to review it, rather than the three months being provided.

    The senators’ move puts them among several groups — from farmers and land developers to Western governors worried about drought management — in expressing concern about a long-running and heavily litigated environmental issue involving the Clean Water Act that has invoked economic interests, states’ rights and presidential power.

    The letter was led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and signed by 14 other GOP senators.

    “We believe that this proposal will negatively impact economic growth by adding an additional layer of red tape to countless activities that are already sufficiently regulated by state and local governments,” the letter to EPA chief Gina McCarthy said.

    Alisha Johnson, the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for external affairs and environmental education, said the EPA’s draft scientific assessment, used to inform the proposed rule, was being reviewed and wouldn’t be complete until the end of this year or early next year. The EPA rule will not be finalized until the scientific assessment is fully complete, and will take into account public comments, she said.

    From The Greeley Tribune:

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on [March 25] released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

    The agencies, according to an EPA news release, are launching a robust outreach effort over the next 90 days, holding discussions around the country and gathering input needed to shape a final rule.

    Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

    The proposed rule also preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 53 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements.

    Any ag activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Thousands of miles of Colorado streams would gain stricter protection under a new approach the Obama administration unveiled this week. The goal is to prevent further fouling, filling-in and dredging of streams, tributaries and wetlands by requiring polluters to obtain permits. The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the change.

    Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 forced federal authorities trying to contain pollution to first prove a stream is linked with “navigable waters.” The new approach would allow regulation of all flowing waters, including temporary streams — while preserving exemptions for agriculture. Just how many more streams are likely to be regulated remains unclear.

    “I don’t know what the actual number is,” regional EPA administrator Shaun McGrath said Wednesday. But he said the new rule will clear up uncertainty about what waters the EPA has jurisdiction over under the Clean Water Act.

    EPA data show that 77,850 miles of waterways in Colorado are temporary — only flowing seasonally or during rain — and are deemed at risk because it’s not clear whether polluters can be controlled.

    “Clean water’s important for my business,” said Jonathan Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks. “This matters. Perception is important. If people feel like your water quality is bad, they’re less likely to book a vacation.”

    Environment groups urged swift passage.

    “This isn’t going to mean there will never be a spill or that polluters will never get away with illegal dumping. But it will mean the EPA can actually go out and regulate a huge amount of waterways,” Environment Colorado water campaign director Kim Stevens said.

    But Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, chairman of the Western Governors Association, warned federal officials that the rule change “could impinge upon state authority in water management” and called for better EPA consultation with states.

    Hickenlooper did not take a position on stricter protection. “We are concerned that states were not involved and the governor will withhold judgment until we engage Colorado’s water stakeholders,” spokeswoman Denise Stepto said.

    The American Farm Bureau and land developers oppose the change, saying it would impose unnecessary burdens on their activities. However, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler sent a letter to federal authorities applauding their efforts to make sure the rule would exclude ditches, ponds and irrigation systems — preserving farming and forestry exemptions.

    “There is no disagreement among America’s ranchers and farmers that clean water is critical to our ability to produce food and fiber for the nation,” Peppler said.

    The proposed change faces 90 days of public comment and possible review by Congress, which could take months.

    Here’s a release from Earth Justice:

    [March 25] the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to restore long-standing Clean Water Act protections to streams and many wetlands across the country. These protections, which stood for decades since Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, were dismantled in the last decade by two Supreme Court decisions that created confusion about how to interpret which water bodies should be covered under the Clean Water Act and by policies of the George W. Bush administration that removed longstanding protections from many streams and wetlands. As a result, 59 percent of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands were left vulnerable to toxic pollution.

    The new rule reinstates protections for many of those waters based on an analysis of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted by an EPA independent science advisory panel last year. The proposed rule must now be opened for public comment before the Obama Administration can move forward with finalizing it.

    The following is a statement from Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen:

    “We applaud the EPA for proposing a rule that would reinstate clean water protections for streams and wetlands that supply the drinking water of 117 million Americans.

    “Unfortunately, for the last decade while these protections have lapsed, we have seen the consequences of not protecting our waters. Today, more than 55 percent of our rivers and streams are in ‘poor’ condition, considered unfit for drinking, swimming, or fishing.

    “As the West Virginia chemical spill shows, the cost of not having clean water is too great a price to pay.

    “The EPA’s new Clean Water Act rule finally restores protections so that we can begin the hard work of cleaning up our waters for our children to swim in, fish in, and drink from.

    “No doubt, polluters will rail and lobby against this rule and any other clean water safeguards that keep them from dumping their toxic waste in our communities and waters, or that hold them accountable for their pollution.

    “We cannot back down on protecting the waters that eventually flow through our faucets. Our children, our health, and our very drinking water are at stake. We urge the Obama administration to resist the polluter lobbies and quickly move forward in protecting our waterways and our families.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    As Big As It Gets: Clean Water Act Rulemaking

    March 31, 2014

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    By Mark Scharfenaker

    Everyone seriously interested in water quality throughout the United States has 90 days to let EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and federal lawmakers know what they think about the agency’s newly proposed rule intended to clarify just where in a watershed the protections of the Clean Water Act cease to apply.

    This long-awaited rulemaking aims to define CWA jurisdiction over streams and wetlands distant from “navigable” waters of the United States…the lines of which were muddied by recent Supreme Court rulings rooted in a sense that perhaps EPA and the Corps had strayed too far in requiring CWA dredge-and-fill permits for such “waters” as intermittent streams and isolated potholes.

    This rule is as big as it gets in respect to protecting waterways from nonfarm pollutant discharges, and the proposal has not calmed the conflict between those who want the jurisdictional line closer to navigable waters and…

    View original 788 more words

    EPA: Addressing Crucial Water Issues in Our Communities — Nancy Stoner

    March 24, 2014

    From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

    This year, we here at EPA celebrate the 20th anniversary of President Clinton signing Executive Order 12898, which directed federal agencies to address environmental disparities in minority and low-income communities. We’ve certainly accomplished a lot since the order was signed, but sadly, too many people still breathe dirty air, live near toxic waste dumps, or lack reliable access to clean water. But we continue to make progress in all of those areas, and here in EPA’s Office of Water, I’m proud of how we’re helping communities across America—both rural and urban—address their most crucial water issues.

    Last fall, I was in Laredo, Texas and visited a community near the U.S.-Mexico border called the colonias, which until recently did not have regular access to clean water. Thanks to funding from EPA’s U.S.-Mexico Border Infrastructure Program, 3,700 people in the colonias now have access to a modern sewer system. We also have a program that provides funding for the planning, design and construction of wastewater infrastructure for American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Providing access to clean water to people who have never had it before is one of the most important things we have the power and resources to do.

    In 2012, I traveled to Baltimore to help announce funding from EPA’s Urban Waters program that’s being use to educate residents in the Patapsco watershed about the benefits of water conservation and give people the know-how to reduce water usage at home. Urban waterways can provide myriad economic, environmental and community benefits, and EPA is helping dozens of communities across the country reconnect with these important, valuable resources.

    Our drinking water program is also providing substantial funding to help improve small drinking water systems across the country, which comprise more than 94% of the nation’s public drinking water systems. Small systems, those that serve fewer than 3,500 people, face unique financial and operational challenges in providing drinking water that meets federal standards. Last year, we provided close to $13 million to help train staff at small systems and give them tools to enhance system their operations and management practices.

    This year, I’m proud to celebrate 20 years of EPA’s work to make a visible difference in communities across the country. We’ve made so much progress over the last two decades, and I know we’ll make even more over the next 20 years.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Colorado State University researchers receive $2.2 million for efforts to improve water quality

    January 31, 2014
    Blue-Green algae bloom

    Blue-Green algae bloom

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    Today at the 14th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment in Washington, D.C., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a grant of $2.2 million to the Center for Comprehensive, OptimaL and Effective Abatement of Nutrients (CLEAN) at Colorado State University to demonstrate sustainable solutions for reduction of nutrient pollution in the nation’s waterways.

    Colorado State University is among four research institutions receiving a total of $9 million in EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants to advance innovative and sustainable water research to manage harmful nutrient pollution. Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways.

    The mission of Colorado State University’s CLEAN Center is to create knowledge, build capacity, and forge collaboration to develop and demonstrate sustainable solutions for reduction of nutrient pollution in the nation’s water resources. Colorado State University researchers will use the EPA grant to lead a multi-stakeholder effort to study and control the sources of excess nutrients in wastewater, stormwater, agricultural water, and natural systems. Key areas of research include: wastewater treatment technologies; water reuse systems; urban stormwater management; agricultural conservation; socioeconomic incentives; nutrient trading; and water rights.

    “These grants will go towards research to help us better manage nutrients and better protect our precious water resources from the dangers of nutrient pollution, especially in a changing climate,” said Administrator McCarthy.

    When excessive nitrogen and phosphorus enter our waterways — usually via stormwater runoff and industrial activities — our water can become polluted. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and health issues, and negatively impacting the economy. For example, nutrient pollution can reduce oxygen levels in water, leading to illnesses in fish and the death of large numbers of fish. In some cases nutrient pollution leads to elevated toxins and bacterial growth in waters that can make people sick.

    The Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants announced by Administrator McCarthy are an integral part of EPA’s research on water quality and availability. Improving existing water infrastructure is costly, which makes creating new and sustainable approaches to water use, reuse and nutrient management important.

    These grants support sustainable water research and demonstration projects consistent with a comprehensive strategy for managing nutrients and active community engagement throughout the research process.

    In addition to Colorado State University, the following institutions received grants:

    · Pennsylvania State University Center for Integrated Multi-scale Nutrient Pollution Solutions, to focus on nutrient flows in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake basin

    · University of South Florida Center for Reinventing Aging Infrastructure for Nutrient Management, to support Tampa Bay and similar coastal areas as they face problems of aging wastewater collection and treatment systems, and rapid population growth

    · Water Environment Research Foundation, Alexandria, Va., National Center for Resource Recovery and Nutrient Management, for innovative research in nutrient reduction through resource recovery and behavioral factors affecting acceptance and implementation.

    For more information on Colorado State University’s CLEAN Center, visit: http://www.engr.colostate.edu/ce/

    For more information on the grants and projects, visit: http://epa.gov/ncer/nutrient

    For more information on EPA-funded research supporting water quality and availability, visit: http://www.epa.gov/research/waterscience

    More water pollution coverage here.

    EPA: Every sector of the U.S. economy is influenced by water. Read more in our new report.

    January 4, 2014

    EPA: Ways you can help protect and restore our waters & reduce the impacts of climate change

    December 17, 2013

    State hopes to recover the $49,000 it spent stabilizing the illegal Red Arrow mill site in Mancos

    November 16, 2013

    Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

    Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:

    The state spent more than $49,000 to stabilize mercury-tainted material at an illegal gold mill in Mancos. Now the state mining board wants Red Arrow Gold Corp. to repay the money, and it moved Wednesday to revoke the company’s mining permit.

    Red Arrow owner Craig Liukko did not attend Wednesday’s hearing in Denver, but in letters to regulators, he blamed the problems on a former business partner and a receiver appointed by a bankruptcy court, who has controlled access to Red Arrow’s property since April.

    The state excavated and isolated soil at the mill, and it isn’t currently presenting a hazard, said Loretta Pineda, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…

    More mercury remains to be removed from the Out West mine north of U.S. Highway 160, mining inspectors said. Pineda’s division is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a permanent cleanup. And she still does not know the degree of pollution the mill produced in the past. The EPA is testing samples to figure out if there was a past risk, Pineda said…

    On Wednesday, the Mined Land Reclamation Board found Red Arrow in violation of its order from August to clean up the site and pay a $100,000 fine. The board increased the fine to $285,000, increased Red Arrow’s bond and started the procedure to revoke Red Arrow’s mining permit in the next two months.

    As part of the cleanup, the state removed mill tailings from a nearby pasture and the Western Excelsior aspen mill, across the street from the Red Arrow operation. Western Excelsior officials thought they were getting sand to patch holes in their lot, said Kyle Hanson, a manager at the aspen mill. The state did a good job of removing the mill tailings, he said…

    The mining division spent its entire emergency fund on the initial cleanup, Pineda said. State officials want Red Arrow to repay them…

    The Mined Land Reclamation Board also cracked down Wednesday on another Red Arrow property, the Freda mine west of Silverton. Both portals at the mine have collapsed, and stormwater berms have failed, allowing tainted water an tailings to flow off the site toward Ruby Creek, said Wally Erickson, an inspector for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The board fined Red Arrow $2,500 for the violations at the Silverton mine.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    EPA: The Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy

    November 13, 2013
    Freshwater withdrawals as a percent of available precipitation (2005) via the EPA

    Freshwater withdrawals as a percent of available precipitation (2005) via the EPA

    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    EPA is releasing a Synthesis Report on the Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy. This report is intended to help raise the awareness of water’s importance to our national economic welfare, and to summarize information that public and private decision-makers can use to better manage the nation’s water resources. It highlights EPA’s review of the literature and practice on the importance of water to the U.S. economy, identifies key data gaps, and describes the implication of the study’s findings for future research. EPA hopes this report will be a catalyst for a broader discussion about water’s critical role in the U.S. economy.

