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

July 21, 2014

2014 Colorado November election: El Paso County voters to decide on stormwater enterprise? #COpolitics

July 21, 2014
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

The Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force is trying to explain its stormwater prevention proposal so the public will understand why they might be asked to pay $10 a month.

The task force, a citizen’s group of engineers, business leaders, community activists and elected city and county officials formed in 2012, has been hosting a series of public meetings to explain its proposal and ask for public opinion. A December poll commissioned by the Task force found that 95 percent of El Paso County residents think stormwater is a significant problem, but there isn’t the same consensus on who should pay to address the problem.

It’s a complicated topic, but the task force says its solution makes sense. Here are the key points the task force has covered in its public meetings:

How serious is the stormwater issue?

Right now, the Colorado Springs area’s stormwater infrastructure would flunk out of class. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Colorado Springs’s stormwater infrastructure a D-minus on its 2012 report card.

Stormwater runoff is rain and melted snow that flows over impervious surfaces – like parking lots, rooftops, driveways – and doesn’t get absorbed into the ground. It causes streets, bridges, houses and businesses to flood and damages water quality by washing debris down gutters and streets into storm drains.

Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has spent an estimated $100 million since 2000 rebuilding crumbling infrastructure near creeks that have been destroyed by runoff during floods, estimated Carol Baker, CSU stormwater engineer. Other utilities providers, businesses and homeowners also pay to repair stormwater damage.

People who live next to the banks of Fountain Creek have lost property as water levels raised, said Rachel Beck, the task force’s media contact. Water flows into the street, yards and driveways in neighborhoods that don’t have proper storm drains.

Colorado Springs is the only major city on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that does not have a stormwater management program, Beck said.

What’s the task force’s solution?

The task force wants to construct protection against stormwater runoff in the Fountain Creek watershed and the city of Falcon. Its proposal would create a regional authority – a board of 13 people who are already elected officials – that would make sure those projects happen.

There would be seven representatives from Colorado Springs, mostly city council members and either the mayor or the mayor’s chosen representative, two representatives from the El Paso County Commissioners, representatives from Manitou Springs, Fountain and Monument, and a shared representative for Green Mountain Falls and Palmer Lake.

An independent engineering firm created the project list to prioritize the most-needed projects. The list is public, meaning elected officials would be held accountable for getting projects done on time.

How would the projects be paid for?

The board would charge a fee on property owners based on how much impervious surface is on a property. The money would be collected monthly for the next 20 years and cost about the same as in other Front Range communities. For the average homeowner, this would cost $10 a month, said Dave Munger, task force co-chair.

A fee rather than a tax must be imposed because governments and nonprofits are tax-exempt but contribute significant impervious surface that contribute to stormwater runoff.

All of the money collected from this fee would be designated for stormwater prevention and management. Nine percent of the fee collected would be saved in case of emergency and 1 percent would fund administration.

Other projects recognized as high priority for Colorado Springs, like streets, parks, public safety buildings or information technology, could not be funded using money collected from this proposed fee.

Is this fair?

The proposal includes a system of checks and balances to make sure no one city is favored over another.

Colorado Springs would have more people on the board than other cities, but that’s because the city has 70.7 percent of the affected citizens and 70 percent of impervious surfaces, Beck said. Regardless, Colorado Springs could not make decisions without collaborating with other representatives, Munger said.

To pass a vote, the council requires a supermajority. Two-thirds of the board members, including at least four representatives from Colorado Springs, a representative from the County Commissioners, and representatives from the small communities, have to agree for a vote to count.

Additionally, money collected in each community would fund the projects in that community over a five-year rolling average.

Financial benefits

Good stormwater infrastructure is good for the economy, Beck said. According to an analysis by University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economics professors, the proposed stormwater infrastructure construction would create 360 jobs with annual labor income of $16.3 million, add $21 million to the local economy and increase gross domestic product by $50.1 million, all in the first year.

Today, the task force’s necessary capital improvements would cost $706 million. If the proposed projects had been started 25 years ago, the cost would have been a third of that, according to the UCCS economics analysis.

“If we keep delaying this, the price tag is going to continue to go up,” Beck said.

Playing politics

The next step is politics. The task force plans to have a ballot question by the end of August and to ask the El Paso County Commissioners to refer the proposal to the Nov. 4 ballot. Only the cities that would participate in the program would vote on the measure.The Colorado Springs City Council will discuss the task force’s proposal at its Monday work session. The council will consider supporting the proposal, but the proposal would still need voter approval. Mayor Steve Bach opposes the regional plan in favor of one that only deals with Colorado Springs. Other cities in the county, such as Manitou Springs, have not decided whether or not they will support the task force. And with one final meeting on Wednesday to get their point out to the public, the Task Force is quickly running out of time to get the stormwater issue on the November ballot.

Colorado Springs would be the first area in the country that the general public has voted on a stormwater management program, Beck said. She said city councils have taken care of it everywhere else.


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.


Where our water comes from — Fort Collins Coloradoan

July 14, 2014

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

With Colorado’s water year at its mid-July end and many Northern Colorado reservoirs still flush with the bounty of a plentiful water year, water woes of years past have turned into discussions of how the state will store water in the future.

In the coming months, the Army Corps of Engineers will release an updated study on the Northern Water Conservancy District’s proposal to expand its water storage capacity near Fort Collins. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build Glade Reservoir northwest of the city, bringing a new reservoir larger than Horsetooth Reservoir to the area.

Before the release of the study reignites the battle over the potential environmental impacts of expanding Northern Colorado’s water storage capacity, we look at where Fort Collins gets the water that provides the basis for everything from the natural resources residents enjoy to the craft beer they drink…

Before the High Park Fire, which burned more than 87,000 acres of the Poudre watershed, Fort Collins Utilities split its water sources between the project and the river. But the Poudre’s water has since become filled with fire and flood debris, which prompted a total shutdown of river water for Fort Collins customers.

Time and the September 2013 floods have cleaned out the river, but the city is still mostly reliant on the C-BT project for more than 60 percent of its water each year.

Fundamentally, snowmelt fills the many reservoirs in the C-BT project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the project, delivers a certain amount of water to cities like Fort Collins as well as farmers and irrigators — all of whom own hundreds or thousands of acre-feet of the project’s water…

Here’s a look at where our water comes from.

THE WESTERN SLOPE

The water that feeds Colorado — and a vast swath of the nation — begins its downward flow from the Continental Divide high in the Rocky Mountains. In order to harness water that otherwise would flow to the Pacific Ocean, water managers created a vast network of reservoirs, tunnels and canals to reroute Western Slope water to Colorado’s more populous Front Range.

LAKE GRANBY

For Fort Collins, and much of the northern Front Range, this is where it all begins. Snowmelt fills this Western Slope reservoir, and the water from it is pumped to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there, it’s literally all downhill — gravity pushes water through five reservoirs until it gets to Horsetooth Reservoir, southwest of Fort Collins. This year, due to above-average snowpack, Lake Granby soon will spill over its banks. It can hold up to 540,000 acre-feet of water.

HORSETOOTH RESERVOIR

Horsetooth was built along with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and is a fraction of the size of Lake Granby — it holds about 156,000 acre-feet of water. This is where Fort Collins will get most of its C-BT water, which has traveled through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel, under U.S. Highway 34, and through several reservoirs. Fort Collins Utilities has its only operational water treatment plant at Horsetooth. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 65 percent of its water from the C-BT project.

THE CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER

The Poudre River typically provides Fort Collins with 50 percent of its water. But after the High Park Fire polluted the river, Fort Collins has been forced to shut down its Poudre River sources, sometimes for months. The upper part of the river is considered “wild and scenic” — a federal designation. It is also one of the few remaining dam-free rivers in Colorado. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 35 percent of its water from the Poudre.

CARTER LAKE

Carter Lake is one of many reservoirs that make up the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Some of Fort Collins’ water can come from this reservoir, but not frequently. Other reservoirs in the system include Grand Lake, Mary’s Lake, Lake Estes and Flatiron Reservoir, to name just a few.

FORT COLLINS

Treated water coming into Fort Collins comes from a plant near Horsetooth Reservoir. Since Nov. 1, the city has used about 9,700 acre-feet of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and about 5,200 acre-feet from the Poudre River. Before the High Park Fire, the city typically split its water use between the two sources but has since had to use more C-BT water.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Rifle: “Many different eyes are on each [drill] pad each day” — Michael Gardner #ColoradoRiver

July 9, 2014

Rifle Gap

Rifle Gap


From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

Rifle City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the company’s original 2009 watershed district permit to allow the activity, subject to conditions. The 12-square-mile, 8,000-acre watershed, approximately 5 to 6 miles southwest of Rifle, is the source of 9 percent of Rifle’s drinking water. The vast majority of the city’s water comes from the Colorado River. Several years ago, the city established the district and considers permits for certain industrial activities to help protect the water source. The company would also need drilling permits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Michael Gardner, WPX environmental manager, outlined the drilling plans and noted various companies had been active in and near the Beaver Creek watershed since 1999. WPX is currently the only active company in the district. A total of 44 producing wells have been drilled from 11 pads in the district since 1999, with 27 of those wells located on a pad outside the district boundaries, Gardner said.

“What we’re proposing is to drill up to 253 wells from 15 pads between now and 2018,” he told the council last week.

WPX plans to drill up to 23 wells on the existing pad outside of the watershed and up to 112 wells on four new pads outside the watershed, but accessed through the watershed, Gardner noted. Up to 80 wells could be drilled on seven existing pads within the watershed and up to 65 wells on four new pads within the watershed.

“A lot of this depends on the market price for gas, obviously,” Gardner added. “So this is a maximum-case scenario.”

WPX would build access roads, install gathering and water lines and other associated facilities in the area, Gardner said.

WPX spokesman Jeff Kirtland said in an interview Tuesday that the permit amendment was sought to keep the permit active, as it was due to expire soon.

“It’s more to make sure we’re keeping up with what we need to do with the permit,” he stated. “So we would have this permit in hand if prices improved.”[...]

