EPA — Know the facts: Floodplains are not regulated #ditchthemyth

July 29, 2014

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

EPA: #ditchthemyth that our proposed rule to protect clean water increases ditch-regulation. In fact, they’re decreased.

July 25, 2014

EPA: Waters that have never been protected remain outside the scope of the Clean Water Act

July 24, 2014

EPA: Our proposal to protect clean water preserves all exclusions and exemptions for agriculture

July 24, 2014

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

EPA: Our proposal to protect clean water won’t affect state water laws, including those on water supply and use

July 23, 2014

EPA: Our proposal to protect clean water does not regulate puddles and water on driveways and playgrounds

July 22, 2014

From the Public News Service (Stephanie Carson):

Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and other “big ag” organizations are protesting proposed federal rules that would redefine which bodies of water are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Among the exceptions to that protest are farmers represented by the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Bill Midcap, director of external affairs with the union, says he and his peers recognize the importance of maintaining the state’s limited water supply.

“We’ve broken ranks, but we think that education and clarity of these rules is something ag’s going to need,” says Midcap.

While opponents of the proposed regulations say they place a burden on the farm community, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union launched a campaign this month called “They Don’t Speak for Me,” intended to underline the fact not all farmers agree with the “big ag” lobby’s opposition to the water rules.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the proposed rule clarifications are needed to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act, and to ensure the ability of a new rule which would still offer exemptions for everyday agricultural activities. EPA representatives have been traveling around Colorado to help farmers understand the proposed regulations, and to demonstrate how the clarifications will enable farmers to continue irrigation of crops.

Julia McCarthy, environmental life scientist with the EPA, also notes the proposed regulations simply reinstate rules initially put into place in the 1970s.

“We want to make sure these headwater areas are providing a clean source of water for downstream communities and downstream irrigators so we don’t have issues with high pollution levels in the water that we’re using to water our crops,” says McCarthy.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 to address water pollution, but Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 limited the Clean Water Act to waters deemed “navigable.” The EPA says this has created confusion when it comes to enforcement of water regulations.

Bill Midcap says he just wants to make sure farmers have a voice as the rules develop.

“Despite the opposition, these rules are going to move forward,” he says. “So, why not try to get real clarification of how the rules are being written, before they are written?” The EPA has extended their public comment period to Oct. 20.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

EPA proposed rule: Normal farming activities like planting crops and moving cattle do not require permits

July 21, 2014

Public comment period open for Cotter Mill license

July 21, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being accepted on the process of licensing the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill until decommissioning is complete. A total of six new documents are available for comment until Sept. 16. The documents outline the radioactive materials license changes that Cotter officials will operate under while cleaning up the mill site.

The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984. Although the state will not terminate the license until all decommissioning, remediation and reclamation activities are complete, provisions in the license need to change.

The site can no longer be used to produce yellowcake from uranium and only the Zirconium ore that already is on site will be allowed there. The cleanup of the site will address an impoundment that has been used to store tailings and the recently torn down mill buildings. Cotter officials have agreed to set aside a financial assurance of $17,837,983 to cover the cost of decommissioning activities. In addition, a longterm care fund will cover post-license termination activities. The $250,000 fund was created in 1978 and has grown to $1,018,243 through interest payments.

The documents pertaining to the license changes and a map of the Cotter Mill site can be viewed at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/2014/14cotterdocs.htm. Comments should be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or mailed to Smith at Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.

The Lower Ark District approves letter to the EPA about new rule as “water grab”

July 18, 2014
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to protect water in the Lower Arkansas Valley plans to weigh in on proposed rules that some say amount to a federal water grab. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District voted Wednesday to send a formal comment to the Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed Waters of the United States, claiming that it goes too far in regulating wetlands and even groundwater connected to streams.

The rules are an attempt to resolve conflicting U.S. Supreme Court decisions that center on the issue of “navigable waters.”

“East of the Mississippi River, all waters may be navigable, but it doesn’t make sense for the arid West,” said Mark Pifher, the Arkansas River basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Quality Commission. Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive, typically attends Lower Ark meetings to update the Lower Ark on stormwater issues. He recently testified against the rule in Washington, D.C., on behalf of municipal and agricultural water interests.

Leroy Mauch, the Prowers County director on the Lower Ark board, urged the board to jump into the federal fray.

“We need to research this and send out a letter objecting to this,” Mauch said.

Wayne Whittaker, the Otero County director, said the new policy sounds like continuation of years of federal attempts to insert control into state water issues.