    Water is vital to a productive and growing economy in the United States, and directly affects the production of many goods and services. While some data are available about how important clean and available water is to various economic sectors–including agriculture, tourism, fishing, manufacturing, and energy production — the information is often dispersed and incomplete. Additionally, understanding the economic significance of water is difficult because it depends upon several interacting elements: the volume supplied, where and when it is supplied, whether the supply is reliable, and whether the quality of the water meets the requirements of its intended use.

    Importance of Water Synthesis Report (PDF) (37 pp, 2MB, About PDF)

    Find out more about EPA’s study Components
    Read a blog on the report by acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner.

    For more information or to provide feedback to EPA on this study, please contact us at: ImportanceOfWater@epa.gov

    EPA’s study is not a new law, regulation, guidance, or policy, and does not change any existing laws, regulations, guidances, or policies.

    The EPA releases their Climate Resilience Evaluation & Awareness Tool (CREAT)

    November 9, 2013

    CREAT logo via the EPA

    From the Environmental Protection Agency:

    EPA has developed CREAT, a software tool to assist drinking water and wastewater utility owners and operators in understanding potential climate change threats and in assessing the related risks at their individual utilities. CREAT provides users with access to the most recent national assessment of climate change impacts for use in considering how these changes will impact utility operations and missions. Version 2.0 is now available for download free of charge.

    CREAT allows users to evaluate potential impacts of climate change on their utility and to evaluate adaptation options to address these impacts using both traditional risk assessment and scenario-based decision making. CREAT provides libraries of drinking water and wastewater utility assets (e.g., water resources, treatment plants, pump stations) that could be impacted by climate change, possible climate change-related threats (e.g., flooding, drought, water quality), and adaptive measures that can be implemented to reduce the impacts of climate change. The tool guides users through identifying threats based on regional differences in climate change projections and designing adaptation plans based on the types of threats being considered. Following assessment, CREAT provides a series of risk reduction and cost reports that will allow the user to evaluate various adaptation options as part of long-term planning.

    For more information see CREAT Fact Sheet (PDF) (2 pp, 400K)
    For CREAT training, visit the Climate Ready Water Utilities page, Training Tab

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    EPA: Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment Fifth Report to Congress

    August 27, 2013

    Click here to read the report.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here and here.

    ‘…the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground’ — The Durango Herald

    August 5, 2013


    Here’s Part I of The Durango Herald’s series on cleaning up Cement Creek written by (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister). Click here for the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

    At Red and Bonita Mine, the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground. There, especially after heavy rains, toxic amounts of metal gush out from within the mountain and bleed into Cement Creek. Peter Butler, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, said Cement Creek is one of the largest untreated mine drainages in the state of Colorado…

    Like all great earthly calamities, the environmental problem posed by Cement Creek – daunting, scientific and indifferent to protest – becomes human – legal, social, financial and technological – as soon as the focus moves to solutions. In this three-day series, The Durango Herald explores what has been done about this environmental hazard, possible ways forward, and what cleaning up Cement Creek might mean to Silverton, town motto: “The mining town that never quit.”[...]

    For much of the 1990s, scientists took heart that the metals flowing into the Animas from Cement Creek were diluted by the time the water reached Bakers Bridge, a swimming hole for daredevils about 15 miles upriver of Durango. But between 2005 and 2010, 3 out of 4 of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas River beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the USGS, both the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And starting in 2006, the level of pollution has overwhelmed even the old bellwether at Bakers Bridge: USGS scientists now find the water that flows under Bakers Bridge carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

    Bill Simon, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said cleaning up the environmental damage wrought by mining remains the unfinished business of previous centuries. “Getting anyone to pay is notoriously difficult,” he said. He noted that without robust regulation, it was common practice from the 1870s on for mining companies to take what they could and then go broke, abscond or incestuously merge with other mining entities, leaving the future to foot the bill…

    What keeps them working together? Simon, a longtime coordinator of the stakeholders group, said, “There is this overwhelming feeling: Let’s spend the money on the ground rather than in litigation.”[...]

    For a while, it appeared that the stakeholders’ collaborative effort to clean up Cement Creek was working: After Sunnyside Gold Corp. stoppered American Tunnel with the first of three massive concrete bulkheads in 1996, declining water flow from the site meant less metal pollution in Cement Creek. But Butler said that in 2004, the bulkheads stopped functioning like a cork in a wine bottle. Instead, they started working like a plug in a bathtub: Water, prevented from exiting the mountain through American Tunnel, rose up within the mountain until it reached other drainage points, namely, the Red and Bonita, Gold King and Mogul mines. Since then, Butler said, data shows that most metal concentrations in Cement Creek have “easily doubled” their pre-bulkhead amounts. He said as a result, the recent environmental damage done to the Animas has far outpaced gains made in other stakeholders group cleanup efforts, like the remediation of Mineral Creek, another Animas River tributary…

    Though federal budget cuts have seriously diminished the EPA and gutted its Superfund monies, the EPA says the mine drainage in Silverton has gotten so bad it may yet pursue a Superfund listing. And without federal intervention, even stalwarts of the Animas River Stakeholders Group say it’s not clear there will ever be enough money to clean up Cement Creek.

    Here’s Part II. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to Bill Simon, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, an organization that has tried since 1994 to ensure the Animas River’s water quality, the science behind the cleanup is comparatively simple: A limestone water-treatment plant would do the trick. The catch with this technology, he said, is that it’s expensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates it would cost between $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. was the last mining company to operate in Silverton. Bought in 2003 by Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate that generated billions in revenue last year, Sunnyside denies all liability for cleaning up Cement Creek. Sunnyside officials argue the state released it from liability in an agreement that partly depended on its building the American Tunnel bulkheads. These are the same bulkheads that, according to government scientists, are causing unprecedented amounts of metal to leak from mines higher up the mountain and flow into Cement Creek. The toxic cargo in turn flows into the Animas River.

    Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in Silverton, said the company has offered the EPA a $6.5 million settlement – an offer the EPA is mulling. In return for the money, Perino said Sunnyside is merely asking the EPA to reiterate that it is not liable for all damage going forward…

    If Sunnyside wants the EPA to release it from liability, at $6.5 million the EPA probably isn’t biting.

    “$6.5 million is a starting point,” said Mike Holmes, the EPA’s Denver-based remedial project manager for Region 8, which includes Silverton. The EPA could turn to the Superfund, a designation that gives the agency broad powers to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and force responsible parties to pay for the cleanup.

    Perino said Sunnyside vehemently opposes Cement Creek becoming a Superfund site, noting the people of Silverton oppose it, and that the designation likely would undermine Silverton’s economy and Sunnyside’s collaborative work with the Animas River Stakeholders.

    Peggy Linn, the EPA’s Region 8 community involvement coordinator, said if Silverton would support the EPA designating upper Cement Creek a Superfund site, making it easier for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign off on the designation, the agency might have a limestone water-treatment plant up and running within five years…

    And using about $8 million from government grants and in-kind donations, the group has managed significant environmental progress, including the cleanup of Mineral Creek. It has also lobbied U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to push Congress for good Samaritan legislation. This would protect “vigilante” environmentalists from taking on liability for the sites they try to reclaim.

    During Animas River Stakeholders meetings, there is a lot more talk about exciting emerging technologies that might address the mine drainage into Cement Creek cheaply than there is hot talk about holding Sunnyside’s feet to the fire.

    An exception is Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, who places the blame on Sunnyside and who is frustrated by others’ complacency on the subject. Metals draining out of Gold King Mine have increased tremendously since Sunnyside placed bulkheads into the American Tunnel. During a recent stakeholders meeting in Silverton Town Hall, Hennis lambasted the environmental record of Kinross Gold Corp., the mining conglomerate that owns Sunnyside. He said the only solution was for Sunnyside to remove the bulkheads from American Tunnel and pay for Cement Creek’s cleanup…

    Asked how personal tensions with Hennis were affecting the Animas River Stakeholders, co-coordinator Simon acknowledged, “we’ve all had our problems with Todd.” He said he did not like discussing it. “I think when Todd enters it, the conversation becomes kind of cheap and trite. We’ve all committed our lives to this thing.”

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.

    EPA: Over half the streams in the U.S. are in poor condition

    March 28, 2013


    From the Associated Press (Dina Cappiello) via The Denver Post:

    The Environmental Protection Agency sampled nearly 2,000 locations in 2008 and 2009—from rivers as large as the Mississippi River to streams small enough for wading. The study found more than 55 percent of them in poor condition, 23 percent in fair shape, and 21 percent in good biological health.

    The most widespread problem was high levels of nutrient pollution, caused by phosphorus and nitrogen washing into rivers and streams from farms, cities, and sewers. High levels of phosphorus—a common ingredient in detergents and fertilizers—were found in 40 percent of rivers and streams. Another problem detected was development. Land clearing and building along waterways increases erosion and flooding, and allows more pollutants to enter waters.

    Conditions are worse in the East, the report found. More than 70 percent of streams and rivers from the Texas coast to the New Jersey coast are in poor shape. Streams and rivers are healthiest in Western mountain areas, where only 26 percent were classified as in poor condition.

    The EPA also found some potential risks for human health. In 9 percent of rivers and streams, bacteria exceeded thresholds protective of human health. And mercury, which is toxic, was found in fish tissue along 13,000 miles of streams at levels exceeding health-based standards. Mercury, which is naturally occurring, also can enter the environment from coal-burning power plants and from burning hazardous wastes. The Obama administration finalized regulations to control mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants for the first time in late 2011.

    Click here to read the report

    More water pollution coverage here and here.

    EPA: Fix a leak week March 18-24 #codrought

    February 27, 2013


    From the Environmental Protection Agency Watersense Program:

    Did you know that the average American family can waste, on average, more than 11,000 gallons of water every year due to running toilets, dripping faucets, and other household leaks?

    Nationwide, more than 1 trillion gallons of water leak from U.S. homes each year. That’s why WaterSense reminds Americans to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems each year during Fix a Leak Week.

    WaterSense is teaming up with our partners to promote the fifth annual Fix a Leak Week, March 18-24, 2013.

    From New Mexico’s search for bad flappers to leak detection efforts in Texas, West Virginia and across the nation, explore our list of some of the Fix a Leak Week 2012 events.

    EPA Updates Rule for Pathogens in Drinking Water, Sets Limit for E. Coli

    January 1, 2013


    Here’s he release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has updated the rule for pathogens in drinking water, including setting a limit for the bacteria E. coli to better protect public health.

    The Revised Total Coliform Rule ensures that all of the approximately 155,000 public water systems in the United States, which provide drinking water to more than 310 million people, take steps to prevent exposure to pathogens like E. coli. Pathogens like E. coli can cause a variety of illnesses with symptoms such as acute abdominal discomfort or, in more extreme cases, kidney failure or hepatitis.

    Under the revised rule, public drinking water systems are required to notify the public if a test exceeds the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for E. coli in drinking water. If E. coli or other indications of drinking water contamination are detected above a certain level, drinking water facilities must assess the system and fix potential sources and pathways of contamination. High-risk drinking water systems with a history of non-compliance must perform more frequent monitoring. The revised rule provides incentives for small drinking water systems that consistently meet certain measures of water quality and system performance.

    Public water systems and the state and local agencies that oversee them must comply with the requirements of the Revised Total Coliform Rule beginning April 1, 2016. Until then, public water systems and primacy agencies must continue to comply with the 1989 version of the rule.

    The Safe Drinking Water Act requires that EPA review each National Primary Drinking Water Regulation, such as the Total Coliform Rule, at least once every six years. The outcome of the review of the 1989 Total Coliform Rule determined that there was an opportunity to reduce implementation burden and improve rule effectiveness while at the same time increasing public health protection against pathogens in the drinking water distribution systems. EPA’s revised rule incorporates recommendations from a federal advisory committee comprised of a broad range of stakeholders and considers public comments received during a public comment period held in fall 2010.

    For more information: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/tcr/regulation.cfm

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    New EPA Good Samaritan guideline, ‘does not provide as much liability protection as we would like’ — Peter Butler

    December 21, 2012


    From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

    “I think it is helpful. I know the EPA put a lot of effort into it and I’m glad that they did,” said Animas River Stakeholders Group co-director Peter Butler of Durango. “It helps define what the EPA can do, but it does not provide as much liability protection as we would like.”

    The new initiative seeks to give Good Samaritans assurances they will be free from Clean Water Act liability if they undertake a project to improve water quality at an abandoned draining mine adit.