Michael Erion, a water resources engineer with Resource Engineering of Glenwood Springs and a city consultant, said the amendment was acceptable and noted the target area is actually a tributary to Beaver Creek, which itself is often dry in the summer, so most direct activity in the district will be road crossings. The permit was amended last year to allow a water pipeline across the watershed and a temporary 1.5 million gallon water storage tank, Erion noted.

Among the nine conditions already part of the permit and included with the latest amendment is a requirement for WPX to submit detailed drawings to the city at least 30 days before construction. New wells can be drilled on approved pads, provided WPX sends written notice to the city 15 days before that activity. WPX is also required to submit an annual activity plan for the entire district by March 1 of each year, and the project shall be subject to biannual inspections, or more frequently if needed, by the city and/or its consultants.

WPX will also continue to participate in the city’s water quality monitoring program on Beaver Creek. This includes a periodic stream monitoring program with sampling at various locations along the creek and the operation and maintenance costs associated with a 24/7 monitoring system at the city intake structure on the Colorado River.

“We understand how critical this area is to Rifle,” Gardner said. “We have all kinds of plans and procedures for spills, to protect groundwater and storm water control. Many different eyes are on each pad each day.”

He also noted that no reportable spills, as defined by state regulations, had occurred in the district since 2008.

More oil and gas 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.

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

    July 3, 2014
    Yak Tunnel via the EPA

    Yak Tunnel via the EPA

    From The Leadville Herald (Danny Ramey):

    The Resurrection Mining Company has filed for approval of an augmentation plan that would allow it to use water shares to replace water depleted from the Yak Tunnel and water treatment plant. Under the plan, the company would use shares it owns in Twin Lakes Reservoir to replace water depleted by its operations in California Gulch. Resurrection filed an application for approval of the augmentation plan with Division 2 of the Colorado Water Court on May 20.

    Resurrection currently owns 22 shares of water in Twin Lakes. Twelve of those shares are included on a provisional basis, meaning Resurrection can remove those shares from the plan or use it for purposes other than what it was originally approved for.

    In its plan, Resurrection estimates that depletions from its plant range from 3 to 7.7 acre feet of depletions a year. The plan seeks to augment five structures owned by Resurrection. Of those structures, only two cause water depletion, according to the plan. Water depletes from the Yak Surge Pond and the Yak Treatment Plant via evaporation, and some also leaves the treatment plant through the disposal of residuals used in water treatment. The water shares from Twin Lakes would be delivered to the intersection of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River under the plan.

    ASARCO and Resurrection have been using water from Twin Lakes to replace depletion from their operations at the Yak since 1989. However, they have been doing so under substitute water supply plans, which expired June 14, 2014. Resurrection’s application would provide for a permanent water replacement plan. The application also asks the division to renew the substitute water supply plan.

    Resurrection and ASARCO entered into a joint agreement to develop mine sites in the Leadville area in 1965. The Yak Treatment Tunnel was originally under title to ASARCO. However, when ASARCO went bankrupt, Resurrection assumed the title.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Union Pacific plans treatment plant for discharge mitigation at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel #ColoradoRiver

    July 2, 2014

    westportalmoffattunnel

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    The Union Pacific Railroad announced on June 19 that it plans to construct a water treatment facility that will remove fine particulates and metals discharged in flows from the west portal.

    As part of its discharge permit, Union Pacific must meet preset effluent limitations by April 30, 2017. The new treatment plant will help Union Pacific reach compliance with those limitations.

    “It’s a victory,” said Mike Wageck, president of the East Grand Water Quality Board. “It’s definitely a victory for the river, if they’re going to be removing that coal dust that’s getting in there and removing those metals.”

    The way the tunnel is bored, ground water flows from seepages inside the tunnel, picking up coal dust left by passing trains and heavy metals leached from the railroad ballast and exposed rock.

    “This isn’t much different than a mineral mine,” said Kirk Klancke, East Grand Water Quality Board member. “If you just put a hole in the ground and have water leeching out, it’s going to carry the heavy metals you’ve exposed that have been buried for millennia.”

    The way the Moffat Tunnel is pitched, water flows from both portals of the tunnel. To the east, water flows through a sedimentation pond before it’s discharged into South Boulder Creek. But to the west, water flows untreated into the Fraser. In 2013, average daily flows from the west portal were 171 gallons per minute, according to an implementation schedule sent from Union Pacific to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The sediment in this discharge increases turbidity, or cloudiness, in the Fraser River…

    Slag, a by-product of metal processing found in railroad ballast, leeches copper, lead, mercury and arsenic, among other elements, into the discharge and ultimately the river, according to the implementation schedule.

    “Basically, from 2007 to today, we’ve been reviewing various ways we could treat the water coming out, primarily the water when it comes out of the tunnel,” said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific.

    Union Pacific examined a number of options for reaching compliance with effluent levels in the discharge, including diverting the water to publicly-owned treatment works in Winter Park, though the town ultimately decided that it would not benefit from receiving the water, pretreated or not…

    Davis said he wasn’t sure when construction on the facility would begin or how much it would cost, though the state requires that Union Pacific have something in place by its compliance date of April 30, 2017.

    More Fraser River watershed coverage here.


    Study: plastic pollution pervasive globally

    July 1, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    The five major ocean gyres.

    The five major ocean gyres.

    ‘But probably, most of the impacts taking place due to plastic pollution in the oceans are not yet known’

    Staff Report

    FRISCO — Humankind’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude about garbage is slowly but surely turning the world’s oceans into a soup full of microscopic plastic particles that are probably passing into the marine food chain, Spanish scientists said this week, describing their findings from a nine-month research cruise around the world.

    “Ocean currents carry plastic objects which split into smaller and smaller fragments due to solar radiation,” said Andrés Cózar, aresearcher with the University of Cadiz. “Those little pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, can last hundreds of years and were detected in 88 percent of the ocean surface sampled during the 2010 Malaspina Expedition,” Cózar said.

    View original 394 more words


    SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

    June 29, 2014
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

    CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

    “What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

    Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

    Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

    “The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

    That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

    Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

    Perhaps not…

    “SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

    Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

    In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

    SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

    Use it or lose it.

    Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

    “This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

    Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

    In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

    In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges — Nancy Stoner

    June 29, 2014

    aspen
    From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

    Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

    Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

    To reduce this impact, Aspen designed a passive stormwater treatment facility that also serves as an attractive and natural looking feature in a beautiful park that is dedicated to the memory of John Denver. The innovative and beautiful design uses boulders and large rocks that were naturally present on site, to shape the channel that carries runoff from the roads and from a vault into the detention pond where sediment and other pollutants settle out. On the other side of the pond, the water comes out crystal clear and drains right into the Roaring Fork River.

    I was impressed by the use of green infrastructure to improve water quality and that they made such a beautiful public park out of it and did so voluntarily. This is a town that is dedicated to clean water. The people of Aspen should be proud.

    Green infrastructure, similar to what is being built in Aspen and many other cities across the country, can be a cost-effective approach for improving water quality and can help communities to stretch their infrastructure investments further. Green infrastructure reduces and treats the water at its source, often delaying the time it takes to clear the structure. Therefore green infrastructure often reduces flooding within the area the project is constructed.

    Since 2007, the EPA has supported the idea of green infrastructure to control storm events. The Agency has formulated strategic agendas, built community partnerships, and provided technical assistance to many communities seeking to implement green infrastructure practices.

    Aspen has shown us that with a little innovation we can reduce our impact on the environment while enhancing its beauty.

    More stormwater coverage here.


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

    June 29, 2014

    effluent

    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.


    USGS: Dissolved-Solids Sources, Loads, Yields, and Concentrations in Streams of the Conterminous United States

    June 27, 2014
    Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center

    Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

    Here’s the abstract from the United States Geological Survey (David W. Anning and Marilyn E. Flynn):

    Recent studies have shown that excessive dissolved-solids concentrations in water can have adverse effects on the environment and on agricultural, domestic, municipal, and industrial water users. Such effects motivated the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program to develop a SPAtially-Referenced Regression on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) model that has improved the understanding of sources, loads, yields, and concentrations of dissolved solids in streams of the conterminous United States.

    Using the SPARROW model, long-term mean annual dissolved-solids loads from 2,560 water-quality monitoring stations were statistically related to several spatial datasets that are surrogates for dissolved-solids sources and land-to-water delivery processes. Specifically, sources in the model included variables representing geologic materials, road deicers, urban lands, cultivated lands, and pasture lands. Transport of dissolved solids from these sources was modulated by land-to-water delivery variables that represent precipitation, streamflow, soil, vegetation, terrain, population, irrigation, and artificial drainage characteristics. Where appropriate, the load estimates, source variables, and transport variables were statistically adjusted to represent conditions for the base year 2000. The nonlinear least-squares estimated SPARROW model was used to predict long-term mean annual conditions for dissolved-solids sources, loads, yields, and concentrations in a digital hydrologic network representing nearly 66,000 stream reaches and their corresponding incremental catchments that drain the Nation.

    Nationwide, the predominant source of dissolved solids yielded from incremental catchments and delivered to local streams is geologic materials in 89 percent of the catchments, road deicers in 5 percent of the catchments, pasture lands in 3 percent of the catchments, urban lands in 2 percent of the catchments, and cultivated lands in 1 percent of the catchments. Whereas incremental catchments with dissolved solids that originated predominantly from geologic sources or from urban lands are found across much of the Nation, incremental catchments with dissolved solids yields that originated predominantly from road deicers are largely found in the Northeast, and incremental catchments with dissolved solids that originated predominantly from cultivated or pasture lands are largely found in the West. The total amount of dissolved solids delivered to the Nation’s streams is 271.9 million metric tons (Mt) annually, of which 194.2 million Mt (71.4%) come from geologic sources, 37.7 million Mt (13.9%) come from road deicers, 18.2 million Mt (6.7%) come from pasture lands, 13.9 million Mt (5.1%) come from urban lands, and 7.9 million Mt (2.9%) come from cultivated lands.