Most water groups in the West have taken a position that the rules are too intrusive. An exception is the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which claims the rules have sufficient exemptions that protect agriculture.

Some in Congress are backing legislation that would simply not fund enforcement of the policy.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Activities on several fronts are aimed at improving surface sprinkler irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley. Several studies are aimed at reducing the obligation of farmers in group plans, known as Rule 10 plans, under state consumptive use rules designed to prevent expanded water use through increased farm efficiencies. Sprinklers have been the most effected by the rules, although drip irrigation, ditch lining and other methods are accounted for as well.

On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District reviewed its projects that aim at the rules:

A $70,000 state grant looking at the legal implications of using flood irrigation water rights decreed for the same ground as sprinklers as augmentation water. The district has suggested legislation to allow this, but it so far has not been introduced.

A $175,000 proposed state grant to determine if tailwater measurements in state irrigation models are too high.

A $120,000 study to determine if leakage from ponds that supply water to surface-fed sprinklers is too high.

The goal is to reduce the obligation and find sustainable sources of replacement water, said General Manager Jay Winner.

“These are parallel paths,” he told the board. “The day is coming when you won’t be able to buy water on the spot market.”

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

EPA: Proposed rule to protect clean water — exclusions and exemptions for agriculture will not change

July 17, 2014

Know the facts: Proposed rule to protect clean water — EPA

July 15, 2014

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

EPA’s efforts to clarify the Clean Water Act upsets some Colorado farmers — Colorado Public Radio

July 14, 2014

From Colorado Public Radio (Lesley McClurg):

“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,” the EPA says.

Yet the proposal is under attack by some the agriculture industry. The National Milk Producers Federation and the American Farm Bureau say the proposal could threaten farming, ranching, homebuilding and energy production.

Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft worries that the changes could apply to small streams or ditches that cross his ranch in the San Luis Valley.

“There are many places where that water is diverted into farmer lands from the Rio Grande in the San Luis Valley,” he says. “Because there’s that nexus — that connection — then it is subject to all of the rules in the Clean Water Act, including whether I can put a fence across that ditch; whether I can use herbicides or pesticides. Those are the types of pertinent implications that greatly concern us.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has been visiting farms throughout the country in an effort to further dialogue about the proposal. The EPA is taking comments on the proposed rule through October.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Waters of the US: “We ought to care about clean water” — Bill Midcap (Rocky Mountain Farmers Union)

July 11, 2014
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers like clean water.

And the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has broken ranks with many other water users in Colorado to support proposed rules meant to clear up discrepancies in U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Clean Water Act.

The group claims false claims are being made about the rules. The rules are proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The group placed an ad in Wednesday’s Chieftain claiming: “Washington lobbyists don’t speak for Colorado farmers.”

It’s a message to Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, who asked for and received a delay in the deadline for comments last month.

“It is critical that both Colorado senators and leadership at the USDA and EPA understand that ranchers and farmers need clean water to sustain our living, and appreciate balanced water policy. We believe the new rule targets both,” said Bill Midcap, external affairs director for the RMFU.

Midcap said the rules have exemptions that protect the way farmers use water. [ed. emphasis mine]

“We’ve had meetings with the EPA, so they could explain it to ag people,” Midcap said. “There is a lot of fear factor going on, and people ought to really pay attention to what the rule says.”

The rule clears up how the Clean Water Act applies to farms, and does [not] mean agricultural ditches and ponds will be taken over by the federal government, Midcap said.

“In our mission statement, it say we are stewards of the land,” he added. “We ought to care about clean water.”

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

EPA: Farmer Heroes Manage Nutrients On Farm

July 4, 2014
Blue-Green algae bloom

Blue-Green algae bloom

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Click through for the photo gallery):

Nutrient pollution caused by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus originates from many sources including, but not limited to, fertilizers and manure from agriculture and soil erosion.

Protecting clean water is essential to sustaining America’s agricultural way of life, and nutrient pollution threatens our economy, public health and quality of life. Fortunately, there are farmers who are voluntarily adopting practices to minimize nutrient runoff from their operations. These farmer heroes are providers of America’s food supply and stewards of their local water resources.

The farmers below have been identified by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and EPA for implementing specific best management practices to reduce pollution while also improving or sustaining their profits, soil quality and/or yields. We celebrate these farmer heroes who are making a difference to improve America’s water resources and invite you to read their stories.