    Specifically, the policy clarifies that Good Samaritan agreements with the EPA can include extended time periods that give Good Sams legal liability protection and that they are generally not responsible for obtaining a clean water permit during or after a successful clean-up…

    Butler, however, spelled out three specific concerns he has with the new policy.

    First, he said, the regulations merely provide guidance, and do not come down in the form of rules or statutes.

    Second, there is not much in that guidance to help protect Good Samaritans from third party lawsuits stemming from the ‘citizen’s suit’ provision of the federal Clean Water Act. This provision says that if someone suspects a violation of the Clean Water Act, a citizen may begin a legal action and if successful, the defending party will have to pay all of the legal expenses of the citizen’s group. If they are unsuccessful, the defendant does not have recourse to counter-sue.

    It’s the bugaboo that has always spooked potential Good Samaritans from taking action to directly treat point-source discharge at abandoned mines. Good Sams have walked away from many mine cleanup projects for fear that if they don’t bring the discharge water all the way up to CWA standards, they may be sued by a third-party citizen or even another environmental group.

    Third, Butler said, under the new EPA guidelines, the main protection offered defines Good Samaritans as non-operators. “Not everyone will fit that criteria very well,” he said. “It may rule out all state agencies” from engaging in Good Samaritan clean-up projects.

    In short, Butler said, the policy “is somewhat helpful but doesn’t solve the issue. It probably won’t make a difference.”

    However, he allowed, ARSG works closely with Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety on mine clean-up matters and is still waiting for state officials from that agency to weigh in the EPA memo.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    EPA Releases National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change

    December 18, 2012


    Here’s the link to the agency’s 2012 Water Program Strategy webpage. Click here to view a copy of the report. From the executive summary:

    Climate Change poses significant challenges to water resources and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Water Program (NWP). The NWP 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change addresses climate change in the context of our water programs. It emphasizes assessing and managing risk and incorporating adaptation into core programs. Many of the programs and activities already underway throughout the NWP—such as protecting healthy watersheds and wetlands; managing stormwater with green infrastructure; and improving the efficiency and sustainability of water infrastructure, including promoting energy and water efficiency, reducing pollutants, and protecting drinking water and public health—are even more important to do in light of climate change. However, climate change poses such significant challenges to the nation’s water resources that more transformative approaches will be necessary. These include critical reflection on programmatic assumptions and development and implementation of plans to address climate change’s challenges.

    This 2012 Strategy articulates such an approach. The reader is advised not to interpret the framing of individual strategic actions that use terms such as “encourage” or “consider” to mean that the NWP doesn’t recognize the urgency of action. Rather, we recognize that adaptation is itself transformative and requires a collaborative, problem-solving approach, especially in a resource-constrained environment. Further, “adaptive management” doesn’t imply a go-slow or a wait-and-see approach; rather, it is an active approach to understand vulnerability, reduce risk, and prepare for consequences while incorporating new science and lessons learned along the way.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Meanwhile, here’s a look at global temperatures from The New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

    For those who might be keeping score, we just passed the 333rd consecutive month of global temperatures above the 20th-century average. November 2012 was the fifth-warmest November since records began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its monthly climate report. The agency calculated that the 10 warmest Novembers on record have all occurred within the past 12 years. The last time global temperatures came in below the 20th-century average for the month of November was in 1976, and the last time any month came in below the average was February 1985…

    La Niña years are usually cooler than average globally, so scientists say that to have such years coming in among the top 10 warmest in the historical record is a testament to how much the climate is changing.

    Finally, the USFS has released a new report, Understanding the effects of a changing climate on native trout in the Rockies. Here’s the release:

    Record setting drought and temperatures like those experienced in 2012 may become the “new normal” that managers of aquatic resources in the Rocky Mountains have to contend with as the century progresses. Exploring the historical patterns and potential consequences of a changing climate on native trout habitats and populations to feed into better risk management assessments is the focus of a new study published in the science journal, Fisheries, “The Past as Prelude to the Future for Understanding 21st-Century Climate Effects on Rocky Mountain Trout.” The study was led by U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Research Fisheries Biologist Daniel Isaak, with collaborators from the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology.

    Many bioclimate models predict that large reductions in native trout populations will occur across the Rocky Mountains during the 21st century but the models lack details about how changes will occur. Long-term monitoring records from case history areas that include river basins in northwest Montana, central Idaho, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, western Wyoming and southern Colorado, show trends in temperature and stream flow that suggest trout habitats have already been altered by climate change during the last 50 years. “Unfortunately, similar long-term records for trout populations are lacking so scientists are unable to confirm simultaneous changes in trout populations,” said Isaak.

    The study goes on to state that local monitoring networks of biological, temperature, and stream flow data could be developed in a few years and used with new spatial stream analyses to provide high-resolution climate vulnerability assessments that would provide decision makers with “actionable intelligence” regarding where to most efficiently allocate conservation resources. These monitoring networks and vulnerability assessments could form a cornerstone for interagency collaborations and partnerships between research and management as all parties work to develop and enact the conservation strategies needed to preserve native trout in the Rocky Mountains this century.

    A copy of this study is featured in the latest issue of the American Fisheries Society’s Fisheries Magazine at www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/42330.

    Restoration: The EPA relaxes Clean Water Act permitting liability for some ‘Good Samaritan’ mine cleanups

    December 14, 2012


    Here’s the guidance document to EPA Regional Administrators from the Environmental Protection Agency:

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The memo from EPA national headquarters to the agency’s regional offices extends the legal liability protections in cleanup agreements and specifies that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

    The complex structure of the Clean Water Act has, in some cases, prevented community groups from proceeding with cleanups because of concerns over future liability for pollution.

    Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, has been leading efforts to facilitate more protection for voluntary remediation efforts. He announced the new EPA guidance this week, saying that it required persistent communication with the agency, as well as direct appeals to the White House.

    “This is a powerful statement coming from the EPA and I’m glad they decided to stand with me on this issue … True Good Samaritans can feel comfortable pursuing cleanups and partnerships with EPA knowing they won’t be responsible for pollution when they get done,” Udall said.

    There are more than 7,000 abandoned mine sites in Colorado, many of them leaching toxic heavy metals into streams to the detriment of aquatic life. Udall said the new EPA guidance could ease cleanup projects at the Pennsylvania Mine site along Peru Creek, in Summit County, as well as at the Tiger Mine, along the Arkansas near Leadville, in the Animas River Basin near Silverton and along Willow Creek, near Creede.

    “This new policy, which follows a multiyear effort I led, is welcome news for my constituents and Good Samaritans everywhere. Abandoned mines in Colorado and across the West threaten our waterways and the environment,” Udall said in a prepared statement.

    “I am glad the EPA has partnered with me to develop this policy, which will free up Good Samaritans – like Trout Unlimited, the Animas River Stakeholders Group and the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee – to help protect our streams, waterways and drinking supplies. We still have work to do to address these abandoned mines, but this is a welcome step in the right direction that will unleash the power of local groups and volunteers.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday eased policy restrictions that had limited efforts by third parties to clean up abandoned hard rock mines. The move, which would enable third parties to partner with the agency for extended time periods and eliminate the need for a permit under the Clean Water Act during or after cleanup, may spur further reclamation here and at the nearly 7,000 abandoned mines in Colorado.

    Good Samaritan groups, as many of the nonprofit and community­based cleanup organizations have been called, had feared tackling projects that directly involved a pollution source out of fear of being held liable for the site by the agency.

    “The great thing here is that we’ve really superempowered these groups to go to work,” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D­ Colo., said in a conference call with reporters.

    The senator visited Creede in 2011 and met with the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee, which has been working for 13 years to clean up the historic mining district north of town. At the time, the group pointed to the Solomon Mine on East Willow Creek as a site where more work could be done if the threat of liability was erased. The group’s director could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

    The cleanup of the Tiger Mine near Leadville also was hampered by liability concerns. Elizabeth Russell, who heads mine cleanup efforts for Trout Unlimited in Colorado, said financial considerations might limit any immediate work on the project, but she said it was tailor­made for the new policy.

    “The Tiger Mine is probably the best situation where this could probably work,” she said. Udall said he would monitor efforts under the new policy to see if a legislative fix was needed. But one effort he intends to push for is a bill that would allow federal funds for coal mine cleanup also to be directed toward hard­rock sites.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Denver Water warns about lead in water in older homes with outdated plumbing

    November 8, 2012


    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

    Denver Water wants to remind customers that if you live in an older home, you may have lead in your plumbing, which could affect the water coming out of your tap.

    Every year, Denver Water collects more than 10,000 water samples, runs more than 50,000 water quality tests throughout its system, and mails a water quality report to customers to describe the overall quality of water from collection and storage to customers’ taps. Lead is not found in Denver’s source water (rivers and reservoirs), treated water or public water system.

    In addition to testing throughout its public system, for the past 20 years Denver Water has conducted a testing program inside homes with lead plumbing. In the utility’s most recent testing, water samples from 60 homes were analyzed. Eight of those samples showed lead levels that were higher than the federal standard. All eight homes were built before 1920.

    “The health and safety of all our customers is very important to us,” said Tom Roode, director of Operations & Maintenance for Denver Water. “We thoroughly test our water before and after treatment and as it flows through our pipes in the street, so we know lead is not present in the public water system. But, lead was used for years in paint, plumbing and other household products, and still exists in older homes and buildings. In our experience, the structures most likely to have lead plumbing issues were built in the mid-1950s or earlier.”

    Customers who are concerned about their home plumbing should consider taking the following steps:

    - Run your water to flush out lead. If it hasn’t been used for several hours, run the cold water tap until the temperature is noticeably colder. This flushes lead-containing water from the pipes.
    - Always use cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula.
    - Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
    - Consider investing in a water filtration system. Filters must meet NSF Standard 53, and they range from pitchers that cost as little as $20 to under-sink systems for $100 or more. More information can be found at www.nsf.org or by calling 1-800-NSF-8010.
    - Have your household water tested by a state-certified laboratory. You can find a list of reputable, certified labs at www.coloradostatelab.us.
    - Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Brass faucets, fittings and valves, including those advertised as “lead-free,” may leach lead into drinking water. Use only lead-certified contractors for plumbing work.
    - Have a licensed electrician check your wiring. If grounding wires from your electrical system are attached to your pipes, corrosion may be greater. Check with a licensed electrician or your local electric code to determine if your wiring can be grounded elsewhere.

    “Because there were eight homes with elevated levels of lead among our sample group, we are required by Federal regulations to let all customers know about the issue,” said Roode. “In addition to notifications about lead plumbing that we send to customers each year in our water quality report, we want to use this opportunity to raise awareness in the community and provide our customers with information to take appropriate steps.”

    Denver Water customers will receive a brochure in the mail, which contains the required notice as well as educational information, by the end of November. The brochure and additional information are available on Denver Water’s website, http://www.denverwater.org/lead.

    Additional information on lead can be found at www.epa.gov/lead, www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead and in this fact sheet.

    More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

    The lead concentrations measured in samples from 60 homes exceeded the federal drinking water standard of 15 parts per billion by as much as 3.8 times. The 13 percent of Denver homes that had high lead levels, up from 8 percent of homes in 2011, is the highest percentage logged in 12 years, according to Denver Water data provided to the Denver Post…

    While sources of Denver water in the mountains traditionally have been safe, more than half of homes may have lead pipes — either inside the houses or connecting them to Denver Water mains. The lead can be disturbed if pipes are cut or corroding, which lets it leach into water that eventually flows from taps…

    Denver Water teams tested household water between June and August. They collected water from 60 homes built between 1880 and 1989 that still have lead plumbing. Eight had lead in water exceeding the 15 ppb standard, which the EPA set as the lowest level that reasonably could be enforced. The tests showed concentrations of 17, 17, 18, 19, 23, 29, 31 and 57 ppb. These results came from homes built before 1920…

    Denver Water officials say they don’t see this as a growing problem, despite data showing 13 percent of homes with lead plumbing are affected — the highest since 2000. They point out that calcium and other minerals occurring naturally in mountain source water can insulate lead pipes and prevent contact with water.

    More Denver Water coverage here.

    Englewood/Littleton: Wastewater treatment plant upgrades to cost $15 million

    November 6, 2012


    From the Littleton Independent (Jennifer Smith):

    Both city councils recently voted to raise customer fees starting in 2013 to cover the costs of construction, slated to begin in 2019.

    There are two separate issues. First, the plant is subject to stricter nutrient-removal standards as of 2022; council members are quick to call them unfunded mandates from the state. In order to meet them, staff says design and permitting for the project needs to begin in 2017.