    Nationwide, the median incremental-catchment yield delivered to local streams is 26 metric tons per year per square kilometer [(Mt/yr)/km2]. Ten percent of the incremental catchments yield less than 4 (Mt/yr)/km2, and 10 percent yield more than 90 (Mt/yr)/km2. Incremental-catchment yields greater than 50 (Mt/yr)/km2 mostly occur along the northern part of the West Coast and in a crescent shaped band south of the Great Lakes. For example, the median incremental-catchment yield is 81 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Great Lakes, 78 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Ohio, and 74 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Upper Mississippi water-resources regions. Incremental-catchment yields less than 10 (Mt/yr)/km2 mostly occur in a wide band across the arid lowland of the interior West that excludes areas along the coast and the extensive, higher mountain ranges. For example, the median incremental-catchment yield is 3 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Lower Colorado, 5 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Rio Grande, and 8 (Mt/yr)/km2 for the Great Basin water-resources regions.

    Predicted incremental loads were cascaded down through the reach network, with loads accumulating from reach to reach. For most stream reaches, the entire incremental load of dissolved solids delivered to the reach was transported to either the ocean or to one of the large streams flowing along the U.S. international boundary without losses occurring along the way. The exceptions to this include streams in the southwestern part of the country, such as the Colorado River, Rio Grande, and streams of internally drained drainages in the Great Basin, where dissolved-solids loads decreased through streamflow diversion for off-stream use, or by infiltration through the streambed.

    Long-term mean annual flow-weighted concentrations were derived from the predicted accumulated-load and stream-discharge data. Widespread low concentrations, generally less than 100 milligrams per liter (mg/L), occur in many reaches of the New England, South Atlantic-Gulf, and Pacific Northwest water-resources regions as a result of moderate dissolved-solids yields and high runoff rates. Widespread moderate concentrations, generally between 100 and 500 mg/L, occur in many reaches of the Great Lakes, Ohio, and Upper Mississippi River water-resources regions. Whereas dissolved-solids yields are generally high in these regions, runoff rates are also high, which helps moderate concentrations in these regions. Widespread higher concentrations, generally greater than 500 mg/L, occur across a belt of reaches that extends almost continuously from Canada to Mexico in the Midwest, cutting through the Souris-Red-Rainy, Missouri, Arkansas-White-Red, Texas-Gulf, and Rio Grande water-resources regions. Although dissolved-solids yields are moderate to low in these areas, low runoff rates result in the high concentrations for these areas.

    In 12.6 percent of the Nation’s stream reaches, predicted concentrations of dissolved solids exceed 500 mg/L, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s secondary, nonenforceable drinking water standard. While this standard provides a metric for evaluating predicted concentrations in the context of drinking-water supplies, it should be noted that it only applies to drinking water actually served to customers by water utilities, and it does not apply to all stream reaches in the Nation nor does it apply during times when water is not being withdrawn for use. Exceedance of 500 mg/L is more pronounced in certain water-resources regions than others. For example, about half of the reaches in the Souris-Red-Rainy region have concentrations predicted to exceed 500 mg/L, and between 25 and 37 percent of the reaches in the Missouri, Arkansas-White-Red, Texas-Gulf, Rio Grande, and Lower Colorado regions are predicted to exceed 500 mg/L.

    Development of stream-load data for use in the SPARROW model also provided long-term temporal trend information in dissolved-solids concentrations at the monitoring stations for their period of record, which was constrained between 1980 and 2009. For the 2,560 monitoring stations used in this study, long-term trends in flow-adjusted dissolved-solids concentrations increased over time at 23 percent of the stations, decreased at 18 percent of the stations, and did not change over time at 59 percent of the stations. Long-term trends show a strong regional spatial pattern where from the western parts of the Great Plains to the West Coast, concentrations mostly either did not change or decreased over time, and from the eastern parts of the Great Plains to the East Coast, concentrations mostly either did not change or increased over time.

    Results from the trend analysis and from the SPARROW model indicate that, compared to monitoring stations with no trends or decreasing trends, stations with increasing trends are associated with a smaller percentage of the predicted dissolved-solids load originating from geologic sources, and a larger percentage originating from urban lands and road deicers. Conversely, compared to stations with increasing trends or no trends, stations with decreasing trends have a larger percentage of the predicted dissolved-solids load originating from geologic sources and a smaller percentage originating from urban lands and road deicers. Stations with decreasing trends also have larger percentages of predicted dissolved-solids load originating from cultivated lands and pasture lands, compared to stations with increasing trends or no trends.

    More water pollution 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.


    Colorado State University to study water quality impacts of beetle kill — the Fort Collins Coloradoan

    June 23, 2014

    mountainpinebeetles

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Scientists from Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines have begun a five-year study of the impacts beetle kill forests have on water quality in Northern Colorado.

    The study, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation Water Sustainment and Climate Program, will look at the South Platte and Colorado River basins.

    Scientists from both universities will use computer models and field and lab experiments to assess changes to water quality and availability following the mountain pine beetle outbreak. Although the outbreak is on the down-swing, it has killed millions of acres of trees in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain West.

    The Poudre River drains into the South Platte River Basin, where Fort Collins sits.

    More Cach la Poudre River watershed coverage here.


    Southern Delivery System update: $359 million spent so far, >44 miles of pipe in the ground

    June 23, 2014
    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Tunneling under Fountain Creek is proving more difficult than expected for the Southern Delivery System. Some pipeline near Pueblo Dam has been laid in solid rock. And the temporary irrigation system to provide water for native vegetation over the pipeline scar through Pueblo County contains 50 miles of pipe (main line and laterals) and 15,000 sprinkler heads. Those were some of the highlights of a progress report by Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager, to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday.

    “The tunneling project was more difficult than we thought,” Pifher said. The work was being done just over the El Paso County line from the west side of Interstate 25, with a tunnel-boring machine 85 feet below ground.

    Because of the difficulty, a second borer from the east side one mile away is being used.

    “They had better meet in the middle,” Pifher joked.

    More than 44 miles of the 50 miles of 66-inchdiameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs has been installed; a treatment plant and three pump stations are under construction; and a Fountain Creek improvement project has nearly been completed, he said. All of the pipeline in Pueblo County has been installed, and revegetation has begun on 323 acres that were disturbed in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches. The irrigation system is so large that it has to run in round-the-clock cycles seven days a week, Pifher noted.

    “It’s apparently the largest sprinkler system in the state,” he said.

    Another 484 acres has been planted with native seed in El Paso County.

    As of March, $359 million has been spent on SDS, with $209 million going to El Paso County firms, $65 million to Pueblo County companies, $900,000 to Fremont County contractors and $84 million to businesses in other parts of Colorado.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


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

    June 22, 2014

    Oil spill near Windsor ~7,500 gallons

    June 21, 2014

    South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

    South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia


    From The Greeley Tribune:

    About 178 barrels of crude oil, or roughly 7,500 gallons, has spilled east-southeast of Windsor and is affecting the Poudre River, state officials said Friday.

    The operator, Noble Energy, discovered the spill Friday and reported it to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Todd Hartman, the department’s communications director.

    Noble reported a storage tank affected by spring flood waters released its contents. The release appears to be due to floodwaters undercutting a bank, causing the tank to drop downward and damaging a valve, allowing oil to escape from a broken valve. The well associated with the tank is shut in, and a second tank nearby appears unaffected.

    Standing water with some hydrocarbons remains in one low-lying area near the tank, Hartman said.

    Vegetation is stained for about one-quarter mile downstream of the site.

    Noble had environmental response personnel on site Friday afternoon.

    A vacuum truck was removing standing water and response personnel were sampling soils.

    The oil storage tank sits next to a field east of Weld County Road 23, on the north side of the Poudre River. The tank sits about 200 feet from the river, up a hill. A lot of flood damage was visible in the area, with washed out and eroded river banks and debris still in the water.

    Hartman said water quality staff from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also were at the spill site Friday but have not discovered any impact on drinking water.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Clear Creek Courant series [Part 1] about the past, present and future of Clear Creek

    June 18, 2014

    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    Graphic via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation


    Check out Ian Neligh’s retrospective about Clear Creek and the heydays of mining and logging (The Clear Creek Courant). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Editor’s note:This is the first installment of a three-part series examining the past, present and future of Clear Creek…

    Gold

    There’s a monument in Idaho Springs hidden away in the parking lot of the former middle school. The giant boulder pays tribute to George Jackson, an adventurer and fortune hunter, who discovered gold in Clear Creek 155 years ago.

    According to Don Allan, vice president of the Idaho Springs Historical Society, Jackson’s curiosity to follow the creek west into the mountains with only a couple of dogs by his side led to the country’s second largest gold rush.

    Like a row of dominoes, Jackson’s discovery led to an onslaught of pioneers and ultimately in 1876 to the formation of a state.

    “(Jackson) decided to go over and take a look down at the crick, and his curiosity brought him here to the confluence of Chicago Creek and Clear Creek,” Allan said. “When I talk with people about our community and how we got here, it was because of one man’s very good curiosity and a piece of gold.”

    Jackson discovered gold in January, and by June, more than 400 people had settled in the area.

    Natural hot springs drew more people into the area. Allan said in the Idaho Springs museum’s photography collection, there’s a photo of more than 50 employees standing in front of the hot springs.

    “Once the stream was panned out, they panned all the gold out of the crick. Then they had to dig and make mining mills,” Allan said. “And this crick was integral to the milling of all the gold and silver in this area.”

    The creek was used to support the mining industry such as the Mixel Dam in Idaho Springs, which was formed to help power mining mills and to create electricity. In 1864, silver was discovered to be the main mining mineral in Georgetown, and by 1877, the railroad reached Idaho Springs.

    According to “A History of Clear Creek County,” the area at one point had 48 different towns with names such as Red Elephant, Freeland and Hill City. It is estimated that several thousand mines crisscrossed the mountains around Clear Creek as people sought their fortunes first along its banks and then in its mountains.

    Those unlucky in gold sometimes found their way into the county’s second largest industry: logging. Early photos of the surrounding hillsides show them stripped of trees. But in time, the mining and logging industry waned, the frenzy slowed and the towns disappeared until there were only four municipalities left: Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Empire and Silver Plume. By World War II, the county’s mining industry has come almost to a complete halt.