  • Keeping the creek on the family farm flowing and clean makes good environmental and financial sense.
  • Central Illinois farmer manages nitrogen use to lower costs, maintain yields and leave land in good shape for his children.
  • For Long Island farmers, fertilizer is key to saving money, reducing work, and protecting community.
  • Little Rock farmer helps minimize fertilizer runoff by cultivating interest in organic locally grown foods.
  • Farmer discovers how to protect his water and increase his bottom-line.
  • Why what happens in a little creek on my farm matters downstream.
  • Clean water is key to my family’s farming future.
  • What I’ve learned about protecting the privilege of farming.

  • Water Pollution: Conservationists tally 849,610 pounds of pollutants released to surface water in 2012

    June 29, 2014


    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Industrial polluters released 849,610 pounds of toxic chemicals into Colorado waterways in 2012, according to a report drawn from federal data. The most prevalent chemical — nitrates — causes algae growth that leads to dead zones in rivers and streams.

    “If we suck all the oxygen out of rivers, then there are no fish and our rivers become lifeless,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, who conducted the analysis. “This toxic pollution is a reminder of why we need the strongest protection we can get under the Clean Water Act.”

    The data presented Thursday by Environment America’s affiliates in Colorado and other states comes from disclosures by industrial facilities to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Among the leading polluters in Colorado, according to the report:

    • Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. at Fort Morgan — 462,608 pounds of nitrate compounds and ammonia released into the South Platte River.

    • Army at Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs — 143,419 pounds of nitrate compounds released into Fountain Creek.

    • Suncor Energy in Commerce City — 78,280 ponds of nitrates, dioxins and other compounds released into Sand Creek.

    • MillerCoors’ brewery in Golden — 71,000 ponds of nitrates and ammonia released into Clear Creek.

    • Climax Molybdenum Co. in Empire and Climax — nitrates, manganese, zinc and other compounds released into the West Fork of Clear Creek and Tenmile Creek.

    • Leprino Foods’ plant at Fort Morgan — 19,534 pounds of nitrates released into the South Platte.

    • The Western Sugar Cooperative in Greeley — 12,394 pounds of nitrates released into the Cache la Poudre River.

    Environmental groups rolled out the report as EPA officials consider extending Clean Water Act protection to thousands of miles of streams and rivers and millions of acres of wetlands around the nation. They contend restoration of federal protection to these intermittent waterways — which had protection before 2006 — will help control the growth of dead zones.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Survey of Latinos in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and New Mexico shows majority support for water protections

    June 24, 2014
    Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season

    Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season

    From Kansas City Infozine:

    The survey of Latinos in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and New Mexico, conducted last month, showed that large majorities in each state support nationwide rules to protect wetlands and small streams, including ones that don’t flow year-round, which feed into the drinking water supplies of one in three Americans.

    The federal government this spring proposed to restore anti-pollution protections to these small streams and nearby wetlands, whose status had been in legal limbo for more than a decade. But now there is a strong move by Senate Republicans to bar the EPA from completing work on the safeguards and implementing them.

    “This poll shows that clean water is important to Latinos, as it is to most other Americans,” said Adrianna Quintero, director of Latino outreach for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which commissioned the poll. “The Senate should take notice. We all want the federal government to make sure that polluters don’t threaten the health and safety of our families by fouling the water they drink, bathe with, swim in, or use for fishing and boating. It’s part of Latino heritage.”

    These small streams and wetlands provide crucial water quality benefits for fishing, boating and swimming, which are important for tourism in many of the states surveyed. In each poll, eight-five percent or more of the Latinos surveyed said it was important that strong clean water safety standards be set at the national level, rather than left up mostly to the states. The telephone and Internet poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a national firm based in North Carolina, and surveyed about 500 Latinos in each state.

    Noting that these small streams and wetlands also capture floodwater, filter pollutants, and help feed groundwater that is used for drinking, farming and other businesses, the polls found that most respondents said that these waters should have protection from industry pollution. Additionally, large majorities said they had “very serious” or “somewhat serious” concerns that the uncertain legal status has endangered these waters by allowing companies to avoid preparing oil spill prevention and response plans or by allowing them to bury streams and wetlands under mining or other industrial waste.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    EPA webinar — When Green Goes Bad: Understanding Cyanobacteria, Nutrients & Lakes

    June 22, 2014

    Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014 introduced to set aside EPA’s proposed “Waters of the US” clarification

    June 21, 2014

    From The Greeley Tribune:

    A group of 30 Republican U.S. Senators on Thursday introduced legislation to stop the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, currently under public comment, according to reports.

    The Senators’ “Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014” aims to stop the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule — a rule they say would ignore limits established by Congress regarding regulation of bodies of water in the United States if finalized.