    Second, a study showed the plant contributes about half of the phosphorous found in Barr Lake near Brighton and Milton Reservoir near Gilcrest, which causes algae blooms and other unpleasantness in the recreation areas. “The plant has a responsibility to downstream users,” Amy Conklin, coordinator for Barr Lake/Milton Reservoir Watershed Association, wrote on Oct. 28. “It matters how clean our effluent is because people downstream drink it.”

    Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch and a small portion of unincorporated Douglas County, apparently is the reason for the other half. Its director, John Hendrick, urged Littleton and Englewood officials to work with him to get the standards relaxed. “We are going to take off the gloves, but we’re going to do it initially with a gentle, cooperative approach,” he said.

    “This is a statewide issue, and we need some leadership down there at the Capitol to help us out.” Conklin agrees a collaborative approach is necessary, noting that half of Colorado residents live in the watershed.

    “Gone are the simple days of environmental regulation,” she said. “But if Barr-Milton can pull it off, we may serve as a model of how to bring all sides of these expensive environmental solutions to the table and not to court.”

    Plant manager Dennis Stowe said a statewide coalition against the regulations is currently inactive, reluctant to pursue expensive litigation. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s only input, said Stowe, has been to ask the Legislature to look more closely at the costs inflicted by the regulations. Engineer Sarah Reeves, a private consultant, said a potentially cost-reducing practice of nutrient trading — similar to cap and trade to regulate emissions — isn’t feasible, because there are no workable trading partners…

    “When we get to discharging Perrier, is that going to be good enough?” asked Littleton Councilor Bruce Stahlman.

    More wastewater coverage here and here.

    The EPA launches new webpage for nutrient pollution information

    October 26, 2012


    Click here for the website.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Clean Water Act 2.0: Rights of Waterways — Linda Sheehan

    October 24, 2012


    From the Huffington Post (Linda Sheehan):

    Over the last 40 years [ed. since the Clean Water Act was passed], progress has undeniably been made — but it has also undeniably stalled. Over half of monitored rivers and streams nationwide, and almost 70 percent of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, still cannot meet one or more established beneficial uses such as swimming, fishing or habitat. Water flows are also increasingly compromised, with fish and even whales disappearing as water diversions increase. Climate change also is threatening waterways; in the recent opening days of the 67th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for urgent action on climate change to ensure water and food security world-wide…

    The 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act calls for reflection on next steps. While the Act’s vision was laudable, it has in effect legalized pollution and extraction, with slowed but ongoing degradation. Our other environmental laws similarly have fallen short in protecting people and planet, their limitations evident from growing, global problems such as spreading species extinctions and accelerating climate change impacts.

    One of the key reasons our environmental laws are falling short is that they accept without question the overarching assumption that the natural world can and should be manipulated and degraded for short-term financial profit [ed. emphasis mine]. Our laws fail to reflect the fact that we are inextricably intertwined with the natural world, and that what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. We must modernize our laws to correct this fundamental misunderstanding and guide us on a better path.

    Thanks to @downstream2012 for the link.

    More water pollution coverage here and here.

    Oct. 18 marks 40 years for CWA; Metro Wastewater upgrades plant

    October 19, 2012


    Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District (Steve Frank):

    Oct. 18 marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.

    The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which treats 130 million gallons of wastewater a day for metropolitan Denver, has been a major part locally of a revitalization of urban waterways that’s taken place since the CWA was enacted in 1972.

    The Metro District was established in 1961 to provide secondary wastewater treatment for the metro Denver region. The District’s main treatment plant, the Robert W. Hite Treatment Facility at 6450 York Street, came on line in late 1966. It has undergone continual upgrades since then.

    A $211 million upgrade project now underway at the Hite facility to remove ammonia and nitrates from the water Metro discharges to the South Platte River passed the 40-percent-complete stage at the end of September. Construction began in early 2011.

    Construction documents show that 45,000 cubic yards of concrete have been placed to date for the South Secondary Improvements Project. This represents approximately 60 percent of the total concrete placement scheduled for the project. In addition, approximately 50 percent of the underground utility work has been completed.

    “The project is within its approved budget and is also running approximately two weeks ahead of the early completion schedule,” said Director of Engineering Mitch Costanzo.

    EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “Today 92 percent of Americans have round-the-clock access to safe, clean drinking water that meets national health standards, and more than two-thirds of America’s assessed waterways meet water quality standards,” in a speech at the Water Environment Federation’s annual WEFTEC conference and exposition in New Orleans the first week in October.

    “Urban waterways have gone from wastelands to centers of redevelopment and activity, and we have doubled the number of American waters that meet safety standards for swimming and fishing,” Jackson said during her presentation.

    The predecessor of the CWA was the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which was enacted in 1948.

    More wastewater coverage here and here.

    Clean Water Act 40th anniversary: ‘I actually remember the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching on fire’ — Lynn Bartels

    October 19, 2012


    Lynn Bartels (The Denver Post) is linking to a video about the Clean Water Act. Here’s an excerpt from her blog post:

    No one’s ever accused me of being a tree-hugger but I watched from beginning to end this video on the Clean Water Act [Clean Water Act: Better at 40], which celebrates its 40th birthday this month.

    I actually remember the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching on fire.

    Interestingly, President Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act [ed. due to the Congress adding too much spending], but Congress overturned the veto by a stunning 10 to 1 vote.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    EPA: Check out their new website for information on the surface water in your area

    October 18, 2012


    Say hello to How’s My Waterway?. I entered my zip code and found that all the close surface water is polluted if they evaluated it. I knew there was a reason that my grandmother used to tell me as a kid, “Johnny don’t go in Clear Creek.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    October 18 — Happy Birthday Clean Water Act

    October 17, 2012


    From The New York Times (Robert B. Sempla Jr.):

    Thursday, Oct. 18, marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a critical turning point in the nation’s efforts to rescue its rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands from centuries of industrial, municipal and agricultural pollution. But what should be a moment of celebration is also a moment of apprehension: Republicans in the House have spent the last two years trying to undercut the law, and should they gain control of the White House and Congress in next month’s elections, they could well succeed.

    These same Republicans are either ignorant of their political heritage or have no use for it. Richard Nixon, a savvy Republican who appreciated the raw force behind an environmental movement that had coalesced only two years before around Earth Day, was among those pushing hardest for the law. Nixon sent a clean water bill to Congress, then vetoed the final product on Oct. 17 after it had nearly doubled in size, forcing Congress to override the next day. But he did so on budgetary grounds, not because he objected to its substance. “The pollution of our rivers, lakes and streams degrades the quality of American life,” he said. “Cleaning up the nation’s waterways is a matter of urgent concern to me.”

    More Clean Water Act coverage here.

    Cement Creek restoration update: Treatment plant = $6.5 million, Annual expenses = $910,000

    October 15, 2012


    From The Durango Herald (Mark Esper):

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. last October offered to contribute up to $6.5 million to address water-quality issues in Cement Creek and the Animas River, including up to $5 million to operate “a cost-effective” treatment plant to process tainted water spewing from the mine portals above Silverton. But that $5 million for operations would keep the plant running only for about five years, according to the report by MWH Global, of Boise, Idaho.

    However, Larry Perino, reclamation manager for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said the report “does not suggest that other less-expensive methodologies may not be feasible.” Perino said the purpose of the MWH Global report was not to suggest the ultimate determination of what may be the best alternative. “Rather, it is the goal of the report to set forth feasible alternatives against which other methodologies or alternatives may be measured.”[...]

    The MWH Global report looked at five alternatives, with construction costs estimated at between $4.5 million and $6.5 million, and operating costs pegged at between $876,000 and $1.4 million.

    MWH Global said that two of the alternatives stood out as “superior to the others” on a “nonfinancial screening criteria.” But it said one of those two alternatives has lower operating costs and thus “is financially superior.” The project is seen as a possible solution to heavy metals loading in Cement Creek from acidic mine drainage.

    The problem is considered so serious that the Environmental Protection Agency found the site eligible for Superfund listing last year. But lacking community support, the EPA backed off its proposed listing in April and agreed to proceed with a collaborative process with the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    The four mine portals that are the focus of attention are the Mogul, Red & Bonita, Gold King No. 7 and the American Tunnel.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act EPA style

    October 11, 2012


    Here’s a list of things you can do to celebrate from the Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s an excerpt:

    Volunteer in your community

    Find a watershed or wellhead protection organization in your community and volunteer to help. If there are no active groups, consider starting one. Use EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed to locate groups in your community, or visit the Watershed Information Network’s How to Start a Watershed Team.

    EPA’s adopt your watershed
    How to start a watershed team

    More EPA coverage here.

    Sand Creek: ‘The deadline to meet drinking-water standards…is a very aggressive and challenging goal’ — Lisha Burnett (Suncor)

    October 8, 2012


    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Suncor had proposed that Metro Wastewater help handle the cleanup. Metro declined. “Petroleum-contaminated groundwater is not what the wastewater-treatment facility is designed for,” Metro Wastewater Reclamation District operations director Steven Rogowski said. “It isn’t our ratepayers’ responsibility to treat Suncor’s water.”[...]

    Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulators have set a May deadline for cleanup of all contaminated groundwater flowing from Suncor’s 300-acre refinery property…

    The machinery set up by Suncor contractors, at a cost of $1 million, sits on Metro property along the river. Later this month, it will be ready to remove benzene and other toxic material as soon as it is detected in monitoring wells near Metro’s construction site. A permit issued by state regulators lets Suncor discharge 3,000 gallons per minute of treated groundwater pumped from Metro Wastewater property into either Sand Creek or the South Platte…

    By May, Suncor must prove that groundwater migrating off Suncor’s property meets a state standard requiring the concentration of cancer-causing benzene to be below 5 parts per billion. That’s the federal health standard for drinking water. “The deadline to meet drinking-water standards next year is a very aggressive and challenging goal, and it is not certain that it can be achieved in this timeframe,” Suncor spokeswoman Lisha Burnett said Friday in an e-mailed response to queries. Suncor already has installed underground clay walls at the northern and western edges of its property — designed to hold back the thickest undissolved petroleum.

    “Monitoring does not suggest that undissolved contaminants are escaping any longer,” CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley said…

    The latest data show benzene also is still entering Sand Creek and the South Platte — with the concentration at 145 ppb this month in the river just below the confluence. That’s less than the benzene levels averaging above 200 ppb earlier in the year but still is 29 times higher than the 5 ppb federal health standard. Three monitoring wells in Sand Creek, near where the seepage was detected last fall, showed elevated benzene levels of 55 ppb, 212 ppb and 510 ppb.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    EPA recognizes Colorado Springs Utilities as WaterSense Partner of the Year

    October 5, 2012


    Here’s the release from the EPA (Molly Hooven/Patrice Lehermeier):

    Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) honored Colorado Springs Utilities as a 2012 WaterSense Partner of the Year. The water provider, which serves more than 210,000 people, earned EPA’s recognition for its exemplary commitment to encouraging water efficiency in the Colorado Springs area. Thanks to their efforts, along with over 2,600 other WaterSense partners nationwide, WaterSense-labeled products have helped Americans save 287 billion gallons of water and $4.7 billion in water and energy bills.

    “WaterSense is proud to partner with these champions of water efficiency who share our mission to protect the future of our nation’s water supply,” said Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting Assistant Administrator for Water. “The 2012 WaterSense Partners of the Year were exceptional in their efforts to support innovative approaches to help people and companies save water and money on utility bills nationwide.”

    In 2011, Colorado Springs Utilities engaged consumers and local businesses in the water efficiency movement by offering them personalized ways to get involved. The organization’s YOUtilities YouTube video contest inspired customers to document the ways in which they save water and energy at home. The contest, which aimed to create consumer advocates for water-efficient products and practices, produced a number of informing and entertaining videos for the community to enjoy.

    In 2011, a team effort led by Colorado Springs Utilities, along with local builder Wayne Intermill, EnergyLogic, Inc., and 2008 WaterSense Retailer Partner of the Year Ferguson Enterprises, resulted in the first WaterSense-labeled home in Colorado located in the Gold Hill Mesa neighborhood. During the three-week 2011 Parade of Homes, 5,000 visitors explored the WaterSense-labeled home, which also became the first home in Colorado to receive LEED® for Homes certification, ENERGY STAR® qualification, and the WaterSense label. Also last year, Colorado Springs Utilities issued more than 4,500 water-efficiency rebates to customers, resulting in a savings of 23,078,060 gallons of water.

    The utility also helped hundreds of commercial kitchens save water by offering them free, water-efficient pre-rinse spray valve nozzles for cleaning dishes. The commercial retrofit program helped facilities save more than 20 million gallons of water in 2011, or one-third of utility’s annual water savings goal.

    More conservation coverage here.