    But the stream once called Cannonball Creek, Vasquez Fork and lastly Clear Creek remained.

    More Clear Creek watershed coverage 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.


    Roaring Fork watershed gets new protections — @DailySentinelGJ #ColoradoRiver

    June 15, 2014
    Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    From the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    The state Water Quality Control Commission this week approved a special “Outstanding Waters” designation for several branches of Thompson Creek and its tributaries in the upper Thompson Creek watershed, west of Carbondale.

    Trout Unlimited and the Roaring Fork Conservancy said in a news release that the designation will ensure that the watershed’s water quality is protected in perpetuity.

    The Water Quality Control Commission’s decision means that anyone seeking approval for development or discharge permits in the watershed must demonstrate that the proposed activity does not degrade the creeks’ baseline water quality.

    “This is a huge conservation win that ensures there will be no degradation of these pristine waters,” said Aaron Kindle, Colorado Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The designation will safeguard the streams, wetlands and tributaries of a nationally significant watershed, and the genetically pure populations of cutthroat trout found there.”

    To qualify for the designation, a stream must exhibit high standards on 12 different water quality parameters, including ammonia, dissolved oxygen, e. coli, nitrate, pH and various metals.

    The protections will be applied to North Thompson, Middle Thompson and the South Branch of Middle Thompson Creek, as well as several tributaries, including Park Creek, a stronghold for a rare subspecies of cutthroat trout. The vast majority of the designated creeks are on Forest Service lands.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A state commission has provided new watershed protections in the Thompson Divide area, where numerous entities are trying to stop oil and gas development.

    However, such development apparently will be compatible with the “Outstanding Waters” designation by the state Water Quality Control Commission Tuesday.

    Trout Unlimited and the Roaring Fork Conservancy had sought the designation. It applies to the north, middle and south branches of Middle Thompson Creek, and tributaries including Park Creek, home to a rare subspecies of cutthroat trout. The protections cover some 130 miles of waterways.

    Stream segments qualifying for the designation must exhibit high standards based on water quality parameters such as ammonia, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, pH and various metals. Any entity discharging into a designated segment must show it won’t degrade existing water quality.

    Interests including the Thompson Divide Coalition have been trying to prevent drilling on more than 200,000 acres west of Carbondale. Much of that acreage is leased, but certain leases are currently in suspension pending a Bureau of Land Management review.

    Trisha Oeth, administrator for the Water Quality Control Commission, said Trout Unlimited testified that it reached out to energy companies holding leases in the areas and none opposed the designation.

    “Trout Unlimited indicated the companies felt the designation would not impact their activities and that the designation would be compatible with their operations and plans,” she said.

    The commission decided the sensitivity of cutthroat trout and diminishing extent of their habitat made the additional protection necessary.

    David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called the designation “a clever maneuver that doesn’t concern us too much.”

    “As modest drilling begins in the Thompson Divide, this important designation is in alignment with what our member companies already do to protect water and wildlife resources. We have shown a tremendous ability to safely produce natural gas in other sensitive western Colorado watersheds and will do so in the Thompson Divide, too.”

    In a news release, Aaron Kindle, Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, called the designation “a huge conservation win that ensures there will be no degradation of these pristine waters.

    “The designation will safeguard the streams, wetlands and tributaries of a nationally significant watershed, and the genetically pure populations of cutthroat trout found there,” Kindle was quoted as saying.

    Greenback and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR

    Greenback and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

    To win approval the stream has to meet several high quality standards and, the designation prohibits certain pollutants from being discharged into the water. Aaron Kindle is with Colorado Trout Unlimited, which fought for the designation. He says it protects fish.

    “Cutthroat trout have been dwindled down to about 10 percent of their native range, so the populations that do exist are pretty critical and those creeks up there are really critical for cutthroat trout.”

    The protected creek runs through an area where energy companies would like to drill for natural gas. The gas leases are currently at a stand-still while the Bureau of Land Management does a review. Kindle says Trout Unlimited had discussions with the oil and gas companies and he says they neither supported nor disapproved of the new designation.

    More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


    “This proposed MOU is a heavy-handed tactic by [Colorado Springs Utilities]” — Ray Petros

    June 3, 2014
    Pueblo West

    Pueblo West

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo County officials believe Colorado Springs Utilities is trying to pressure Pueblo West for help in meeting 1041 permit requirements for the Southern Delivery System. After obtaining a copy of a draft memorandum of understanding that was to be considered by the Pueblo West metro board in executive session last month, two commissioners and the county’s water attorney say it’s the same type of coercion Utilities tried to exert on the county earlier.

    “It’s bully tactics. I think it’s terrible and totally inappropriate,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the county commissioners. “This is the second time in a couple of months where Utilities is trying to negotiate approval of 1041 conditions. In this case, it pits Pueblo West against Pueblo County, when there’s no good reason to do it.”

    Commissioner Sal Pace agreed: “Whether Pueblo West has access to its own water has nothing to do with conditions on Fountain Creek.”

    Water attorney Ray Petros was equally blunt: “This proposed MOU is a heavy-handed tactic by Utilities to withhold water deliveries to Pueblo West as a lever against the county in the event the county had to consid­er suspending the SDS permit.”

    Pueblo West has not approved the MOU, and Jack Johnston, the metro district manager, portrayed it as a working document “at the staff and attorney level.”

    However, newly elected Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel objected at his first official meeting to considering the deal in executive session. He was backed by Chairman Lew Quigley and board member Judy Leonard.

    Johnston said a document for public consideration would be ready for discussion in open session, probably in mid-June.

    But the document provided to The Chieftain by Carmel, and shared with the county, asks Pueblo West to get the county to sign off on several conditions of the 1041 permit before Pueblo West can turn on SDS.

    Among other things, the agreement instructs Pueblo West to obtain written confirmation from Pueblo County that four politically charged conditions of the county’s 1041 permit have been met or “will not be triggered . . . by use of SDS facilities.”

    Those conditions include the payment of $50 million to a special district for Fountain Creek flood control, the Pueblo Arkansas River flow program, the adaptive management scenario for Fountain Creek and Colorado Springs stormwater management. Each of those has led to complicated political negotiations or even court cases for Colorado Springs. Pueblo West has been in court with Pueblo County over the flow program.

    Pueblo County ran into the same tactics when it asked Utilities to release interest money from the $50 million early to fund dam studies on Fountain Creek, Hart and Pace noted.

    “In any event, holding Pueblo West hostage casts Springs’ Utilities as a bully,” Petros said. “It’s certainly counterproductive to a cooperative approach for addressing environmental mitigation of the SDS Project.”

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    “What dilutes it [selenium concentrations] is high flows, and we just haven’t had them for a while” — Randy Hayzlett

    June 1, 2014

    selenium
    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The state is looking at research in fields near Rocky Ford to determine if irrigation practices could improve Arkansas River water quality.

    On Thursday, officials from Colorado and Kansas health agencies and researchers looked at how intercepting water from fields through irrigation drains could prevent deeper leaching of water and nitrates into the soil. That leaching action, when it reaches bedrock layers of shale, triggers suspended selenium releases that are harmful to wildlife, explained Tim Gates, a Colorado State University- Fort Collins researcher who has spent 15 years investigating Arkansas Valley irrigation systems.

    “Excess irrigation percolates through to the shales and soils around them and the nitrates in the soil from excessive fertilization causes the selenium to dissolve out,” Gates said.

    To a large degree, the increase of sprinkler systems and drip irrigation has reduced the amount of water applied to fields, meaning less water to percolate deeply in the soil.

    But in fields still flood irrigated, drains could provide a means to reduce selenium buildup.

    Many of the farms in the Lower Arkansas Valley have tile drains installed in the first part of the 1900s under federal programs as a way to reduce waterlogging.

    A two-year study funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is looking at how effectively those drains can prevent selenium concentration.

    “What it’s looking at is whether there’s a better way to intercept and control it,” said Jim Valliant, a retired CSU Extension researcher who is working on the project. Valliant also represents Crowley County on the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board.

    Part of the problem rests with state water law, he added.

    “Farmers are told to use it or lose it, so it encourages over-irrigation,” Valliant said. “But I think younger farmers are more willing to adapt. I think we can work together to improve the quality of the water returning to the Arkansas River.”

    Cutting down on fertilizer application, which releases nitrates, could also save farmers money, Valliant said.

    The levels of selenium in the Arkansas River are exacerbated by higher base flows on Fountain Creek, along with storms on Fountain Creek and Wild Horse Creek in the Pueblo area. But return flows from irrigation also react with shale that lies on the surface and up to 40 feet below throughout the valley.

    It also creates a problem for downstream users, because the selenium accumulates as water moves along the river.

    “Lakin, Kan., is a small community of about 1,800, and we had to build a $6 million water treatment plant,” said Randy Hayzlett, who represents Kansas on the Arkansas River Compact Administration. “I think the problem is getting worse. What dilutes it is high flows, and we just haven’t had them for a while.”

    More water pollution coverage coverage here.


    Happy birthday, Rachel Carson

    May 27, 2014

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

    May 22, 2014

    longspeak

    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.


    Rocky Ford: Selenium will be the topic of discussion on May 29

    May 21, 2014

    selenium

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Selenium levels in the Arkansas River will be discussed during a tour and meeting next week in Rocky Ford. Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is necessary for life, but high concentrations threaten fish. Elevated levels of selenium on Fountain Creek and in the Arkansas River have caused concern for more than a decade.

    A tour will begin at 2 p.m. May 29 at the Arkansas Valley Research Center east of Rocky Ford, followed by a free dinner at 5:30 p.m. and meeting from 6 to 8 p.m.

    Two state water quality leaders, Dick Parachini of Colorado and Tom Stiles of Kansas, will talk about current water quality and discuss why selenium management is needed.

    Tim Gates and Ryan Bailey of Colorado State University will present findings from 10 years of selenium-related studies and recommend best management practices.