    The prosed rule, officially announced on March 25, dictates what waters fall under the definition of waters of the U.S., providing EPA and Corps jurisdiction to enforce regulations outlined in the Clean Water Act.

    “The Obama EPA is trying every scheme they can think of to take control of all water in the United States,” said Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014 author Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, said in a press statement. “This time, their unprecedented federal water grab is in the form of a rule that will hurt family farms, ranches, and small businesses by imposing outrageous permitting fees and compliance costs.”

    Barrasso, as well as famers, suggest that if the rule goes forward, it will restrict local land and water use decisions, and could extend to intermittent streams and ditches, requiring additional permitting for farming and ranching activities.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A Forest Service directive has the potential to add groundwater resources to proposed federal rules on surface water under the Clean Water Act, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said Thursday. During a congressional hearing, Tipton questioned Undersecretary of Agriculture Robert Bonnie on the proposed groundwater directive. The directive would expand forest service control to include groundwater, as well as streams that feed it, Tipton said.

    Bonnie said Tipton is misinterpreting the rule.

    “The Forest Service is putting out a directive that will clarify and provide some consistency across the way we address groundwater as part of resource management plans, projects and other things,” Bonnie said. “The purpose of that directive is to provide greater consistency across the Forest Service. It doesn’t provide any new authorities to regulate groundwater.”

    Tipton disagreed.

    “My interpretation of it is that a farmer or rancher could divert legally out of a stream to fill a stock pond or irrigate a field, and will be in violation,” Tipton replied.

    Water users in Colorado already are nervous about increased scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers under proposed rules that regulate nearly every waterway as waters of the United States.

    Those rules have been proposed to clarify federal authority after conflicting Supreme Court decisions.

    For instance, on Thursday the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District spent time discussing potential impacts. Colorado Water Quality Control board member Mark Pifher testified to Congress last week that the rules would add regulatory expense to water projects. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, helped expand the comment period for the rules.

    Meanwhile, Tipton has been critical of the Forest Service on other occasions, objecting to contract for ski areas that take water rights. The waters of the U.S. rule is another example of how the federal government is overreaching, he said.

    “I don’t know what’s not going to be applicable to the ‘waters of the U.S.’ This is the biggest water grab in American history coming out of the EPA,” Tipton said.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Boulder County Commissioners’ hearing about Moffat Collection System Project now online #ColoradoRiver

    June 19, 2014
    Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

    To listen to Monday’s Boulder County commissioners public hearing on Gross Reservoir (Requires installation of Silverlight).

    The Environmental Protection Agency has added its voice to those with critical comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ analysis of the potential impact of a Gross Reservoir expansion.

    “This letter and enclosed detailed comments reinforce the primary concern as stated in the EPA’s draft EIS letter that the Project would adversely impact water quality and aquatic resources in an already degraded system,” the EPA’s letter stated, referring to criticisms it initially raised when the analysis was in draft form.

    The letter, from the EPA’s office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation, asserts that the Army Corps’ analysis describes all mitigation measures “as conceptual, and does not include mitigation commitments for some Project impacts that are significant to regulatory requirements” of the Clean Water Act.

    The official 45-day public comment period for the finalized environmental impact statement for what is formally known as the Moffat Collection System Project closed on June 9, and the EPA’s letter carries that date.

    The project manager for the proposed expansion has said, however, that the Army Corps would continue to take “meaningful” and “substantive” comments on the analysis until the agency makes a decision on the project, likely by April 2015…

    The EPA in its letter also states that it hopes its comments will stimulate further discussions with the Army Corps, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Denver Water to ensure that its concerns are addressed prior to issuance of a project permit, so that the project is compliant with the Clean Water Act and “protective of waters of the U.S.”

    U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., had implored the Army Corps on June 5 to extend its public comment period. And, the same day, the Boulder County Commissioners unanimously approved a letter detailing their objections to the adequacy and accuracy of the Army Corps’ analysis of the project, also saying the 45-day window for public comment should be extended.

    On Monday, the commissioners held three hours of public comment on the project, which will be distilled and used to contribute to a follow-up letter the commissioners will be sending to the Army Corps.

    “We had a full room, and I would say it was very well attended, and that people came in with quite a bit of research, science and data,” said commissioners’ spokesperson Barbara Halpin.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

    The Resurrection Mining Co. files change of use on Twin Lakes shares to augment depletions at the Yak Tunnel treatment plant

    June 18, 2014
    Yak Tunnel via the EPA

    Yak Tunnel via the EPA

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Resurrection Mining Co. has filed its plan in water court to permanently replace flows to the Arkansas River water from its Yak Tunnel reclamation plant.