    Climate Change and Amphibian Declines: Putting the puzzle pieces together

    September 17, 2012


    Here’s a blog post from the EPA weblog It All Starts with Science (Jason Rohr/Thomas Raffel):

    We had similar interested as kids: a love for amphibians and exploring wetlands, and a passion for puzzles and mystery and detective movies. So, it should be no surprise that we both turned out to be scientist studying the mystery of global amphibian declines. Working to figure out how all the “puzzle pieces” of climate change, environment, and other factors contribute to the mysterious global decline of amphibians is like living in our own mystery movie: a pair of scientist Sherlock Holmes-like detectives serving as interpreters for the frogs who cannot reveal clues or communicate directly.

    Upon examining the literature, we noticed that declines of Latin American frogs were occurring under three scenarios: declines were occurring in (1) warm years, in (2) cool seasons, and at (3) high elevations. What caused this peculiar pattern? The key was to find the common link among all three.

    What we discovered, with research supported by EPA funds, was that the common link was temperature variability.

    Frogs exposed to (1) warm years, (2) cool seasons, or (3) high elevations all experienced more variability in temperature—at both daily and monthly time scales—than those not (that is, frogs exposed to cool years, warm seasons, and low elevations).

    Another clue: chytrid fungus. We found that both daily and monthly temperature variability served as positive predictors of amphibian declines thought to be caused by the fungus. Hence, the missing link seemed to be temperature variability.

    We suspected that we were on to something. We hypothesized that pathogens such as chytrid fungus might benefit from temperature shifts and extremes because they are smaller and have faster metabolisms than their ectothermic (also known as “cold blooded”) hosts, and thus might acclimate faster than their hosts after an abrupt shift to a new temperature.

    We conducted a series of experiments to test our hypothesis and to see if it offered a causal (“cause-and-effect”) explanation for the patterns we saw for frogs living in the field.

    We discovered that frogs exposed to temperature shifts at daily and monthly time scales not only had more chytrid fungus, but were also more likely to die from these infections than frogs living in areas with more constant temperatures. Given that temperature variability and extremes are increasing in many regions, this work suggests that climate change might be a culprit in amphibian declines.

    We now are trying to serve as detectives and interpreters for other declining animals by testing whether temperature shifts spark increases in their disease risk, and whether such temperature shifts benefit pathogens in general. That is, we are trying to determine if the story of the frogs is just one piece of a larger puzzle.

    About the authors:

    Jason Rohr, Ph.D., is an EPA-funded Associate Professor in the Integrative Biology Department of the University of South Florida. He studies interactions among climate change, pollution, and disease.

    Thomas Raffel, Ph.D., is an EPA-funded Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Oakland University. He uses a combination of field studies, experiments, and modeling to study the ecology of parasitism in aquatic systems.

    South Park: Richard Hamilton, et. al., are seeking ‘sole source aquifer’ protection from the EPA

    September 8, 2012


    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The designation would require more in-depth review of any proposed activities that could affect water supplies. Of special concern is uranium mining near Hartsel, as well as potential development of oil and gas resources. The designation could also result in buffers and other protective measures.

    Gaining the EPA designation is a multi-step process beginning Sept. 11 with a meeting of the local environmental advisory board. Citizens will offer a petition requesting the South Park county commissioners to sponsor a formal request for the designation to regional, state and federal authorities. Get an overview of the regional sole source aquifer program at this EPA website. To qualify, an aquifer must supply at least 50 percent of the drinking water consumed in the area overlying the aquifer. EPA guidelines also stipulate that these areas can have no alternative drinking water source that could physically, legally, and economically supply all those who depend upon the aquifer for drinking water.

    As part of the petitioning process, South Park residents are also asking for an immediate moratorium on all mineral leasing activity until there are comprehensive studies on the relationship between ground water and mineral resource development.

    There are currently no designated sole source aquifers in Colorado, but there are several in surrounding states, including Montana and Utah. For example, the Missoula Valley aquifer is protected because it provides 100 percent of Missoula’s drinking water. Information on regional sole source aquifers is online here.

    EPA to host free webinar on on public health and environmental issues related to septic systems on Thursday

    August 21, 2012


    From the EPA via Twitter:

    We’re hosting a free webinar on Thursday, 1 to 3:30 pm ET, on public health & enviro issues related to septic systems. https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/957149114

    More wastewater coverage here and here.

    Judge rules that the EPA stepped on state authority when promulgating waste rules for coal mines

    August 1, 2012


    From the Associated Press (John Raby) via The Denver Post:

    U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in Washington ruled that the EPA infringed on the authority given to state regulators by federal clean- water and surface-mining laws. A coal mining industry coalition sued the EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson, and the lawsuit was joined by West Virginia and Kentucky.

    The ruling represents the latest setback to the Obama administration’s attempts to crack down on mountaintop removal coal mining.

    Last year, the EPA revised standards issued in April 2010 by tightening guidelines on the practice of dumping waste from surface mine blasting into Appalachian valley waterways. Critics say that practice destroys the environment. The mining industry defends it as an efficient way to produce cheap power and employ thousands in well-paying jobs.

    The EPA had written that the fundamental premise of its new guidelines was that “no discharge of dredged or fill material may be permitted” under any of three conditions: if the nation’s waters would be “significantly degraded”; if it causes or contributes to violations of a state’s water quality standard; or “if a practicable alternative exists that is less damaging to the aquatic environment.”

    The National Mining Association, one of the plaintiffs, denounced the guidelines as a “jobs destroyer” and hailed Walton’s decision as a way to get miners back to work “by allowing the state permitting agencies to do their jobs.”

    Meanwhile, it’s the forty third anniversary of the Time Magazine article that became a call to arms for conservationists. The EPA grew out of the legislation from that time. Here’s a the August 1, 1969 article from Time. Here’s an excerpt:

    Cleveland’s great industries have lately made efforts to dump fewer noxious effluents into the Cuyahoga. If their record is still not good, the city’s has been far worse. Whenever it rains hard, the archaic sanitary storm system floods the sewer mains, sending untreated household wastes into the river. Sometimes the old mains break, as recently happened on the Big Creek interceptor line. Each day for the past month, 25 million gallons of raw sewage have cascaded from a ruptured pipe, spilling a gray-green torrent into the Cuyahoga and thence into Lake Erie.

    Some lake! Industrial wastes from Detroit’s auto companies, Toledo’s steel mills and the paper plants of Erie, Pa., have helped turn Lake Erie into a gigantic cesspool. Of 62 beaches along its U.S. shores, only three are rated completely safe for swimming. Even wading is unpleasant; as many as 30,000 sludge worms carpet each square yard of lake bottom.

    Each day, Detroit, Cleveland and 120 other municipalities fill Erie with 1.5 billion gallons of inadequately treated wastes, including nitrates and phosphates. These chemicals act as fertilizer for growths of algae that suck oxygen from the lower depths and rise to the surface as odoriferous green scum. Commercial and game fish—blue pike, whitefish, sturgeon, northern pike—have nearly vanished, yielding the waters to trash fish that need less oxygen. Weeds proliferate, turning water frontage into swamp. In short, Lake Erie is in danger of dying by suffocation…

    Like Apple Pie. “We have some of the lowest sewer tax rates in the country,” says Stefanski. “I figured we’d double the rates to amortize our bonds.” To persuade the people to pay, Stefanski enlisted newspaper support, lined up citizen groups and got 33 suburban governments to endorse the plan. “It became like apple pie and motherhood,” he recalls. “No one could be against clean water.” Last fall Clevelanders approved the bond issue by a vote of 2 to 1, giving it more “yes” votes than any other proposal on the ballot. In five years, Cleveland should have the best sewage system in the U.S., one capable of handling even industrial wastes.

    The accomplishment, huge as it is, only fixes the price of optimism. Unfortunately, water pollution knows no political boundaries. The Cuyahoga can be cleaned up in Cleveland, but as long as other cities keep dumping wastes upriver, it will remain exactly what it is today—an open sewer filling Lake Erie with scummy wavelets, sullen reminders that even a great lake can die.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Fountain Creek: Fort Carson reports spill into the creek

    June 22, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A spill of 10,000 gallons from a sanitary sewer lift station at Fort Carson, including small amounts of petroleum, was reported to the Environmental Protection Agency on June 7, according to information provided by the Colorado Water Quality Control Division…

    The spill occurred at a pre-treatment plant meant to separate oil from water before water is routed through a sewer plant. The EPA is evaluating corrective actions and steps that must be taken to prevent future overflows, said David Gwisdalla, environmental engineer with the EPA. The cause of the spill was an extreme rain that caused a manhole to overfill, sending 10,000 gallons of untreated sewage into a ditch leading into Fountain Creek, according to the report.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

    North Platte River basin: The EPA sounds the alarm over discharges from Lone Pine Gas facilities into Spring Gulch Creek

    April 29, 2012


    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Oil stains extend from Lone Pine Gas facilities for about 1.25 miles along shorelines of Spring Gulch Creek. Besides oil, Englewood-based Lone Pine — with state permission — has been releasing 200,000 to 400,000 gallons a day of treated drilling wastewater directly into creek waters, raising landowner concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency has begun to assess the damage along the creek, which flows into Hell Creek and then into the North Fork of the North Platte River.

    A Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission inspector will join an EPA coordinator today. “We got a call from concerned landowners on April 3. We were up there by April 5,” EPA spokesman Matthew Allen said. “(The EPA) is categorizing the types of damage along the shoreline to determine the best cleanup actions for the responsible party to take.” This is the latest of crude-oil spills dating to 2006 at Lone Pine’s gas and oil field about 14 miles west of Walden — near protected state wildlife areas.

    A COGCC inspector in December found the spill, and agency officials met with Lone Pine managers in January. Lone Pine’s operations are somewhat uncommon because the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has allowed the company, through a discharge permit, to release up to 420,000 gallons of drilling wastewater per day into the creek from settling ponds. A couple of years ago, CDPHE learned that Lone Pine’s drilling wastewater did not meet state water-quality standards and, in September 2010, ordered the company to stop polluting the creek.

    The CDPHE “cease-and-desist” order, however, “does not require that Lone Pine cease its operations while they return to compliance,” agency spokesman Mark Salley said. CDPHE’s water-quality division “is primarily concerned with the wastewater treatment facility’s ongoing inability to reliably and consistently comply with the terms and conditions of its discharge permit.”

    From the Associated Press via Billings Gazette:

    Wyoming water quality director John Wagner says the water is not from fracking or drilling and he believes it’s not harmful to Wyoming streams and wildlife.

    Colorado water officials said Lone Pine Gas violated water quality standards a number of times since 2007, including dumping water with excess levels of copper and iron. The company says it shut down the plant in March and did a complete cleanup.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    It turns out that Colorado Springs did need a stormwater enterprise after all — where is Douglas Bruce?

    March 24, 2012


    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

    Melcher gave Mayor Steve Bach and the City Council five options, including making stormwater a responsibility of Colorado Springs Utilities and asking voters to pass a tax.

    Melcher emphasized that Utilities should play a big role in the solution because he said the future of the $2.3 billion Southern Delivery System water pipeline is at stake. “Utilities right now has a shared interest with the city for a number of reasons, but particularly because their SDS project is contingent on a permit that requires the city, which includes Utilities, the entire city, to have a functioning stormwater system,” Melcher said during the monthly Mayor’s Counsel Meeting between Bach and council members. The 62-mile pipeline from the Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs is under construction.

    Colorado Springs is falling woefully behind on its stormwater needs.

    The city should be spending $13 million to $15 million annually on stormwater, and the unfunded capital needs for stormwater are estimated at $500 million. The city is spending only about $1.2 million to pay for the federally mandated stormwater component of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.

    At least two council members — Tim Leigh and Angela Dougan — said the city should try to find a way to pay for stormwater through Utilities’ budget of more than $1 billion.

    More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

    Colorado Springs Council, in a meeting with Mayor Steve Bach this week, was told by City Attorney Tim Melcher that it should be spending $13 million-$15 million a year for stormwater projects, rather than the bare minimum it now spends, about $1.2 million a year, to satisfy federal requirements…

    There is a $500 million backlog of stormwater projects dating back to the 1980s. Options to fund improvements include raising water rates, already expected to double to pay for the $2.3 billion cost of SDS; shifting Utilities’ payments to the city; finding more money somewhere in general fund; or asking citizens to vote on creating a stormwater enterprise. Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise from 2005-09, but eliminated it after a campaign led by tax activist Doug Bruce against a “rain tax.”[...]

    The option to vote on the enterprise could conflict with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District’s plans to ask voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties to approve a mill levy. The district, formed in 2009, will run out of money at the end of this year, and no other source of funding is in sight until SDS is completed in 2016. At that time, Colorado Springs Utilities will begin making five annual payments totalling $50 million.

    The [Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District] will hear a report at its April 27 meeting from Summit Economics on a regional stormwater solution. The study was commissioned by El Paso County communities to come up with a unified approach to stormwater management.