    Attendees then will be invited to discuss options and resources needed to implement the recommendations.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Minnesota bans anti-bacterial chemical triclosan from soaps — ABC News

    May 20, 2014

    triclosanmolecule

    From the Associated Press (Steve Karnowski) via ABC News:

    It’s widely used nationwide as a germ-killing ingredient in soaps, deodorants and even toothpaste, but it’s being banned in Minnesota.

    Gov. Mark Dayton recently signed a bill to make Minnesota the first state to prohibit the use of triclosan (TRY’-kloh-san) in most retail consumer hygiene products because of health and environmental concerns about the chemical.

    The ban isn’t due to take effect until 2017. But one of its lead sponsors, state Sen. John Marty, says the odds are good that most manufacturers will phase out triclosan by then anyway under government and consumer pressure.

    Triclosan is used in an estimated 75 percent of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold across the United States. The Food and Drug Administration announced last year that it’s revisiting the safety of triclosan.

    More water pollution 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.


    Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s “Urban Waters Bike Tour” recap

    May 17, 2014


    It was a grand time the other day cycling along the South Platte and hearing about current projects, operations, hopes and plans.

    The tour was from the Confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte River to Confluence Park where Cherry Creek joins the river.

    Along the way we heard about Clear Creek, water quality in the South Platte Basin, infrastructure investments, and education programs.

    A recurring theme was the effort to reach out to a younger generation through the school system.

    Darren Mollendor explained that the program he honchos attempts to get the students to connect to their neighborhood parks. This includes an understanding of pollution, pollution abatement, and habitat improvement. He invited us all to go camping at Cherry Creek Reservoir when students from the upper and lower Cherry Creek watershed get together later this summer.

    Michael Bouchard (Denver Parks and Recreation) detailed planned improvements along the river through Denver. Most of the new facilities will also have an education focus, including native flora at some locations.

    Metro Wastewater is one of the largest clean water utilities in the nation, according to Steve Rogowski. The Metro District is directing a huge investment to comply with tougher treatment standards.

    At the Burlington Ditch diversion Gray Samenfink explained operations under the ditch. The ditch is a supply for Barr Lake, other reservoirs, and direct irrigators. Several municipalities also take water off the ditch. The new diversion and flood control structure replaced the old dam at the location.

    Caitlin Coleman (Colorado Foundation for Water Education) was tasked with keeping the tour on track. That was no easy task. When you get young and older, students, water resources folks, educators, conservationists, scientists, attorneys, engineers, and ditch riders together there’s going to be a lot of stuff to talk about.

    Click here to go to the CFWE website. Become a member while you are there. That way you’ll know about these cool events in advance so you won’t miss the fun.

    More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


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

    May 16, 2014

    unionpacificunit4065

    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.


    7News finds polypropylene microbeads in samples from the South Platte River

    May 15, 2014
    Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago

    Polypropylene microbeads via CBS Chicago

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Theresa Marchetta, Catherine Shelley, Marianne McKiernan):

    In the first known test for the small plastic beads in the river, CALL7 Investigators hired experts to test water samples. The results confirmed that the plastic microbeads from toothpastes, face washes, body washes, shampoos, eyeliners, lip glosses and deodorants had indeed made it through the state’s filtration systems and into the river…

    Before our test, Greg Cronin, an aquatic ecologist and professor of integrated biology at CU Denver, told CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta, “I’m sure if you went downstream of the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, where basically the sewage system for Denver, where all these microbeads pass through…you would probably be able to find these microbeads.”

    He added, “People might not have just looked yet.”

    Cronin was correct. We found no one is testing for microbeads in Colorado. So we did our own test, sending water samples collected from the South Platte River to a specialized lab in Marietta, Ga., where they confirmed “polypropylene,” or plastic was floating in the water.

    Polyethylene and polypropylene are the same types of plastic used to make milk jugs, bottles and other common household containers.

    The Water Quality Control Division declined our request for an interview, but an email from Meghan Trubee, spokeswoman for Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said,

    “Drinking water treatment would capture and remove microbeads during the treatment process eliminating them from drinking water supplies. At this time, our work has not focused on this emerging issue nor have microbeads been brought to our attention specifically. Our research regarding microbeads reveals that this is an emerging issue.”

    Some of the microbeads are easy to identify, like the ones found in face scrubs or toothpastes. Crest says the plastic is added to several of that brand’s toothpastes as “a safe, inactive ingredient used to provide color.”[...]

    “Plastics don’t degrade. They actually just break into smaller particles of plastics,” said Cronin, the aquatic ecologist and biology professor. “The particles can be as small as a micron, the size of a bacterial cell, so that you wouldn’t be able to see them with the naked eye.”

    According to Cronin, these plastics by nature attract toxic compounds like pesticides, and, ironically, are often used to remove harmful chemicals from water, which leads to other concerns.

    “That same property causes these plastics to absorb these same toxins in the environment, so when an animal ingests it they’re getting extremely high concentrations of these pesticides and other industrial chemicals,” said Cronin. Then humans consume the toxins when they eat the fish or animals who have ingested the plastics.

    Manufacturers using the microbeads in toothpaste readily admit the plastic serves no real purpose. There’s no flavor, nor any cleaning benefits. Lobbying efforts have created a greater awareness of this issue and some manufacturers set timelines to remove the plastics from their products.

    Procter and Gamble, the manufacturer of Crest, stated in an email to CALL7 Investigators, “We are discontinuing our limited use of micro plastic beads as scrub materials in personal care products as soon as alternatives are qualified.”

    Cronin says if you’re not thinking about microbeads, you should be.

    “Yes we should care,” said Cronin. “What we should do is stop using them in the products, especially products that get flushed down the sink, immediately.”

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Animas River: e.Coli is a culprit in water quality

    May 15, 2014
    E.coli Bacterium

    E.coli Bacterium

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The main focus of the San Juan Watershed Group research is E. coli and nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus. Certain strains of the former can cause nausea, fever and vomiting. The latter, in excess, robs water of oxygen needed by aquatic life.

    The group tested only for E. coli last year. This year, nutrients were added. So far this year, the E. coli level has been well within limits at the New Mexico line, May said.

    A Colorado partner, the Animas Watershed Partnership, which works on water-quality projects in New Mexico and with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, also is following the work of May’s group, now in its second year, said Ann Oliver, coordinator of the Colorado project.

    Oliver said her group is searching for funding for similar research at two points upstream – on the Animas upstream of the Florida River and on the Florida before it reaches the Animas, she said…

    The hope is to get enough money to test for E. coli and nutrients at the Animas and Florida sites and pay for genetic testing at Bondad to determine the source of E. coli contamination, Oliver said. May’s volunteers measure the amount of E. coli and nutrients at the site here, but the organization can’t afford the cost of source analysis.

    Last year, May’s volunteers sampled water once a week from April through October on the Animas at the state line (Bondad), Aztec and Farmington and on the San Juan River at Farmington and Hogback Canal, the point where the San Juan enters the Navajo Nation…

    Laboratory tests can determine through DNA analysis if E. coli bacteria come from animals – and which animals – or from human sources. Tests last year in Colorado showed that E. coli met the state’s standards, indicating that contamination was originating downstream in New Mexico.

    In fact, all 40 samples collected at Hogback Canal tested positive for human bacteria found in feces, the report said. Nearly all 40 samples from Farmington and 26 from Aztec tested positive for the human bacteria.

    A story in the The Daily Times of Farmington quoted Mike Stark, the San Juan County operations officer, as saying that officials know that aging septic systems and illegal septic dumping are potential problems.

    David Tomko, retired from the New Mexico Environment Department, now the San Juan Watershed Group coordinator, is cautious. Tests for human fecal matter in the Cimarron and Rio Grande rivers found no human waste, so conclusions about the Animas and San Juan readings require confirmation, he said.

    The heavy metals leaching from shuttered hard-rock mines around Silverton present no problem at the state line because of dilution, Tomko said. The level of those metals never has exceeded the limit, he said.

    Peter Butler, former chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Board and a coordinator of the group looking for a solution to the toxic waste draining from Silverton mines, said heavy metals are diluted enough to be below limits by the time the Animas River reaches Durango.

    Even heavy-metal contributions from Lightner Creek don’t push Durango over the limit, Butler said.

    May’s group also tests water for turbidity, pH, optical brighteners (detergent additives that brighten colors) and total dissolved solids.

    On Monday, the Animas River water didn’t look as cloudy when May poured it from the dipper into sample bottles as it did flowing in the channel.

    Last year at about the same time – the spring runoff – the Animas water registered 13.5 turbidity units, May said. During the later monsoon season, she found upward of 600 units.

    Turbidity is measured by a nephelometer, an apparatus that records size and concentration of particles in a liquid by analyzing the refraction of light beamed into it.

    More Animas River coverage here and here.


    2014 Colorado Legislation: SB14-192 is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk

    May 8, 2014
    Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

    Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

    “The passage of the Uranium Groundwater Protection bill today will help restore our use and rights to our wells,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident, said.

    John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said SB 192 ceases “a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process” with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said the negotiations were a measure to clean up what would eventually “go away” naturally.

    Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said the area’s community members and activists “deserve a hearty congratulations for turning their passion into a legislative victory.”

    “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” he said.

    Hamrick said he wanted to remind people that “to the best of Cotter’s knowledge, nobody is drinking ground water (contaminated) above any health limits or ground water protection standards.”[...]

    Another issue with SB 192, said Hamrick, is the requirement to use the most expedited and best available technology for the clean-up. He said there will be only one technology that could reach both those requirements, and as of yet, nobody knows what it is nor an idea of its cost.

    “Water quality is improving in Lincoln Park naturally,” Hamrick said. “(SB 192) adds a lot of unknown costs without a lot of public benefits.”

    More nuclear coverage here.


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

    May 4, 2014

    fens

    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.


    Hope for Howard Fork water quality? CDRMS is looking at acid mine drainage mitigation again. #ColoradoRiver

    May 4, 2014
    Howard Fork via The Trust for Land Restoration

    Howard Fork via RestorationTrust.org

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

    … the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety is beginning the process of trying to stabilize the mine near Ophir and improve the water quality of streams in the area. The DRMS project aims to see if there is a way to stop water from flowing through the mine, which will also help improve the water quality of Howard Fork, which flows into the San Miguel River. The project is being overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been investigating the water quality and taking samples from the Iron Springs Mining District for a couple of years, according to EPA Site Assessment Manager Jean Wyatt.