    According to a court filing in May, the company plans to dedicate 10 shares of Twin Lakes water to flow down Lake Creek to replace the water it is capturing and cleaning at the Yak Tunnel plant and surge pond about 1 mile southeast of Leadville.

    The water court application formalizes an arrangement that has been in place since Resurrection took over operation of the Yak Tunnel from ASARCO after a bankruptcy filing in 2005.

    ASARCO began operating the Yak Tunnel plant in 1989 following federal court decisions that required mining companies to intercept and treat drainage from mine tunnels. Twin Lakes shares were leased until the company bought its own shares in 1994.

    Depletions amounted to 3-7.7 acre-feet (1 million- 2.5 million gallons) annually from 2006-13. Replacement for those flows were replaced under a substitute water supply plan, an agreement administered by the state Division of Water Resources.

    The tunnel, like others in the area, originally was drilled to dewater mines and increase productivity. However, the drainage includes heavy metals that diminish water quality and endanger wildlife. The surge pond captures water that escapes from tunnels and allows the water treatment plan The court filing assures that an operating plan is in place, regardless of how much water is needed in any given year to replace depletion.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    EPA: Want to learn more about the Waters of the US proposal? Watch this webcast.

    June 17, 2014

    EPA and USACE extend comment deadline to October 20 for clarification of “Waters of the US”

    June 13, 2014


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers extended the comment period for new rules on Waters of the United States under the federal Clean Water Act. The federal agencies added an additional 90 days in extending the deadline for comments to Oct. 20.

    The move came after urging by political and water interests, including Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats.

    The rules, published in the Federal Register on April 25, are an attempt to resolve federal jurisdiction issues after conflicting U.S. Supreme Court opinions on that authority.

    Water users, particularly in the West, fear that the new rules would affect mostly dry washes and wetlands along with streams that have been traditionally regulated.

    Happy 8th Birthday EPA WaterSense Program

    June 12, 2014

    Many eyes are on the EPA’s clarification of the “Waters of the US” under the Clean Water Act

    June 12, 2014
    Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

    Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado’s senators are crying “whoa!” and its major water providers “no” on a proposed rule by federal agencies to manage all watersheds under the Clean Water Act. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed rules that attempt to resolve conflicting rulings on the Clean Water Act by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 370-page rules connect every part of a watershed, from mostly dry arroyos and wetlands to large streams and rivers, to be included under the definition of “waters of the United States.” It establishes a “nexus” of waters, rather than simply a connection to navigable waterways.

    Last week, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, sent a letter to EPA Chief Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy urging them to extend the public comment period for the rule.

    “We have heard from many Coloradans who are concerned about unintentional consequences arising from the proposed rule, especially due to Colorado’s unique relationship with its water resources,” the senators wrote.

    “Colorado landowners and water users need certainty and commonsense interpretation concerning federal jurisdiction under the CWA in order to maintain current operations and plan for future growth.”

    On Wednesday, Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive and member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, testified before the water resources subcommittee of the U.S. House that the proposed rule adds regulations that would hamstring Colorado water projects.

    Pifher oversaw the construction of the $600 million Prairie Waters Project, which allows Aurora and other Denverarea water providers to recycle return flows. He is the permit manager for Southern Delivery System, a $900 million project by Colorado Springs and its partners to reuse water in the Arkansas River basin.

    Pifher claimed the new rules would have added costs to Prairie Waters by including mostly dry streams under federal jurisdiction, and pointed to additional costs added by regulation for SDS.

    The rules, as written, also would have adverse impacts for agriculture, Pifher said.

    “Unfortunately, the waters of the U.S. rule, as currently proposed, could serve to impose additional regulatory burdens on local communities and economies without any concomitant environmental benefits,” Pifher testified.

    “Western municipalities and irrigated agriculture are prepared to work with the federal agencies and Congress in the crafting of a rule that adds clarity and certainty to the CWA and its implementing regulations, yet respects local needs.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Proposed clarification for what constitutes “Waters of the US” worry some in agriculture

    May 29, 2014
    Sheep Herders on the Uncompahgre Plateau back in the day

    Sheep Herders on the Uncompahgre Plateau back in the day

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    New rules meant to clarify the types of waterways protected under the federal Clean Water Act and create more certainty for agricultural water users could leave things as ambiguous as ever, area ranchers told a leading EPA official here Wednesday.