    More coverage from J. Adrian Stanley writing for the Colorado Springs Independent Indy Blog. From the post:

    Really, this was inevitable. Drainage problems aren’t going away. In fact, neglecting them too long will get the city in trouble with the feds, piss off [Colorado Springs Utilities], and probably lead to a few streets caving in.

    According to City Attorney Chris Melcher, who spoke on the issue at today’s Mayor’s Counsel meeting, the city has a few options. City Council could simply write a law making Stormwater, or at least parts of Stormwater, the responsibility of Utilities. Alternately, Council could ask for a tax increase, or simply ignore the problem.

    One thing’s for sure, the city general fund can’t pay for what needs to be done — about $15 million a year in work.

    Both Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin and Councilor Brandy Williams responded by saying the city should cooperate with the Fountain Creek Watershed board, which is working on a regional solution to Stormwater. When that process wraps up, voters will likely be asked to approve a tax to cover project costs.

    More stormwater coverage here and here.

    Environment Colorado: Over 720,000 Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into Colorado’s Rivers

    March 23, 2012


    Here’s the release from Environment Colorado (Bessie Schwarz):

    Industrial facilities dumped over 700,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into Colorado’s waterways, more than a third of which went into the South Platte, according to a new report released today by Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center. Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act also reports that 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals were discharged into 1,400 waterways across the country.

    “From the mighty Arkansas river to our smaller streams, Colorado’s waterways are a haven of beauty. However, right now they are also a safe-haven for polluters— where polluters dump over 700,000 pounds of toxic chemicals in 2010 alone,” said Bessie Schwarz, Field Organizer with Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.”

    “Our business has been serving outdoor enthusiast for over 30 years and we are dependent on clean, flowing water,” said owner of Anglers Covey, David Leinweber. “More than 600,000 people buy Colorado fishing licenses every year and take advantage of the incredible resources we have in this great state. Water quality is paramount to sustaining this resource.”

    The Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center report documents and analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged into America’s waters by compiling toxic chemical releases reported to the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2010 (the most recent data available). Cargill Inc. was the biggest polluter in Colorado, dumping over 235,000 of the nearly 250,000 pounds of toxic pollution discharged into The South Platt alone.

    Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center’s report summarizes discharges of cancer-causing chemicals, chemicals that persist in the environment, and chemicals with the potential to cause reproductive problems ranging from birth defects to reduced fertility. Among the toxic chemicals discharged by facilities are arsenic, mercury, and benzene. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders.

    This pollution affects foundation industries in Colorado with our agriculture and recreation being potential hit the hardest.

    “Those in Colorado agriculture know that very few crops can be raised without water for we live in a High Plains Desert,” said Berry Patch Farms owners, Tim and Claudia Ferrell. “Our farm, located in Brighton, depends on water from the South Platte to irrigate from March through October. We all must take whatever steps necessary to protect this invaluable gift.”

    Almost 70% of Colorado’s waters and 75,000 miles of our rivers and stream may be un-protected by The Clean Water Act.

    “There are common-sense steps that we can take to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our waters,” added Schwarz.

    In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening Colorado’s rivers, Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center recommends the following:

    1. Pollution Prevention: Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.

    2. Protect all waters: The Obama administration should finalize guidelines and conduct a rulemaking to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways – including the nearly 75,000 miles of streams in Colorado and 3.7 million Coloradans’ drinking water for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of two polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions in the last decade.

    3. Tough permitting and enforcement: EPA and state agencies should issue permits with tough, numeric limits for each type of toxic pollution discharged, ratchet down those limits over time, and enforce those limits with credible penalties, not just warning letters.

    “The bottom line is that Coloradan’s waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s paradise, they should just be paradise. We need clean water now, and we are counting on the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment,” concluded Schwarz.

    Thanks to KWGN for the heads up.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Becky Long: ‘Phosphorus and nitrogen are incredibly prevalent…we’ve ignored it for 20 years’

    March 23, 2012


    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    “Phosphorus and nitrogen are incredibly prevalent. They’re in animal waste, human waste, fertilizer, and we’ve ignored it for 20 years,” said Becky Long, water caucus coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. If left unaddressed the pollution causes algae blooms and dead zones in waterways, impacting aquatic wildlife and Colorado’s outdoor recreation opportunities. Long said she’s encouraged by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission’s early support for the new standards limiting nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The rule is still subject to challenge at subsequent hearings, as well EPA review and final approval. Long said the standards go beyond simply protecting aquatic life and human health by addressing potential impacts to recreation…

    Phosphorus has been identified as a potential problem in Cherry Creek reservoir. In the high country, effluents from Grand County have affected water quality in Grand Lake. The two pollutants are a problem anywhere there’s a lot of effluent going back to the stream, for example downstream of the metro wastewater treatment facilities east of Denver, Long said, explaining that the new rules are forward looking and will protect water quality for the next 50 years, as the state’s population grows by up to 5 million.

    While she expects some challenges from agricultural stakeholders and perhaps some municipalities, Long said the rules are written with built-in flexibility and can be implemented in phases, as waste water treatment plants plan for future upgrades. State water quality regulators were responsive to small- and mid-sized communities as they crafted the rule, she said.

    Finally, it’s important to remember that the pollution generated in Colorado have impacts far beyond the borders of the state. Addressing the issue of nutrients here helps tackle the serious issue of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, Long said. “We need to own the fact that this is us causing the problem. It’s not Mr. Burns, it’s us, every time we flush the toilet. If we don’t pass the state rule, we could meet the same fate as Florida. The EPA will write a rule that’s a lot more stringent and we’ll lose our chance to do this at the state level,” she said.

    More wastewater coverage here and here.

    Don’t suck the Colorado River dry billboard part of grassroots campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River

    March 16, 2012


    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Schofield):

    A coalition of river advocates has unveiled a billboard on I-70 that highlights the threat to the upper Colorado River from massive water diversions to the Front Range—diversions that are sucking the life out of the upper Colorado and degrading irreplaceable mountain areas where many Coloradans love to fish, hunt, and recreate.

    The billboard is part of a larger grassroots campaign that is rallying Coloradans to help protect this popular western slope recreation destination.

    The billboard, in the foothills of Golden near the 470 exit, shows a state flag image being drained of water and warns, “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.” The message will reach an estimated 180,000 people each day who travel this major east-west corridor.

    “Coloradans need to know that the health of the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers is jeopardized by these water diversions,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We’re asking our state leaders to step up and finish the job of protecting these special places.”

    For years, large-scale water diversions to Denver and the Front Range have severely depleted and at times nearly sucked dry entire stretches of the upper Colorado River and its tributaries, including the Fraser River. The low flows and higher temperatures have caused dramatic declines in fish and other benchmarks of aquatic health. Low flows have also contributed to the spread of smothering silt and choking algae.

    River advocates warn that the proposed expansions of the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap diversion projects could push the upper Colorado ecosystem to the brink of collapse unless environmental mitigation plans for the projects contain stronger flow protections for the rivers. Those proposals are currently in the final stages of permitting and under review by federal regulators.

    The billboard is aimed at the tens of thousands of Front Range residents who travel up I-70 each week to hike, ski, fish, raft and play on the West Slope. Outdoor recreation is a $10 billion a year business in the state, supporting 107,000 jobs and generating nearly $500 million in state tax revenues. Many towns in the Fraser and upper Colorado River valleys depend heavily on outdoor tourism for their economic health.

    “It’s important that Front Range residents understand the seriousness of these diversion impacts and show their support for healthy rivers,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “We can meet our water needs while preserving our rivers, but that will only happen with stronger protections for the Upper Colorado.”

    Gov. Hickenlooper and other state leaders have a responsibility to protect these rivers and the state recreation economy that depends on them, said Peternell.
    A 2011 state study that showed stronger measures were needed to keep the upper Colorado system healthy. Moreover, in a recent letter citing that study, the EPA called for a “more robust monitoring and mitigation plan” for the Windy Gap proposal.

    The groups are calling on state and federal officials to support stronger protection measures for the upper Colorado, including higher spring flushing flows and a monitoring plan for the river.

    “We’re asking Gov. Hickenlooper to speak up for the Colorado River,” said Peternell. “He has an opportunity to be a hero for the river.”

    In response to the campaign, thousands of Coloradans have raised their voices for river protection. The Defend the Colorado website features a “Voices of the River” gallery profiling Fraser Valley residents and visitors who speak eloquently about their concern for the river. Moreover, thousands of Coloradans and more than 400 businesses have signed petitions asking state leaders to protect the rivers and state tourism.

    “These are special places,” said Jon Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks in Denver. “Many Coloradans live here because of our state’s magnificent rivers and recreation opportunities. That quality of life is at risk unless our leaders act.”

    To learn more about diversion impacts on the river and how you can raise your voice to help, go to www.defendthecolorado.org

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

    From all the feel-good language about a global solution and Front Range-West Slope collaboration, you’d never know that there’s a bitter war being waged over what’s left of the Colorado River. A coalition of river advocates hopes to cast a spotlight on the fight with a new billboard going up along I-70, where mountain-bound travelers will see the bold message, “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.”[...]

    At issue is a pair of planned new diversions, based on existing water rights, by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District that would further deplete the Colorado River’s native flows.

    Northern’s Windy Gap firming project would divert water through the Colorado-Big Thompson system to a proposed new reservoir on the northern Front Range, southwest of Loveland.

    Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project would produce 18,000 acre-feet of new supply by expanding Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.

    Both projects are under review, and Colorado has developed mitigation plans that address at least some of the potential impacts. The state’s water establishment claims the mitigation plans will not only protect the Colorado River from new impacts, but actually improve existing conditions. Environmental advocates are skeptical, and are asking for additional specific mitigation and monitoring, and recently got some backing from the EPA, which pointed out weaknesses in the proposed mitigation plans…

    River advocates warn that the proposed expansions of the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap diversion projects could push the upper Colorado ecosystem to the brink of collapse unless environmental mitigation plans for the projects contain stronger flow protections for the rivers. Those proposals are currently in the final stages of permitting and under review by federal regulators.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.

    EPA launches new website about nutrient pollution

    March 13, 2012


    Here’s the link to the shiny new EPA website about nutrient pollution.

    Thanks to the Colorado Environmental Coalition Twitter Feed (@coenviroco) for the heads up.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Today: ‘Rally for the River II’ — Conservationists hope to get Governor Hickenlooper’s ear regarding the Windy Gap Firming Project

    February 22, 2012


    From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

    Building on the boisterous success of last month’s Rally for the Upper Colorado River at the Environmental Protection Agency building in Denver, a coalition of conservationists hoping to derail a pair of transmountain water diversion projects is taking its message to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s doorstep today. Sportsmen, boaters, wildlife enthusiasts and others concerned about the collapsing upper Colorado River are being encouraged to meet outside the Capitol at 11 a.m. for Round 2.

    The EPA, apparently having heard Defend the Colorado’s message, recently issued a letter to federal permitting authorities at the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raising concerns of “critical adverse impacts” resulting from the Northern Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project. The agency determined the proposal to divert up to 67 percent of the upper Colorado River’s natural flows into a tunnel across the Continental Divide may cause “significant degradation” to the struggling river and recommended “a more robust monitoring and mitigation plan” to protect it. Now it’s the governor’s turn.

    As reported last week by Bruce Finley of The Denver Post, state officials stand behind Hickenlooper’s contention that Northern Water’s current plan to pull an extra 21,296 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River near Granby “comprehensively addresses impacts to Colorado’s fish and wildlife.”[...]

    To their credit, Northern and Denver Water both bolstered mitigation efforts while seeking approval of their respective projects by the Colorado Wildlife Commission last summer. Northern has committed $250,000 to study a possible bypass around the Windy Gap Reservoir, a collection pond that pumps water back uphill.

    With the federal permit decision looming, the governor can expect to be asked to help broker an agreement making the bypass a reality. He might also be asked to explain his April comment: “This state has to realize, people in the metropolitan Denver have to realize, that their self-interest is served by treating water as a precious commodity and that its value on the Western Slope is just as relevant as its value in the metro area.”

    More coverage from Alan Prendergast writing for Westword. From the article:

    …environmentalists say the further depletion of the river will alter the temperature, kill fish and insects that a healthy river needs, increase sediment — and generally trash the tourism business for folks in places like Fraser and Granby. A state study found a dramatic drop-off in aquatic insect species over the past two decades from previous diversions, and a recent EPA report is calling for more study and better monitoring of the project.

    Opponents say the Upper Colorado can survive additional Front Range incursions, but only by developing further mitigation measures, including periodic water releases to flush out sediment gathering in the depleted riverway. Hoping to bend Hickenlooper’s ear a bit, speakers at tomorrow’s rally, which starts at 11 a.m., include Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited and Field and Stream columnist Kirk Deeter.

    More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

    In a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, both dated Feb. 6, the agency outlined its concerns with the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project, saying more mitigation needs to be tied to an upcoming record of decision.