    “It’s in part to understand the baseline conditions for water quality and understand if something can be done to stop the mine water from passing through the workings of the mine,” Wyatt said. “There are elevated levels of zinc and iron coming out of that mine … We want to understand what the conditions are and who could contribute resources or expertise to increase the quality of the watershed in general.”

    DRMS is seeking bids from contractors to reopen the portal and stabilize and rehabilitate portions of the underground workings of the Carbonero Mine. The project will also include the construction of a platform at the portal, construction of water management structures near Ophir Pass Road below the site and re-grading and reclamation of certain areas.

    “That’s the goal: to stabilize the mine and enter and see what, if anything, can be done,” said Bruce Stover, director of the DRMS Inactive Mine Reclamation Progam. “This isn’t a final remediation by any means. This is just part of an ongoing investigation.”

    Glenn Pauls is the landowner of the site. In the 1980s, Pauls acquired many of the mining claims in the area — he estimates about 1,100 acres in roughly 100 claims at one point — with the intention of making a trade with the Forest Service at some point. His goal, he said is to preserve the Ophir Pass Road and keep it open for Jeep traffic. Pauls said he would like to create a hydroelectricity project at the Carbonero Mine site, once the water quality studies are complete.

    “The idea is that we open it up and find out if the water coming in the back end is clean,” he said. “I can’t touch the water until someone gives me the OK.”

    A mandatory pre-bid meeting for interested contractors is planned for the site on Ophir Pass Road about a half-mile east of Ophir at 10:30 a.m. June 11. The submission deadline for bids is June 24. For more information about the project, contact Kristin Miranda at the Department of Natural Resources/Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety at 303-866-3567 ext. 8133 or kristin.miranda@state.co.us.

    More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


    2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-192 passes the Senate #COleg

    May 1, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

    The Colorado Senate passed Senate Bill 192 on Tuesday, which concerns uranium licensing and groundwater protection, but causes conflict between Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill and Lincoln Park residents.

    In a press release issued by Conservation Colorado representative Chris Arend, residents of Lincoln Park “expressed support for (the) bipartisan legislation … that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.”

    “The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident said in the release.

    John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said they have been in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said that is “now in jeopardy” because of SB 192, and a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process will have to be discarded, and they will now have “to go back to zero.”

    “(Additionally), the State of Colorado is federally preempted from passing a law that requires the EPA to select a specific clean-up remedy,” Hamrick said.

    In the release, Lincoln Park resident Pete Maysmith said SB 192 “will help clean-up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

    “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” Maysmith said.

    Here’s a release from Conservation Colorado:

    Impacted residents and members of the Colorado conservation community expressed support for bipartisan legislation passed today that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corporation in Canon City, Colorado. Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Canon City had been told that the best way to deal with Cotter’s pollution was for the community to abandon use of their wells.

    “For my Lincoln Park neighbors forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active clean up of our wells not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident. “The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community.”

    “Today after 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corporation to finally clean up its mess in Cañon City,” said Pete Maysmith. “No community should have to endure the long term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corporation. The legislation passed today will help clean up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

    Although pleased that contaminated water would be cleaned-up, supporters expressed concern that the Colorado Senate stripped out licensing requirements that would protect against future contamination.

    “We are disappointed in Colorado Senate amendments to remove important protections for experimental uranium milling proposed for our community,” said Cathe Meyrick, resident of the Tallahassee Area in Fremont County. “The legislation would have clarified that licensing is required before the industry deploys experimental uranium recovery techniques with potentially grave impacts on our groundwater. Regardless of this setback, we will rely on a committed community and look for other mechanisms to protect our groundwater.”

    The proposed new technologies involve extraction through the creation of an underground uranium slurry (i.e., underground borehole mining) and concentration through physical, rather than chemical means (i.e., ablation). These new uranium recovery methods are being proposed for uranium deposits in Fremont County (Tallahassee Area/Arkansas River) and in Weld County (Centennial Project and Keota).

    Both Conservation Colorado and impacted landowners in Fremont and Weld County will work to reinstate the provisions as the bill moves forward.

    More nuclear coverage here.


    Pueblo County approves funding for Fountain Creek District, CO Supreme Court will not hear county lawsuit

    April 29, 2014
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A plan to fund a study of either a dam or series of detention ponds on Fountain Creek is now in the hands of Colorado Springs City Council. Pueblo County commissioners Monday approved prepayment of $291,000 in interest payments by Colorado Springs Utilities to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. Part of that, about $60,000, would fund the next phase of a dam study on Fountain Creek. Last week, the district narrowed that effort to compare either a dam or series of detention ponds to reduce the impact of Fountain Creek floods on Pueblo. The money would be an advance payment on $50 million Utilities pledged to pay the district for Fountain Creek dam studies under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County for its Southern Delivery System.

    Colorado Springs already has prepaid $600,000 of that to the Fountain Creek district. If it agrees to pay another $291,000, Pueblo County will deduct that amount from the $50 million as well, under the resolution passed Monday.

    “CSU staff was recommending not paying (the interest), because they said, ‘We don’t see what we’re getting,’ ” said Terry Hart, chairman of the commissioners. “We see an enormous benefit to the district in converting this drainage ditch into an amenity that everyone, including Colorado Springs, can enjoy.”

    Utilities is controlled by the Colorado Springs City Council, however. Last week, Hart received assurances from Colorado Springs Councilman Val Snider that the payment would be examined.

    “I’m astonished they have to ask what’s in it for them,” added Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “It’s imperative that they work with us.”

    Utilities wanted to add language to the county’s resolution indicating it was in good standing when it came to the 1041 permit. The commissioners balked at that, and made it clear in the resolution that 1041 compliance is a separate issue. The board also put in a clause that requires the Fountain Creek District to provide an annual report of how the money is spent.

    “Colorado Springs hasn’t always been a good neighbor to us,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “I’m hopeful the $50 million will be enough to leverage hundreds of millions needed to build flood detention storage.”

    Meanwhile Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner is weighing his legal options in his water quality challenge to CSU’s 1041 permit from the county. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner is looking at legal options, including a possible federal lawsuit, after the state Supreme Court rejected his petition to reconsider water quality rulings for the Southern Delivery System. The Colorado Supreme Court Monday refused to reconsider an appeals court’s decision to overturn Pueblo District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to redo its assessment of SDS on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

    Chostner and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition wanted the high court to uphold Reyes’ 2012 ruling, which was reversed by a three-judge panel last July.

    “I’m very disappointed in the outcome of the suit and we’re weighing our legal options,” Chostner said shortly after learning of the Supreme Court decision.

    “Colorado Springs Utilities believed all along in the state’s approval of the SDS water quality certification and are pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision finally brings this issue to closure,” said John Fredell, SDS program director.

    The original complaint was made by former DA Bill Thiebaut, and Reyes agreed with him that the state water quality board should have held Colorado Springs Utilities to a numerical standard, rather than relying on an adaptive management program.

    The state ignored its own standards in approving a water quality certification for SDS, Reyes said.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):

    Monday’s Supreme Court denial of the petition means the Colorado Court of Appeals July ruling stands and Colorado Springs Utilities can complete its work on the pipeline as planned.

    “We believed all along in the state’s approval of the SDS water quality certification and are pleased that today’s Supreme Court decision finally brings this issue to closure,” said John Fredell, SDS program manager.

    In July, the Colorado Court of Appeals said Colorado Springs Utilities had done all the necessary work to ensure that SDS would not wreck water quality in Fountain Creek. The court had reversed a Pueblo County judge’s ruling against a state water quality certification for Colorado Springs’ SDS pipeline project. The Water Quality Commission gave the SDS its stamp of approval after more than a year of study. The commission’s approval was challenged by former Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environment and Labor Coalition.

    However, the appellate court cited a number of reports and analyses and found that all the proper tests were completed and that there was substantial evidence that showed SDS will not violate water quality standards in Fountain Creek.

    In August, Chostner requested that the Colorado Supreme Court review the appeals court decision.

    “Obviously I am very, very disappointed with it,” Chostner said of the Supreme Court denial. “We are taking a look at our legal options as to how we can respond to it.”

    SDS has been embroiled in controversy, piles of federal, state and local regulations and litigation for years. The project was launched to bring more water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security Water District and Pueblo West for future population growth. The first stretch of pipe was built in 2010 and the pipeline is expected to be completed by 2016. Utilities officials say the estimated cost of the phase 1 of the project – 53 miles of pipeline, three pump stations and a new water treatment plant capable of delivering up to 50 million gallons of water per day – is $841 million, about $150 million less than projected.

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):

    The Colorado Supreme Court denied an appeal today by the Pueblo County District Attorney that sought to derail Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System. The decision clears the last major potential roadblock for the $898 million pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs, which is already well under construction.

    Pueblo County alleged that the state’s approval of permits for the project didn’t adequately consider water quality issues. Pueblo has long fought SDS, claiming that the return flow from the pipeline along Fountain Creek will exacerbate stormwater and water quality issues.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


    Fountain Creek: The Fountain Creek District hopes to have a flood mitigation design in hand soon

    April 26, 2014
    Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A district formed to fix Fountain Creek is moving ahead with a road map to build flood control dams between Fountain and Pueblo. The entire process could take 3-12 years to complete, with the type of structures chosen and the availability of money the determining factors.

    On Friday, Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, broke down the process into bite-sized pieces for the board, which was formed five years ago by the state Legislature to resolve Fountain Creek differences between Pueblo and El Paso counties.

    Phase 1 would be to compare three alternatives that were modeled in a U.S. Geo­logical Survey study completed this year. It would cost $60,000 and take up to a year to complete. Those include a large dam, a series of about 10 smaller dams or several midsize dams that would capture about the same amount of water.

    “Maybe building fewer and bigger dams may be better than 10 small dams,” Small said.

    Small said other alternatives in the USGS study either provided only local protection on other parts of Fountain Creek, or no protection at all to Pueblo in the event of a large flood. The study would corroborate past studies and identify — but not solve — issues with each of the alternatives. It would also use the USGS study to provide a visualization of floods of varying intensity, Small said.

    The next phase would then compare the options by looking at engineering, easements, permits, costbenefit analysis and other factors.

    “We want to be in a position that will allow us to begin building when the money becomes available,” Small said.

    That money will start coming when Colorado Springs begins payment of the bulk of $50 million that it agreed to pay the district under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System. The funding for the study would come from prepayment of nearly $300,000 in interest on the $50 million under the terms of the 1041 permit.

    Pueblo County Commissioners and Colorado Springs still are negotiating the details of the prepayment, said Commission Chairman Terry Hart.

    “What we’re trying to do is pave the way for the money, so the project can move forward,” Hart said.

    More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


    The Animas River Stakeholders Group, et. al., offer $45,000 prize in search for solutions to pollution

    April 24, 2014
    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

    From The Durango Herald (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister):

    Last week, the regular meeting of the Animas River Stakeholders Group took on the feeling of a jolly, if intellectually fraught, Nobel Prize committee debate.

    Scientists, government employees and mining officials huddled around a long table in the cold basement of the Miners Union Hospital grading innovative, sometimes preposterous proposals for addressing metal removal from mine drainage.

    The ideas came from InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has hundreds of thousands of individual problem-solvers eager to take on challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and the life sciences.

    As part of the competition, the stakeholders described the environmental calamity in the Upper Animas Basin and offered $45,000 to the top problem-solver. (They raised the prize money from 12 organizations, including the International Network for Acid Prevention, Freeport-McMorRan Copper and Gold, Sunnyside Gold Corp., National Mining Corp., Goldcorp, New Mexico Coal and Trout Unlimited.)

    As water quality in the Animas River has deteriorated over the last seven years, there has been insufficient money to build and operate a limestone water-treatment plant, which would cost $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million to operate annually. Stakeholders are hoping that one brilliant solution could at least bring down the sticker price of river cleanup. (In the absence of an answer, the town is re-evaluating whether it should seek Superfund status.)

    InnoCentive’s problem-solvers submitted online more than 50 proposals, with some more far-fetched than others, involving everything from absorption through plants, salting out metals, magnets, artificial river settling, cement, yeast, eggshell lime, plasma, brown coal, algae and Voraxial filtration…

    As the stakeholders moved through the ideas, poring over a spreadsheet that had different stakeholders’ assessments of the schemes, expert opinion diverged many times.

    While Kirsten Brown of the Colorado Division of Mining and Safety and Steve Fearn, mining specialist and co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, liked one proposal that involved removing heavy metals with magnets, Peter Butler thought “scaling and clogging would be an issue.”

    Butler, co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, was more supportive of another proposal, artificial river settling, writing, “Could be an effective alternative to settling ponds. Separates metals somewhat.”[...]

    They hope to choose the winner by May. When the winning idea might be implemented is unknown.

    Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

    Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

    Meanwhile there was a meeting Wednesday in Silverton to discuss potential Superfund designation to bring in federal dough and expertise. Here’s a prequel from Chase Olivarius-Mcallister writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

    For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has tried to designate parts of Silverton a Superfund site. Yet for years, many locals have considered the word “Superfund” dirtier than Cement Creek…

    A series of abandoned mines in the Upper Animas Basin has been spewing toxic metals into the local water system for more than 20 years. Scientists say it’s the largest untreated mine drainage in the state, and problematic concentrations of zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum are choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

    La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said Silverton’s environmental calamity is “huge, affecting so many jurisdictions and communities. But it has felt like we were sort of at a stalemate.”

    Lachelt said San Juan County commissioners now are leading the issue, not ignoring it.

    “The La Plata County commissioners stand by the San Juan County commissioners in seeking out all of this information and seeking a rapid solution to this long-lingering problem,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one single reason it’s taken so long, and we’re certainly not there yet. But I think we’re seeing a lot of folks come together and realize we really don’t want to lose any more species of fish. We can’t afford to, and we have to act.”

    ‘Objections worn thin’

    Since last summer, political pressure to find a solution in Silverton has escalated.

    Rob Robinson, who used to represent the Bureau of Land Management within the Animas River Stakeholders Group, sent a letter and petition with 15 signatures in December to the EPA and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment urging a Superfund listing in Silverton. Robinson said for years he had kept faith that the Animas River Stakeholders Group’s collaborative process would work.

    “I was a member of (the stakeholders) for many years and believed strongly in what they were doing: community-based, watershed-based cleanup. I guess it’s not gone so well,” he said. “In fact, it’s really disastrous when you compare the situation with what’s happened at other Superfund sites.”

    Steve Gunderson, director of Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, said he was “appalled” by what he saw when he toured the Red and Bonita Mine in 2012.

    “This site, even though it’s complicated and remote, is in an incredibly beautiful part of the state. It may take a Superfund designation to bring the resources to bear,” he said.

    But Gunderson said he doubts the EPA will “move forward with a Superfund designation unless there’s support with the local government because Superfund can be fairly controversial, and the first reaction is often angst about what the economic ramifications might be.”

    Many Silverton residents interviewed by The Durango Herald last summer feared a Superfund designation would stymie tourism and soil the prospect of mining’s return.

    “Superfund isn’t the answer,” said Steve Fearn, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and a town resident. “I want to see Silverton become a successful, vibrant community again. Right now, it isn’t, and mining is the one thing we have.”

    But Robinson said such objections had worn thin.

    “God, they’re the same positions they took 25 years ago! I think ‘Gee-whiz, it’s like a broken record, going on and on,’” Robinson said. “People like Steve Fearn argue a Superfund site will discourage mining investment. But the pollution is discouraging people from mining.

    “What Steve Fearn says is immaterial. What’s important is that the Clean Water Act promises to clean up the nation’s water, making it all swimmable, fishable. That’s the goal, and the people administering … Superfund aren’t doing their job,” he said. “That’s the problem.”[...]

    In the absence of a Superfund designation, for years, the stakeholders group has tried to work collaboratively with the EPA and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to improve water quality in the Animas River.

    However, water quality recently has gotten much worse in the river.

    Between 2005 and 2010, three out of four of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And since 2006, USGS scientists have found that the water flowing under Bakers Bridge – then downstream, into Durango – carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

    The technology to clean the dirty water exists: a limestone water treatment plant. But the stakeholders group has no money to pay for it, and the EPA estimates it would cost between $12 million and $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp., the last mining company to operate in Silverton, denies all liability for cleaning up the worsened metal pollution. It has offered $6.5 million in return for being released from all liability. Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate, bought Sunnyside in 2003. The company generated nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2013, according to its fourth-quarter report…

    On Monday, within hours of commissioners announcing that most of their Wednesday meeting would be dedicated to discussing Superfund with the EPA, Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in the stakeholders group, sent co-coordinators Fearn, Bill Simon and Peter Butler a letter proposing the company’s “game plan” for cleaning up the Animas River.

    The plan centers on all parties continuing to work through the stakeholders group, bulkheading the Red and Bonita Mine and using the money Sunnyside already has promised – with compound interest. The plan does not include pursuing Superfund listing…

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    USGS: Mercury in Fishes from 21 National Parks in the Western United States—Inter- and Intra-Park Variation in Concentrations and Ecological Risk

    April 23, 2014

    mercuryinnationalparksviausgsapril2014

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Collin A. Eagles-Smith/James J. Willacker Jr./Colleen M. Flanagan Pritz):

    Mercury (Hg) is a global contaminant and human activities have increased atmospheric Hg concentrations 3- to 5-fold during the past 150 years. This increased release into the atmosphere has resulted in elevated loadings to aquatic habitats where biogeochemical processes promote the microbial conversion of inorganic Hg to methylmercury, the bioavailable form of Hg. The physicochemical properties of Hg and its complex environmental cycle have resulted in some of the most remote and protected areas of the world becoming contaminated with Hg concentrations that threaten ecosystem and human health. The national park network in the United States is comprised of some of the most pristine and sensitive wilderness in North America. There is concern that via global distribution, Hg contamination could threaten the ecological integrity of aquatic communities in the parks and the wildlife that depends on them. In this study, we examined Hg concentrations in non-migratory freshwater fish in 86 sites across 21 national parks in the Western United States. We report Hg concentrations of more than 1,400 fish collected in waters extending over a 4,000 kilometer distance, from Alaska to the arid Southwest. Across all parks, sites, and species, fish total Hg (THg) concentrations ranged from 9.9 to 1,109 nanograms per gram wet weight (ng/g ww) with a mean of 77.7 ng/g ww. We found substantial variation in fish THg concentrations among and within parks, suggesting that patterns of Hg risk are driven by processes occurring at a combination of scales. Additionally, variation (up to 20-fold) in site-specific fish THg concentrations within individual parks suggests that more intensive sampling in some parks will be required to effectively characterize Hg contamination in western national parks.

    Across all fish sampled, only 5 percent had THg concentrations exceeding a benchmark (200 ng/g ww) associated with toxic responses within the fish themselves. However, Hg concentrations in 35 percent of fish sampled were above a benchmark for risk to highly sensitive avian consumers (90 ng/g ww), and THg concentrations in 68 percent of fish sampled were above exposure levels recommended by the Great Lakes Advisory Group (50 ng/g ww) for unlimited consumption by humans. Of the fish assessed for risk to human consumers (that is, species that are large enough to be consumed by recreational or subsistence anglers), only one individual fish from Yosemite National Park had a muscle Hg concentration exceeding the benchmark (950 ng/g ww) at which no human consumption is advised. Zion, Capital Reef, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Lake Clark National Parks all contained sites in which most fish exceeded benchmarks for the protection of human and wildlife health. This finding is particularly concerning in Zion and Capitol Reef National Parks because the fish from these parks were speckled dace, a small, invertebrate-feeding species, yet their Hg concentrations were as high or higher than those in the largest, long-lived predatory species, such as lake trout. Future targeted research and monitoring across park habitats would help identify patterns of Hg distribution across the landscape and facilitate management decisions aimed at reducing the ecological risk posed by Hg contamination in sensitive ecosystems protected by the National Park Service.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    USGS: Geologic Sources and Concentrations of Selenium in the West-Central Denver Basin, Including the Toll Gate Creek Watershed, Aurora, Colorado, 2003–2007

    April 21, 2014

    selenium

    Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Suzanne S. Paschke/Katherine Walton-Day/Jennifer A. Beck/Ank Webber/Jean A. Dupree)

    Toll Gate Creek, in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, is a perennial stream in which concentrations of dissolved selenium have consistently exceeded the Colorado aquatic-life standard of 4.6 micrograms per liter. Recent studies of selenium in Toll Gate Creek identified the Denver lignite zone of the non-marine Cretaceous to Tertiary-aged (Paleocene) Denver Formation underlying the watershed as the geologic source of dissolved selenium to shallow ground-water and surface water. Previous work led to this study by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Aurora Utilities Department, which investigated geologic sources of selenium and selenium concentrations in the watershed. This report documents the occurrence of selenium-bearing rocks and groundwater within the Cretaceous- to Tertiary-aged Denver Formation in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, including the Toll Gate Creek watershed. The report presents background information on geochemical processes controlling selenium concentrations in the aquatic environment and possible geologic sources of selenium; the hydrogeologic setting of the watershed; selenium results from groundwater-sampling programs; and chemical analyses of solids samples as evidence that weathering of the Denver Formation is a geologic source of selenium to groundwater and surface water in the west-central part of the Denver Basin, including Toll Gate Creek.

    Analyses of water samples collected from 61 water-table wells in 2003 and from 19 water-table wells in 2007 indicate dissolved selenium concentrations in groundwater in the west-central Denver Basin frequently exceeded the Colorado aquatic-life standard and in some locations exceeded the primary drinking-water standard of 50 micrograms per liter. The greatest selenium concentrations were associated with oxidized groundwater samples from wells completed in bedrock materials. Selenium analysis of geologic core samples indicates that total selenium concentrations were greatest in samples containing indications of reducing conditions and organic matter (dark gray to black claystones and lignite horizons).

    The Toll Gate Creek watershed is situated in a unique hydrogeologic setting in the west-central part of the Denver Basin such that weathering of Cretaceous- to Tertiary-aged, non-marine, selenium-bearing rocks releases selenium to groundwater and surface water under present-day semi-arid environmental conditions. The Denver Formation contains several known and suspected geologic sources of selenium including: (1) lignite deposits; (2) tonstein partings; (3) organic-rich bentonite claystones; (4) salts formed as secondary weathering products; and possibly (5) the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Organically complexed selenium and/or selenium-bearing pyrite in the enclosing claystones are likely the primary mineral sources of selenium in the Denver Formation, and correlations between concentration of dissolved selenium and dissolved organic carbon in groundwater indicate weathering and dissolution of organically complexed selenium from organic-rich claystone is a primary process mobilizing selenium. Secondary salts accumulated along fractures and bedding planes in the weathered zone are another potential geologic source of selenium, although their composition was not specifically addressed by the solids analyses. Results from this and previous work indicate that shallow groundwater and streams similarly positioned over Denver Formation claystone units at other locations in the Denver Basin also may contain concentrations of dissolved selenium greater than the Colorado aquatic-life standard or the drinking- water standard.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

    April 5, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

    Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

    In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

    “This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

    Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

    Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

    The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

    Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

    She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

    In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

    At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

    “It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

    An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

    The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

    Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

    A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

    The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

    “There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.


    Environmental groups are suing to prevent oil and gas exploration operations north of Del Norte #RioGrande

    April 5, 2014
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

    Environmental groups in the San Luis Valley say they are suing to protect an aquifer they call “the lifeblood” of the valley. The lawsuit alleges that proposed drilling for oil and gas on federal land just south of Del Norte endangers 7,000 water wells in the valley. The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn the federal Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the drilling by a Texas oil company.

    The lawsuit against BLM was filed March 5 in U.S. District Court by the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Conejos County Clean Water Inc.

    The Conejos Formation aquifer “holds the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley ecosystem, culture and economy, as well as the headwaters of the Rio Grande (River),” the 37-page lawsuit states. “Any underground and surface water contamination due to oil and gas exploration in the project area would likely enter the Conejos Formation aquifer.”

    “BLM violated the law by issuing (the oil) lease . . . without considering the unique and controversial effects” of the drilling, the lawsuit alleges. “A growing number of people . . . are concerned that the federal government has once again relied on a rushed, incomplete process,” approving the proposed drilling “without taking a hard look,” as law requires, at its impacts, the lawsuit asserts.

    BLM said that it is reviewing the lawsuit.

    The environmental groups contend that BLM’s environmental assessment of the drilling project incorrectly concluded there would be no significant impact.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    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.


    CU-Boulder offers well users guide for testing water in areas of oil and gas development

    April 3, 2014

    chemistryglassware

    Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

    A free, downloadable guide for individuals who want to collect baseline data on their well water quality and monitor their groundwater quantity over time was released this week by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC).

    The “how to” guide, “Monitoring Water Quality in Areas of Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Guide for Water Well Users,” is available in PDF format at http://cwerc.colorado.edu. It seeks to provide well owners with helpful, independent, scientifically sound and politically neutral information about how energy extraction or other activities might affect their groundwater.

    The guide spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater conditions, including how best to monitor that baseline and develop a long-term record.

    “Baseline data is important because, in its purest form, it documents groundwater quality and quantity before energy extraction begins,” said CWERC Co-founder and Director Mark Williams, who is also a fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder professor of geography.

    “Once a baseline has been established, groundwater chemistry can be monitored for changes over time,” Williams said. “The most accurate baselines are collected before energy extraction begins, but if drilling has already begun, well owners can still test their water to establish a belated baseline and monitor it for changes. That might not be scientifically ideal, but it’s a lot better than doing no monitoring at all.”

    CWERC’s guidance builds on the state’s public health recommendations that well owners annually test water for nitrates and bacteria. The guide encourages well water users to collect more than one pre-drilling baseline sample, if possible.

    CWERC recommends collecting both spring and fall samples within a single year because water chemistry can vary during wet and dry seasons. Well owners should measure the depth from the ground surface to the water in their wells in the fall, during the dry season, so that they can keep track of any changes.

    “Colorado’s oil and gas regulators have established some of the most comprehensive groundwater monitoring regulations in the country, but those regulations do not require oil and gas operators to sample every water well in an oil or gas field,” Williams said. “So we wanted to develop a meaningful tool for people who want to test their water themselves or those who need information to help negotiate water testing arrangements as part of surface use agreements with drillers in their area.

    “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the well owner to know their own well and understand their water. This guide will help Coloradans do just that.”

    The guide specifically outlines what well water users may want to test for and provides a list of properly certified laboratories that offer water-testing services. In addition, the guide assists individuals in interpreting the scientific data, chemical references and compound levels that are outlined in the laboratory results they will receive and any industry tests or reports related to drilling in their area.

    CWERC studies the connections between water and energy resources and the trade-offs that may be involved in their use. It seeks to engage the general public and policymakers, serving as a neutral broker of scientifically based information on even the most contentious “energy-water nexus” debates.

    CWERC was co-founded in 2011 by Williams and Joseph Ryan, a CU-Boulder professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, with funding from the CU-Boulder Office for University Outreach.

    To download a free copy of the guide, visit http://cwerc.colorado.edu. For questions about obtaining the guide or to order a printed version, visit the website or call 303-492-4561.


    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

    waterdrop
    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.


    COGCC issues ‘Lessons Learned’ report for operations affected by September #COflood

    March 18, 2014
    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post

    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    …while images of tipped storage tanks and flooded well sites were part of the national media coverage of the storm and the aftermath, the amount of petroleum products spilled into the rushing waters was small compared to the raw sewage and chemicals from flooded wastewater treatment plants, homes, stores and other facilities, state officials said in the weeks following the flood.

    Now, the COGCC, which oversees the state’s multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry, issued its staff report to focus on “Lessons Learned” from the flood. The report doesn’t suggest putting new laws in place, but does propose the COGCC consider adopting “best management” practices for oil and gas equipment located near Colorado’s streams and rivers.
    Along with encouraging remote wells, the COGCC recommends boosting the construction requirements for wells located near streams and rivers and developing an emergency manual to help the the COGCC staff better respond in the early days of a future emergency.

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Jerd Smith):

    In the wake of last September’s floods, a new report from state oil and gas regulators recommends that oil companies maintain precise locations and inventories of wells and production equipment near waterways, that all new wells near waterways contain remote shut-in equipment, and that no open pits be allowed within a designated distance from the high-water mark of any given streams.

    In the report, released Monday, staff of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said they would not recommend any new state laws to address flood damage in oil and gas fields, but that they would suggest changes to regulations governing how production and gathering facilities are sited and constructed.

    The commission noted that more than 5,900 oil and gas wells are within 500 feet of a Colorado stream.

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, however, said that the industry responded well to the emergency and that no further regulatory action was needed.

    “The floods were a difficult and trying event for everyone, and we are proud at our ability to engage meaningfully in the response and recovery of our Colorado communities,” Tisha Schuller, president and chief executive of the association, said in a statement Monday afternoon. “The flood report reiterated facts supporting that Colorado’s oil and gas industry was extraordinarily well prepared, responded in real time, and is committed to Colorado’s recovery.

    From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The suggestions from the commission’s staff include requiring that storage tanks be anchored with cables so they’re less likely to tip and spill and requiring all wells within a certain distance of waterways to be equipped with devices that allow operators to shut them down remotely.

    The staff recommendations didn’t say what that distance should be.

    The commission is expected to discuss the proposed rules at a meeting this spring.

    The report described the flood damage to storage tanks and production equipment as “substantial and expensive” but gave no dollar amount. It also said oil and gas production has still not returned to pre-flood levels but again gave no figures.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


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