    “I think this just muddies the waters, and does not make it more clear,” Carbondale-area rancher Bill McKee said during a presentation by EPA water programs officials, including Nancy Stoner, the agency’s acting assistant administrator. Stoner is helping to oversee a rewrite of rules governing protected waters under the landmark 1972 law aimed at cleaning up the nation’s rivers, lakes and streams…

    Irrigation systems typically found in the Rocky Mountains, where water is shared by multiple ranchers and other users to irrigate fields, and even golf courses and lawns, via ditches that eventually return water to the river system, seem to qualify as protected waters by the revised definitions under review by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, they said.

    But Stoner said the new rules are intended to preserve existing agricultural exemptions, and even make it easier for ranchers to carry out certain types of conservation practices such as building stream crossings for livestock or making wetland or riparian enhancements without a permit.

    “The goal is to make it as clear as we can which waters are protected, and to make it easy to figure out if you are complying,” she said during the meeting, held at the El Jebel firehouse.

    Stoner was invited by the nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy to speak on the proposed rule changes with ranchers and other area water users and government officials…

    The 90-day public comment period on the proposed new rules remains open until July 21. Details about the rule changes and instructions on submitting comments can be found at http://www.epa.gov/uswaters…

    The new rules do not expand the types of water protected under the Clean Water Act, explained McCarthy, but further clarify what qualifies as “navigable waters of the U.S.” under the law, she said.

    That primarily applies to protecting headwaters, wetlands, major waterways and their tributaries, as long as they have an established streambed, bank and “ordinary high water mark.”

    Some ditches are regulated if the source point and discharge are on a regulated stream, McCarthy said. But the agricultural exemptions for routine operations remain.

    “The comments we are seeking are really important, and we want a Western perspective to make sure these definitions make sense for the types of resources we see here,” she said.

    The proposed new rules also expand exemptions to 50 types of agricultural conservation practices involving waters without having to notify the Army Corps or obtain permitting.

    “Farmers and producers will not need a determination of whether the activities are in ‘waters of the United States’ to qualify for this exemption, nor will they need site-specific pre-approval from either the Corps or the EPA before implementing the practices,” according to an information sheet distributed by Stoner at the meeting.

    The proposed rule also does not regulate ground water, tile drainage systems or expand regulation over ditches, Stoner also explained.

    More EPA coverage here.

    Weld ag industry pleased with EPA outreach, but still questioning proposed water rules — The Greeley Tribune

    May 22, 2014


    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Weld County farmers and ranchers appreciated federal officials traveling here recently to explain portions of rules proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers in March. However, they say, there are still questions and concerns, and some will likely push for an extension of the July 21 deadline to comment on the complex proposal. Ag organizations across the country have been taking seriously the “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

    The purpose of the rule, EPA officials say, is to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands, since determining Clean Water Act protection became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. For years, members of Congress, state and local officials, agricultural and environmental groups and the public asked for a rulemaking to provide clarity.

    But some who requested such clarification — particularly the ag industry — aren’t satisfied now, and instead see the rule as a possible expansion of the federal government’s reach.

    EPA officials recently toured Greeley-area ag operations and others around the state, holding meetings with local producers and representatives of ag organizations. There, they stressed all of the exemptions provided to the ag industry now in the EPA’s rules still would be in place under the new rules, along with emphasizing other points.

    But local producers, and others, say they’re still concerned about “unintended consequences,” largely because Colorado’s state water laws are so much different and much more complex than those of other states, and the EPA’s rules might conflict with them, or continue leaving questions for farmers trying to comply, when doing things such as building fences or using pesticides to control bugs and weeds along “Waters of the U.S.”

    “We just have a totally different way of doing things here, but the EPA tries making one-size-fits-all rules for farmers across the country,” said Dave Eckhardt, a LaSalle-area farmer, whose farm was toured by EPA officials last week. “I’m just not sure it can work that way.”

    A very basic difference, for example, is that many farmers on Colorado’s Front Range and plains, because of the limited precipitation, divert water onto their fields for irrigation, while farmers in other areas — like the Midwest, which sees much more precipitation — set up their fields to divert excess water off of them.

    “We’re all so different,” Eckhardt said.

    Under the new rules, certain irrigation ditches that carry water to “Waters of the U.S.” actually would become “Waters of the U.S.” — that includes two ditches Eckhardt and his family use, he said, along with many other ditches in Colorado. Eckhardt said those irrigation ditches that would become “Waters of the U.S.,” on paper, still shouldn’t be impacted because of the current ag exemptions that are expected to stay in place.