    Among recommendations, the agency would like to see a bypass channel constructed around Windy Gap Dam for times when the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and municipal subdistrict are out of priority.

    The bypass channel was identified in a 2011 report by researchers of division of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The report spells out ongoing problems in the Upper Colorado River basin that have been worsening over the past half-century, primarily chronic sedimentation, high temperatures and a lack of high flushing flows that have already caused the disappearance of the mottled sculpin, a native fish.

    “Two things must be done if there is to truly be any hope of enhancement of aquatic ecosystem in the upper Colorado River in the future,” the 2011 Nehring Parks and Wildlife study reads. “A bypass channel around Windy Gap Dam and a major investment in stream channel reconfiguration for the Colorado River below Windy Gap Dam are both equally important and the only way true enhancement has any possibility of success. Either one without the other will have virtually no chance of succeeding.”

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

    Union Pacific Railroad Company to pay $1.5 million for Clean Water Act violations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming

    February 9, 2012


    Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Donna Inman/Matthew Allen):

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a settlement with Union Pacific Railroad Company regarding alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.

    This settlement resolves a Clean Water Act enforcement action against Union Pacific that involves continuing operations at 20 rail yards in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as spills of oil and coal in 2003 and 2004 along railroad lines in all three states.

    For the railyards, EPA alleges Union Pacific violated EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) and Facility Response Plan (FRP) regulations. These regulations are the first line of defense for preventing oil spills and providing immediate containment measures when an oil spill does occur.

    “Today we have secured a settlement that will help prevent spills, protect water quality, and improve the safety of Union Pacific’s operations in 20 communities across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming,” said Jim Martin, EPA regional administrator. “Union Pacific has already begun putting necessary measures in place and we will ensure they continue to do so.”

    As part of the settlement, Union Pacific will pay a civil penalty of $1.5 million of which approximately $1.4 million will be deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a fund used by federal agencies to respond to oil spills. The remaining $100,000 will be deposited in the U.S. Treasury for the coal spills and stormwater violations. In addition, the settlement requires the company to develop a management and reporting system to ensure compliance with SPCC regulations, FRP regulations, and storm water requirements at 20 rail yards in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Union Pacific must take further actions to control stormwater runoff at the Burnham Rail Yard in Denver, which are anticipated to prevent the discharge of approximately 2,500 pounds of chemical oxygen demand, 50 pounds of nitrate, 11,000 pounds of total suspended solids, and 30 pounds of zinc annually to waters in the Denver area.

    This settlement will benefit many communities in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, many of which are disadvantaged, by requiring Union Pacific to install secondary containment to safely store oil and prevent oil spills from leaving its properties. Further, it will require the company to designate an environmental vice-president responsible for complying with oil spill prevention and stormwater control requirements at the 20 railyards. The majority of the 20 locations cited in the settlement are in disadvantaged areas with significant low-income and/ or minority populations.

    The complaint alleges the following violations:

    · Six oil spills in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming
    · Three coal spills in Colorado
    · Inadequate SPCC plans and/or inadequate SPCC plan implementation (e.g., inadequate secondary containment) at the following 20 rail yards:

    o Denver 36th Street, Burnham, Denver North, East Portal Moffatt Tunnel, Grand Junction, Kremmling, Pueblo, and Rifle, all in Colorado
    o Helper, Ogden, Provo, Roper, Salt Lake City North, and Summit, all in Utah

    § Also for six rail yards in Utah, failure to provide certifications and reports for storm water pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs) as required by the Utah Multi-Sector General Permit.

    o Bill, Buford, Cheyenne, Green River, Laramie, and Rawlins, all in Wyoming

    § Also for the Rawlins, Wyoming rail yard, an inadequate FRP and a failed Government Initiated Unannounced Exercise

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here and here.

    Whit Gibbons: ‘Why do we need the Environmental Protection Agency?’

    January 29, 2012


    From the Tuscaloosa News (Whit Gibbons). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Want to have cancer-causing, bird-killing DDT sprayed in your neighborhood? How about having high levels of brain- damaging mercury dumped into your favorite fishing spot? What about paper mill wastes clogging up rivers and fouling the air people breathe?

    These health hazards were once commonplace in communities throughout our country. That they are no longer the hazards they once were is due in no small part to the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects us from these and other environmental abuses. Without EPA oversight, the United States would be a much less healthy place to live.

    Those who believe we do not need federal regulation of activities that can turn the country into a toxic waste dump are likely unaware of the far-reaching environmental and human health consequences of such actions. They may also not want to accept the fact that some individuals and many corporations will put profit ahead of all other considerations–including the health and well-being of the general populace.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Sand Creek: The Environmental Protection Agency has taken over at the spill site near Commerce City

    November 30, 2011


    Here’s an in-depth report about the spill and cleanup efforts from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing, check out the cool video and photo slide show. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials have known about hazardous leakages in the area for at least a month, documents show. And for a week, toxic vapors at the nearby Metro Wastewater Reclamation District facility have forced workers to wear respirators. But nobody checked the rivers or tried to stop the seepage. Damage remains unassessed.

    Suncor Energy cleanup crews slogged through the muck and used vacuum trucks Tuesday to remove surface material caught in booms strung across Sand Creek northwest of the company’s oil refinery. Late Tuesday, they began digging a trench to try to catch the muck as it leaks out of the bank of Sand Creek.

    “We want to keep that out of the river — protect the river,” said Curtis Kimbel, the Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator.

    Lab tests of water and soil samples taken late Monday and early Tuesday have not been completed, and the source remained a mystery in an industrial area where refineries have existed since 1938. “But based on the odor and the sheen, we don’t want it to go in the river,” Kimbel said.

    More coverage from 9News.com (Jeffrey Wolf/Brandon Rittiman/Kyle Clark):

    State officials say the refinery suspected of leaking the possibly hazardous liquids into Sand Creek has been under a corrective order for several decades because of contaminated groundwater. Colorado health department spokesman Warren Smith says the state has been monitoring contaminated plumes from the Suncor Energy refinery and he says it’s likely the source of an oily liquid that has been seeping into the creek about a mile from the refinery…

    “We don’t how much went downstream. We do know now that it is contained,” Karen Edson with the EPA said. The EPA says the amount that went downstream isn’t enough to cause major alarm, but it’s still worth taking precautions around the South Platte near Commerce City…

    “There’s a good possibility the material could be from us. We don’t know for sure. But we’re not gonna mess around with that. We’re going to take responsibility. The environment needs to be protected,” John Gallagher with Suncor said.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    EPA: A Primer on Using Biological Assessments to Support Water Quality Management

    November 2, 2011


    Here’s the link to the publication from the Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s an excerpt:

    This guide serves as a primer on the role of biological assessments in a variety of water quality management program applications, including reporting on the condition of the aquatic biota, establishing biological criteria, and assessing the effectiveness of Total Maximum Daily Load determinations and pollutant source controls. This guide provides a brief discussion of technical tools and approaches for developing strong biological assessment programs and presents examples of successful application of those tools.

    The objective of the Clean Water Act (CWA), and water quality management programs generally, is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Although we have achieved major water quality improvements over the past four decades and have reduced the discharge of many toxic chemicals into our nation’s waters, many environmental challenges remain, such as loss and fragmentation of habitat, altered hydrology, invasive species, climate change, discharge of new chemicals, stormwater, and nitrogen or phosphorus (nutrient) pollution. In the face of such challenges, how can we best deploy our water quality programs to meet the vision of the CWA for protection of aquatic life?
    Measuring the condition of the resident biota in surface waters using biological assessments and incorporating that information into management decisions can be an important tool to help federal, state, and tribal water quality management programs meet many of the challenges.

    Biological assessments are an evaluation of the condition of a waterbody using surveys of the structure and function of a community of resident biota (e.g., fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, periphyton, amphibians) (for more information, see Biological Assessment Key Concepts and Terms)1. Assessments of habitat condition, both instream and riparian, are typically conducted simultaneously. Such information can reflect the overall ecological integrity of a waterbody and provides a direct measure of both present and past effects of stressors on the biological integrity of an aquatic ecosystem. The benefit of a biological assessment program is based in its capability to:

    - Characterize the biological condition of a waterbody relative to water quality standards (WQS).

    - Integrate the cumulative effects of different stressors from multiple sources, thus providing a holistic measure of their aggregate effect.

    - Detect aquatic life impairment from unmeasured stressors and unknown sources of impairment.

    - Provide field data on biotic response variables to support development of empirical stressor response models.

    - Inform water quality and natural resource managers, stakeholders, and the public on the environmental outcomes of actions taken.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Restoration: Hope Mine biochar application has yielded surprising results

    September 11, 2011


    From the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):

    What was once a wasteland of arsenic, cadmium, lead and zinc on a steep mountainside that abuts Castle Creek is now a haven for natural grasses and wildflowers that have stabilized the slope and drastically reduced the risk of the heavy metals crashing into the city’s main water supply.

    The striking change of scenery around Hope Mine is the result of the first whole-scale reclamation project ever attempted in the United States, and possibly the world, using biochar — a type of charcoal produced through the thermal treatment of organic material in an oxygen-limited environment.

    how aggressive the regrowth was,” said John Bennett, executive director of For The Forest, which teamed up with Carbondale-based Flux Farm Foundation at the request of the U.S. Forest Service, which is exploring new ways to partner with private groups to reclaim landscapes. “We did not expect waist-high grass in the very first summer. We thought it would take longer.”

    Not only is biochar restoring the ecology and containing the mine tailings that fan down toward Castle Creek but experts say it is also immobilizing the heavy metals long enough so that they naturally degrade and it is sequestering carbon that would otherwise escape into the earth’s atmosphere.

    Click through for the rest of the article and the cool before and after photos.

    More coverage from Chadwick Bowman writing for The Aspen Times. From the article:

    “This project is going better than I would have dared hoped,” John Bennett, executive director of For the Forest, an Aspen-based nonprofit focused on forest health, said Thursday during a press conference at the site.

    The reclamation of the slope, south of Aspen in the Castle Creek Valley, became more pressing when it was discovered that very low levels if toxic metals had been sliding into the creek, a source of Aspen’s drinking water.

    Even though the levels of toxins were minute, the reclamation plan was intended to prevent a potential landslide on a mine tailings pile — debris left from mineral extraction — that could add poisons into the creek.

    “The Forest Service turned us on to the project because it’s their land,” said Kate Holstein, program director of For the Forest. “They told us there is a situation where this big slope is continually eroding into Castle Creek. … If a large erosion were to occur where the whole slope slid into the creek, it could be catastrophic.”

    Holstein said such a landslide could shut down the Castle Creek water source potentially for years…

    Forty-two test plots were laid out at the site; each contains different variations of biochar mixed with soil and seeds, as well as control plots that contain no biochar. Williams said there are significant differences between the plots, and that biochar is making growth happen.

    More restoration coverage here.

    U.S. Government Accounting Office report: Action Needed to Sustain Agencies’ Collaboration on Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water

    September 11, 2011


    Here’s the link to the GAO website where you can download the full report. Here’s the summary:

    Drinking water in some metropolitan areas contains concentrations of pharmaceuticals, raising concerns about their potential impact on human health. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, in public drinking water systems if they may adversely affect human health among other criteria. Pharmaceuticals may enter drinking water supplies from several pathways, including discharge from wastewater facilities. GAO was asked to provide information on the (1) extent to which pharmaceuticals occur in drinking water and their effects, if any, on human health; (2) U.S. and other countries’ approaches to reducing their occurrence; and (3) challenges, if any, that EPA faces in determining whether to regulate pharmaceuticals. GAO reviewed federal and peer-reviewed reports, and surveyed a nonprobability sample of five U.S. programs designed to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals. We selected these programs based on geographic diversity and program characteristics. We also researched such programs in two countries, and interviewed scientists and agency officials.