    “But you can’t help but wonder what issues might pop up due to these other changes,” he said. “Or what might happen down the road as agriculture changes.

    “We’ve been burned more than once on this. Farming is complex, and every operation is different. I’m afraid we’ll end up doing what we’ve been doing already — constantly checking with the Corp (of Engineers) to make sure we’re not violating anything.”

    Colorado also has unique augmentation requirements. For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. The pumping of that groundwater draws down flows in nearby rivers and streams — surface supplies owned and used by senior water rights holders. A common augmentation method is building recharge ponds, which allow water to seep into the ground over time to replace groundwater depletions. Some, like Colorado Farm Bureau Vice President Brent Boydston, questioned how recharge ponds would fit into the rules, but said after the meeting he didn’t get the explanation he was looking for.

    “It seemed like they just kept telling us to include it in our comments,” Boydston said. “They couldn’t explain a lot of this to us.”

    John Stulp, who serves as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special adviser on water, said during a recent meeting in Greeley that the state might push for an extension to comment on the rule.

    EPA officials there said Colorado wouldn’t be the first to make that request.

    Still, many who took part in the conversations in Greeley said they think the waters have calmed some, thanks to the EPA’s recent outreach efforts.

    “I’m very confident now in that the more aggressive criticism of the rule was not well-founded,” said Mark Sponsler, executive director and CEO with the Colorado Corn Growers. “This isn’t at all an effort by the EPA to regulate every drop of water that hits the Earth.”

    Meanwhile, others still have their concerns.

    The American Farm Bureau Federation is pushing its “Ditch the Rule” campaign.

    Additionally, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., earlier this month joined 45 members of the Senate and Congressional Western Caucuses in sending a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, calling on the EPA to put a stop to the rule proposal that “will radically expand federal regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act.”

    “During an exchange I had with Administrator McCarthy … she testified that she was not familiar with Colorado water law as compared with other states’ water laws,” Gardner said. “It is appalling that the EPA is pushing out rules to control Colorado’s water without taking into account previous state actions.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Montezuma County: Non-hazardous waste from the Red Arrow Mill to local landfill?

    May 19, 2014
    Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

    Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

    From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

    The Montezuma County landfill has taken a proactive measure to help save taxpayers any unnecessary expense when disposing of nonhazardous waste from the Red Arrow mill in Mancos.

    Landfill manager Deb Barton recently requested clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about accepting any non-hazardous waste from the federal Superfund site. Acting as a concerned citizen, Barton said she sought the clarification in order to help lower waste disposal transportation costs associated with the cleanup effort.

    “Why pay an extra 50, 60 or 70 miles of transportation when we’re basically 20 miles from Mancos?” she asked. “If this will reduce the cost to taxpayers, isn’t that my responsibility as a citizen?”

    “The EPA is going to tear down everything at the mill, and they would like to keep any non-hazardous material as close as possible,” she said.

    After an environmental investigation by state authorities, the EPA issued a temporary 60-day permit for the landfill on Feb. 28. Barton said state and federal laws prohibit the landfill from accepting anything but non-hazardous and non-liquid waste only.

    “We’ve been certified to meet EPA standards,” said Barton. “Does that mean they can bring the material to me willy-nilly? No. They have to prove that it is non-hazardous.”

    Barton said a certified EPA lab report stating the waste was not hazardous would have to be produced before receiving any non-hazardous waste from Red Arrow. Any mercury tainted waste from the milling site must be less than 0.2 parts per million, and any lead or arsenic polluted material must be less than 5 parts per million, she said.

    “The EPA will test everything that comes out of the milling site, because they don’t want another Superfund site along the way,” Barton said. “The EPA would not allow any waste to come that doesn’t meet their standards, so I’m not going to screw the pooch either.”

    Because of the EPA lab results, Barton said she remained confident that no hazardous material would ever enter the local landfill. She added that nearby archeological sites, ranchers and ordinary citizens also have nothing to fear.

    “If the waste doesn’t have that EPA lab report, then it will be going someplace else,” Barton said. “I’m not going to take any hazardous material.”

    More Montezuma County coverage here.

    ASARCO hopes to tap into Union Pacific for some dough for Vasquez Blvd. & I-70 superfund site

    May 16, 2014


    From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

    Asarco wants the Union Pacific Railroad Co. to pay for part of the cleanup of a Superfund site where arsenic leached into Denver groundwater from rail tracks.

    A lawsuit before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says Union Pacific should reimburse Asarco for some of the $1.5 million environmental cleanup of 4 square miles near Vasquez Boulevard and Interstate 70 known as the Vasquez site, where gold, zinc, lead and other metals were smelted.

    Asarco, a Phoenix-based mining and refinery company, has paid a total of $1.8 billion at 20 Superfund sites around the country, including the much larger Globeville site in north Denver.

    In its lawsuit, Asarco claims that Union Pacific used mine tailings in rail beds traversing the Vasquez site. The tailings used to support the rail lines leached into surface and groundwater, resulting in elevated levels of arsenic and lead, the lawsuit says.

    But Union Pacific met all of its financial obligations related to the Vasquez site in a court-approved June 2009 settlement between the railroad, the government and Asarco, said attorney Carolyn McIntosh, who represents the railroad.

    “It was a full resolution,” McIntosh told a panel of three circuit court judges in Denver on Wednesday morning.

    Pepsi-Cola Metropolitan Bottling Co., a New Jersey company that owns some of the property on the Vasquez site, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in December 2012.

    Asarco attorney Gregory Evans said the Vasquez site is just one of many around the country that Union Pacific polluted. He estimated that cleanup costs for all the sites would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Union Pacific has negatively impacted human health and the environment through its use and abandonment of mining waste along (railroad tracks),” Evans said Wednesday.

    Federal District Magistrate Judge Michael Watanabe previously has ruled that Asarco failed to file its lawsuit within the statute of limitations.

    Asarco attorney Duncan Getchell said Watanabe erred because the effective date of the settlement involving Union Pacific and Pepsi-Cola is Dec. 9, 2012, when Asarco’s bankruptcy was finalized.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Say hello to the EPA’s ‘Waters of the United States” website

    May 9, 2014
    Screen shot from the EPA's Waters of the US website May 9, 2014

    Screen shot from the EPA’s Waters of the US website May 9, 2014

    Click here to go to the website and get all the inside skinny on the proposed rule. Here’s an excerpt:

    For the past three years, EPA and the Army Corps have listened to important input from the agriculture community. Using the input from those discussions, the agencies then worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that concerns raised by farmers and the agricultural industry were addressed.

    Download a fact sheet about benefits for agriculture.

    Read an op-ed on agriculture by EPA Administrator McCarthy.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Whatever Floats Your Boat: Redefining Waters of the U.S. — Huffington Post

    May 4, 2014


    From the Huffington Post (Val Wagner):

    “Navigable waters.” According to the Internet, the accepted definition is: “deep and wide enough for boats and ships to travel on or through: capable of being navigated.”

    Apparently that’s true for everyone… but the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The new proposed ruling for the expanded Clean Water Act from the EPA is meant to clarify what is determined as “Waters of the U.S.” In essence, almost any place that water could collect could be subject to regulation and the permitting process.

    The CWA was started in 1972 as a way to curb pollution into what was determined navigable water from a single source — without a federal permit.

    Most people would probably be amazed at what all requires permission from someone else in order to simply do something… even on your own property. There are permits to build stuff, permits to take down stuff, permits to use water, permits to take away water — I’m sure there are probably even agencies that have permits in order for another agency to allow permits. The process is essentially the same. You apply, based on whatever rules and regulations have been drawn up. You explain why you should be allowed a permit to complete whatever action or build whatever structure you have planned. You present your application with the proper fee, determined by the regulatory board or by law, and you wait to hear back.

    Here’s the catch: There is no legal right to be allowed a permit. That’s right, even if you dot your I’s and cross your T’s and pay the fees and fill out each form in triplicate and you state sound reasons as to why your permit should be granted and have science on your side, you may be turned down. Because we all know that decisions don’t always make sense.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Colorado wetlands to regain federal protection

    April 16, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:


    High alpine wetlands that aren’t directly connected with larger rivers will regain more protection under a proposed new federal rule. bberwyn photo.

    New rule aims to clear up regulatory limbo for seasonal streams and isolated wetlands

    By Bob Berwyn

    FRISCO — A proposed federal rule would restore protection to hundreds of Colorado streams and big swaths of wetlands, including beloved alpine creeks and the sandy washes of the Front Range that only hold water seasonally.

    The seasonal streams and disconnected wetlands long were covered under the Clean Water Act, but a pair of complex U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 opened some loopholes the regulations. At the least, the legal limbo caused headaches for scientists and regulators trying to assess impacts of housing developments and new roads. In some cases, they weren’t sure if they even had authority to regulate filling or draining of some wetlands.

    View original 732 more words

    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.


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