    Research has detected pharmaceuticals in the nation’s drinking water. National and regional studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, and others have detected pharmaceuticals in source water, treated drinking water, and treated wastewater; but the full extent of occurrence is unknown. The concentrations detected for any one pharmaceutical were measured most frequently in parts per trillion. Research has not determined the human health effects of exposure to these concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. However, federal research has demonstrated the potential impact to human health from exposure to some pharmaceuticals found in drinking water, such as antibiotics and those that interfere with the functioning and development of hormones in humans. Some states and local governments as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration have taken actions that could reduce the extent to which pharmaceuticals occur in drinking water. These efforts have primarily been through drug take-back programs to encourage proper control and disposal of pharmaceuticals. Additional efforts have been adopted in Europe following the European Union’s directive in 2004 requiring member states to have appropriate collection systems for unused or expired medicinal products. In addition to collection systems, Sweden also encourages actions such as writing small initial prescriptions to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that are disposed of if patients switch to a different pharmaceutical course. EPA faces challenges in obtaining sufficient occurrence and health effects data on pharmaceuticals and other contaminants in drinking water to support analyses and decisions to identify which, if any, pharmaceuticals should be regulated under SDWA. EPA is collaborating with the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Geological Survey on research to help obtain such data but these efforts are largely informal. EPA officials said there is no formal mechanism, such as a long-term strategy or formal agreement, to manage and sustain these collaborative efforts. A recently expired interagency workgroup, which EPA co-chaired, initiated work on a research strategy to identify opportunities that will enhance collaborative federal efforts on pharmaceuticals in the environment, but its draft report did not contain key details about how the agencies will coordinate such collaborative efforts. GAO previously identified key practices for enhancing and sustaining collaboration among federal agencies, some of which may help clarify such coordination, such as establishing the roles and responsibilities of collaborating agencies; leveraging their resources; and establishing a process for monitoring, evaluating, and reporting to the public the results of the collaborative research efforts. GAO recommends that the Administrator of EPA establish a workgroup or other formal mechanism to coordinate research on pharmaceuticals and other contaminants in drinking water. EPA agreed with the recommendation.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Animas River watershed: Part two of series about the river, ‘Want water, take a number’ from The Durango Herald

    August 29, 2011


    Here’s Part Two of the four part series about the Animas River from Dale Rodebaugh and The Durango Herald. Mr. Rodebaugh outlines how uses of the river have changed over time, from prehistoric times to the filling of Lake Nighthorse (full on June 29 this year), part of the Animas-La Plata Project. Here’s an excerpt:

    Durango’s early exploitation of the Animas was as a conduit to get logs to sawmills, where they were turned into lumber and railroad ties.

    Today, most of the water pulledfrom the river is for irrigation and consumption, but the city of Durango in 2007 obtained a decree that guarantees a certain amount of flow for a whitewater park at Smelter Rapid. Several entities have won such rights for recreation since legislation establishing recreation rights was enacted in2001.

    Also, a certain amount of water is reserved to protect two fish species in the San Juan River – the Colorado pikeminnow and humped-back chub,which are federally listed as endangered.

    Click through for the whole article and the slide show.

    Here’s a look at how the USGS measures streamflow, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

    The USGS maintains more than 7,000 gauging stations on rivers and lakes across the country. The Durango office manages 41 stations in La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose counties.

    The station near U.S. Highway 550 and 14th Street went into service in 1895, only six years after the first one ever was installed in New Mexico on the Rio Grande River to help determine whether there was sufficient water for irrigation.

    The USGS computerized its gauging nationally in 1983 and first made real-time data available online in 1995.

    Click through for the whole article and the video of hydrologic technician Jennifer Dansie at work on calibration chores.

    Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering superfund status for parts of the upper Animas River watershed, according to Mark Esper writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

    And EPA officials said that while the collaborative approach to water quality in the upper Animas spearheaded by the Animas River Stakeholders Group has been successful, the worsening situation on Cement Creek has compelled the agency to study a possible Superfund listing.

    “The problem is worsening water quality,” said Sabrina Forrest, site assessment manager for the EPA in Denver. Forrest explained that while the EPA considers the problem to be worthy of the National Priorities List (NPL) under the Superfund law, local support would be required as well as a sign-off from the governor.

    “It’s eligible for listing, but community support is needed for that,” Forrest said. And if the Gladstone sites were to be eventually put on the NPL “the community would still have a huge voice on how this would be done.”[...]

    Meanwhile, the EPA is planning a Sept. 16 site tour at Gladstone for those interested in getting a better idea of the situation on the ground up there. Forrest says the EPA hopes it can determine by Dec. 20 if there is enough local support for NPL listing to proceed. Under that timetable, the listing could be made official by March 2012.

    The preliminary assessment work focused on a cluster of mine sites at and above Gladstone, including the American Tunnel, Gold King Number 7 level, the Mogul and Grand Mogul and the Red and Bonita mines. Peter Butler of Durango, a steering committee member for the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which was formed as a collaborative approach to water quality issues in 1994, said Cement Creek has seen a steady increase in metals loading since a treatment plant at Gladstone was shut down in 2004. Up to 845 gallons per minute of acid mine drainage is pouring into Cement Creek from just four abandoned mines above Gladstone…

    At this point, Butler said possible solutions include various scenarios for a water treatment plant on Cement Creek, bulkheads for the four mines discharging the most, or some combination of that. Then comes the question of who pays. Butler said options include seeking damages from Sunnyside Gold’s parent company, Kinross; luring a large mining company to reopen the Gold King and take on the cleanup liability; taking an incremental approach with a pilot treatment project that could be expanded; invoking Superfund; or a combination thereof.

    Todd Hennis of Golden, who described himself as the “unfortunate owner of the Gold King and Mogul mines,” said the EPA has been spinning “fairy tales.” “The problem started in 2000 when water started coming out of the Mogul,” Hennis said. He said that was a result of the American Tunnel bulkheads causing water to back up. The water table has since risen an estimated 1,000 feet, causing acid mine drainage to seep from ever higher points on the mountain. Hennis accused state officials of engaging in “pollution trading” with Sunnyside Gold, with a consent decree letting the mining firm off the hook for water quality problems in the Gladstone area. “The state of Colorado has a huge responsibility for this situation,” Hennis said. “Sunnyside walked out of this district and their $5 million bond was returned.” Hennis said the best solution would be for a mining firm to reopen the Gold King and assume responsibility for the water quality issues. Hennis said he thinks there is $700 million in gold still retrievable from the Gold King mine.

    Here’s an article that details the course of the Animas River, including the geology, from its headwaters to the San Juan River, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

    At one time, [David Gonzales, a professor and chairman of the geosciences department at Fort Lewis College] said, gravel impelled by a glacier created a dam to form a lake in the Animas Valley. Later erosion of the debris drained the lake but caused the relatively flat and wide channel. The farthest reaching glacier, which receded about 12,000 years ago, carried gravel as far as 32nd Street, Gonzales said.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here.

    Kayakers, sportsmen, conservationists deliver 23,887 clean water comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin

    July 30, 2011


    From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

    Supreme Court rulings have put intermittent and ephemeral streams at risk, said David Nickum of Trout Unlimited, which includes most of Colorado’s waterways. In their rulings, judges narrowed protection to “navigable” waterways, under which classification a section of the Colorado River and a small portion of the Navajo Reservoir are the only protected waters in the state, Nickum said. There isn’t necessarily a provision for navigable waterways for commercial rafts, he added. It’s an extreme position, Nickum said, adding, “It’s the wrong direction to be moving and we don’t believe Congress intended (the law to read) that way.”

    To respond to the call for clarity, the federal EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, said the uncertainty means his staff can spend hours determining if they can step in during a case of a spill, when they’d rather be cleaning them up and preventing them. According to the Associated Press, the American Farm Bureau Federation says it’s concerned farmers and ranchers will be saddled with more regulations, but Martin says stock ponds and irrigated land are exempt.

    Pam Kiely of Environment Colorado estimated that a minimum of 450 Summit County residents took the time to support the draft guidance revisions.

    Nickum said the reaffirmation of protection affects critical tributaries for drinking water, but it also affects downstream fisheries and recreational waterways — including intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.

    In Colorado, these types of waterways account for 62 percent of the total river miles that feed into public drinking supplies and supports more than 3.7 million Coloradans, according to Environment Colorado. Essentially, the new guidance puts 30 years of historic protection back in “good standing,” Nickum said.

    Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Kayakers, sportsmen, conservationists deliver 23,887 clean water comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin

    July 27, 2011


    Here’s the release from Environment Colorado (Pam Kiely):

    As the public comment period comes to a close for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed guidance on determining whether a waterway is protected by the Clean Water Act, kayakers, conservationists, and sportsmen from across the state gathered Tuesday morning to demonstrate broad-based support for EPA’s efforts, hand-delivering to EPA officials 23,887 comment postcards, photo petitions, letters, and stacks of emails in support of EPA action to keep our state’s waterways clean.

    “This summer we’ve heard from tens of thousands of Coloradans,” said Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado, “And the consensus is clear— people support strong EPA action to fully protect the creeks and rivers they’re rafting, kayaking, swimming, and fishing in all summer long.”

    Over the past decade, interpretations of Supreme Court rulings have left murky which Colorado waterways are fully protected under the Clean Water Act by removing some critical types of waters from federal protection, causing confusion and uncertainly for regulators and businesses alike about which waters and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

    The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. This guidance would replace previous guidance to reaffirm protection for critical waters, including intermittent, ephemeral, or headwater streams. In Colorado, these types of waterways account for 62% of the total river miles that feed into public drinking water supplies; over 3.7 million Coloradans receive their drinking water from a source that is fed by, at least partially, on one of these smaller waterways.

    “EPA has laid out a comprehensive plan to maintain and improve the health of our nation’s waters,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver. “A fundamental part of that plan is reaffirming the clear application of the Clean Water Act. The guidance we are proposing will help protect the streams and wetlands that keep Colorado’s watersheds, and the state’s multi-billion dollar recreational economy, healthy.”

    The draft guidance will reaffirm protections for small streams that feed into larger streams and rivers, and reaffirm protection for wetlands that filter pollution and help protect communities from flooding. Keeping these smaller waterways safe is critical for the overall health of the watershed.

    “Anglers know it takes clean water in small tributaries upstream to create great fishing opportunities on rivers downstream – yet those tributaries are at risk of losing protection under the Clean Water Act,” noted David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Sportsmen applaud EPA for developing new guidance that will keep these streams protected, so that future generations can continue to enjoy clean fishable waters across Colorado.”

    The Guidance currently in place has caused unnecessary confusion and delay in the implementation of the Clean Water Act’s important programs, has interfered with effective enforcement activity and has put drinking water sources for at least 117 million people at risk nationwide. In Colorado alone, protections on over 65,000 miles of streams have been called into question.

    Since the Supreme Court decisions in SWANCC and Rapanos and ensuing EPA Guidance documents issued in 2003 and 2008, bodies of water that Congress intended to protect when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 have been put at risk. Congress enacted the Clean Water Act “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” and existing Guidance documents clearly threaten protection for wetlands, streams and other water bodies that play a critical role in overall health of the nation’s watersheds and drinking water sources.

    The full text of the newly proposed guidance can be found at: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm

    More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

    The EPA is trying to assert its authority over small, intermittent and headwaters streams after Supreme Court decisions in 2003 and 2008 seemed to limit the Clean Water Act to larger bodies of water. David Nickum, head of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited, said it feels like the Clean Water Act’s protections have been fading the last 10 years after three successful decades. “So many of our rivers and our fisheries depend on healthy headwaters. It’s pretty simple – if you have pollution upstream, it’s going to make its way downstream, and you’re going to have unhealthy rivers,” Nickum said.

    Martin said his agency spends too much time trying to figure out whether it has jurisdiction over a stream and not enough time cleaning up or preventing spills. “Ultimately, our goal is to protect the physical and chemical integrity of all of our waters,” Martin said. “We’re going to move forward. This is really important to the protection of clean water in this country.”

    A public comment period about the EPA’s clean water proposal closes this week. After that, the agency will have a formal rulemaking period to determine the scope of its authority.

    More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

    In another show of force on the water front Tuesday, conservation groups, kayakers and anglers rallied at Confluence Kayaks along the Platte River in downtown Denver and hand delivered 23,887 public comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin. The comments were in favor of an EPA rulemaking designed to clarify which bodies of water qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act.

    While the rulemaking has met with considerable resistance – including from Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation – EPA officials say it’s necessary in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have muddied the waters on which streams, creeks, ponds, lakes, rivers and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

    More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

    This [EPA] initiative could double the stream-miles covered in Colorado, where 3.7 million residents receive water from sources connected to unregulated seasonal creeks and streams, which feed seven major rivers that flow through 27 states. Nationwide, water supplies of 117 million Americans are connected to waterways where the EPA currently does not regulate pollution.

    Agriculture, mining and homebuilding industry leaders oppose the push, deploying lobbyists who accuse the EPA of overreach that could bog the economy.

    “This is really important for protecting clean water in the United States,” EPA regional administrator Jim Martin told supporters rallying Tuesday in Denver at Confluence Kayaks. “We want to get back into the job of preventing pollution.”

    Formerly chief of Colorado’s health department, Martin said state regulators lack resources to police streams. Amid current legal uncertainty, EPA officials notified of spills, are paralyzed trying to determine whether waterways qualify for protection – instead of cleaning up pollution, he said. “It makes no sense.”

    “If you don’t give the EPA the tools to protect those gullies and deal with spills there, ultimately they will not be able to protect rivers either,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

    EPA officials say draft guidelines make exceptions for agricultural producers. Pollution from stock ponds and irrigated croplands that flows into waterways would be exempt from new regulation.

    More EPA coverage here.


    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 888 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: