Denver Water recycled water for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal? CDPHE says not so fast.

May 20, 2014
Rocky Mountain Arsenal -- 1947

Rocky Mountain Arsenal — 1947

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Even with Colorado’s push to rely more on recycled water, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge will spend another summer using millions of gallons of Denver’s drinking water to fill lakes and irrigate fields after a recent decision by state health officials.

Federal wildlife biologists calculate they’re drawing more than 82 million gallons of Denver drinking water a year to fill three once-toxic lakes at the refuge, formerly a nerve gas and pesticides plant that became an environmental disaster.

“This refuge needs water, and using recycled water to fulfill a portion of our needs is a wise choice for the future,” refuge manager Dave Lucas said. Denver recycled water “meets our needs and allows millions and millions of gallons of drinking water to be put to better use by Denver residents.”

But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last week reaffirmed its position that the refuge must go through a process of proving why it should be allowed to use water that is not as clean and submit to an Environmental Protection Agency review.

A $2.1 billion cleanup of toxic pollution included restoration of the lakes for catch-and-release fishing and to store water, which wildlife managers use to irrigate the 27-square-mile refuge — habitat for bison and other species.

Until the drought of 2002, High Line Canal agricultural water trickled into the lakes. Groundwater pumping added more water. CDPHE at some point — it was not clear when — reclassified the lakes as water supplies, and refuge managers made a deal with Denver to use drinking water, which started in 2008.

Then, in 2009, CDPHE reclassified the lakes as water bodies, meaning “an important social or economic development” reason for allowing lesser-quality water must be demonstrated. State officials, on an emergency basis in May 2013, agreed to remove the water supply classification on the refuge lakes but still require the proof of a public purpose before water quality can be reduced.

Frustrated refuge managers, backed by Denver Water and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, have been pressing to use recycled water and putting in the plumbing to do so.

Denver Water has spent more than $197 million installing a citywide 80-mile network of pipelines that distribute partially treated recycled water to parks, golf courses and the Denver Zoo. The museum uses recycled water in its new heating and cooling system.

All sides agree that using more recycled water is a priority.

But CDPHE Water Quality Control commissioners on May 13 voted 5-4 to reject a request to reconsider — so the refuge must go through a “necessity of degradation demonstration” review to be able to use recycled water.

“We want to support use of recycled water. But we cannot do it by bending the rules,” CDPHE water quality standards chief Sarah Johnson said. “The best solution is for them to complete the necessity of degradation determination. It isn’t a heavy lift. We have promised to help.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers of the refuge say the analysis for the review would not cost much but would require spending $10,000 to $15,000 a year more for water monitoring. They said new analysis would have to be done every three to five years, tied to permitting, creating uncertainty because state officials could ask for operational and infrastructure changes during reviews.

Lucas said even if they were to have something to present by the June commissioners’ meeting, it would be October at the earliest for the water switch if everything was approved.

Denver Water officials have been working aggressively since 2004 to increase use of recycled water, saving 7,000 acre-feet of drinking water a year, utility recycled water director Jenny Murray said.

Switching to recycled water at the refuge is the correct solution, Murray said. “It’s the right use because we are trying to preserve drinking water supplies for a growing population in a water-scarce region. Using drinking water for uses that do not require drinking water is wasteful.”

Denver Water attorneys in a May 6 letter to CDPHE argue that state lawmakers have ordered efforts to “encourage the reuse of reclaimed domestic wastewater.” Denver Water contends CDPHE decisions undermine state policy, waste public resources and defy common sense by imposing a needless bureaucratic burden.

One of Denver’s new recycled water pipelines runs by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to the refuge. A steady, year-round flow of recycled water in that pipeline is required to ensure sufficient flow to run the museum’s innovative new geothermal heating and cooling system, which was funded by a federal grant to boost energy efficiency.

“When we designed our system three to four years ago, both Denver Water and the refuge folks felt that obtaining a permit to discharge recycled water into the lakes at the refuge would not be a problem,” said Dave Noel, museum vice president for facilities, capital projects and sustainability.

CDPHE’s stance “has got all of us scratching our heads,” Noel said.

Museum officials sent a May 8 letter to CDPHE arguing that “the loss of 17,000 acres of thriving wildlife and fish habitat due to lack of water would be a severe blow to the state and the Front Range, and simply does not make sense when a logical solution seems readily available.”

At the refuge, future water needs are projected as high as 456 million gallons a year. Beyond Denver Water, wildlife managers rely heavily on pumping water from underground aquifers into the Mary, Ladora and Lower Derby lakes — pumping they are trying to reduce by using more recycled water, which is cheaper than drinking water. They calculate the federal water bill could be cut by $30,000 a year.

A thriving bison herd is growing, with 11 calves born this spring, pushing the population to 81. An adult bison can eat around 50 pounds of grass a day. A team of biologists recently had to reduce the herd to prevent exhaustion of the short-grass prairie. Plans call for expanding bison habitat to allow a herd of 209 bison, which would roam up to the road to Denver International Airport, where a visitor viewing station is envisioned. Not having reliable recycled water will limit the bison herd and lead to decreased numbers of waterfowl, fish and grassland birds, Lucas said.

“We’re probably not going to irrigate this summer, which is bad for habitat restoration,” he said, “or we will have to drain down the lakes to irrigate.”

Lucas remains puzzled by the entire process.

“We’re talking about the same recycled water used everywhere. But somehow the refuge is different? Lots of smart people are looking at this, and no one can figure it out,” he said. “We engaged in this year-long process with hopes of fixing their error — the water supply change. Why would we want to engage in another unknown and uncertain process that will last months, if not years?”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


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

January 29, 2012

rockymountainarsenal1964

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

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

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

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

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


Rocky Mountain Arsenal superfund site cleanup update

September 20, 2010

A picture named rockymountainarsenal1964

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

For half a century, the arsenal at Denver’s northeast edge loomed as a secretive complex of more than 250 buildings with signs around it warning “Use of Deadly Force Authorized.” There, the Army made chemical weapons and later, Shell made pesticides. Residential and commercial development gradually encroached on the site. Today, 47 bison roam, raptors circle and badgers burrow on recovering short-grass prairie 10 miles from downtown Denver. “We’ve transformed a very highly contaminated site into a beautiful prairie landscape,” said Carol Campbell, the EPA’s assistant regional administrator handling Superfund cleanups and other officials. “Because it is something that people now can go to and enjoy, it is different from other Superfund cleanup sites.”

The Army still will be responsible for 725 acres of fenced-off land where toxic materials were consolidated and buried. Devices called lysimeters, about 6 feet beneath the clay and dirt, are supposed to verify that surface water isn’t reaching the waste. In addition, monitoring of the already-contaminated groundwater at the arsenal must continue to ensure that lethal chemicals don’t spread farther toward the South Platte River…

Once, homesteading farmers and ranchers lived here. In 1942, the Army established the arsenal to make mustard gas and blister agent to deter Japan and Germany. Then, during the Cold War, factory workers in body suits and gas masks produced thousands of tons of napalm and sarin nerve gas, which was stuffed into bomblets that were placed in Honest John rocket warheads.

Army leaders later leased the site to private companies, including Shell, which arrived in 1952 and for three decades produced chemical pesticides, such as dieldrin, that Shell sold worldwide for agriculture. The liquid waste was dumped in evaporation ponds. Solid waste was dumped into trenches. More than 600 lethal chemicals spread through the soil into groundwater.

More South Platte Basin coverage here.


EPA proposes removal of more than 2,500 acres at Rocky Mountain Arsenal from Superfund list

June 18, 2010

A picture named rockymountainarsenal1964

Here’s the release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Jennifer Chergo):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a proposal to delete portions of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA) from the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is a list of the nation’s most contaminated sites, known as Superfund sites. EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have determined that all required cleanup activities are complete in the areas proposed for deletion. EPA is accepting public comments on the Notice of Intent to Delete for 30 days, from June 17 to July 19, 2010.

EPA is proposing to delete 2,500 acres of soil, sediment, surface water and structures from the central and eastern surface areas within the RMA boundaries. EPA is also proposing to delete the entire surface area just north of the RMA boundary. Groundwater underlying these areas is not included in this deletion and will remain on the NPL. All areas at RMA deleted from the NPL will continue to be subject to regular EPA review to ensure the protection of human health and the environment.

Deleting property from the NPL facilitates reuse of that property. Should the proposed deletion of the central and eastern surface area be finalized, its 2,500 acres will be transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to become part of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

This is the fifth proposed partial deletion of land at RMA. Between 2003 and 2006, EPA completed four partial deletions consisting of 13,406 acres. Of the property deleted at RMA to date, 917 acres were sold to Commerce City for commercial development, 12 acres were transferred to South Adams County Water and Sanitation District for the Klein Treatment Facility, 126 acres were transferred to local governments for road-widening, and 163 acres were retained by the Army, primarily for water treatment systems. Another 12,188 acres were transferred to the FWS to become part of the National Wildlife Refuge, as prescribed in the 1992 Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Act.

RMA is located in Commerce City, approximately ten miles northeast of Denver, Colo., in Adams County. RMA was established in 1942 by the U.S. Army to manufacture chemical warfare agents and munitions for use in World War II. Beginning in 1946, some facilities were leased to private companies to manufacture industrial and agricultural chemicals. Shell Oil Company, the principal lessee, manufactured pesticides at the site from 1952 to 1982. Industrial and waste disposal practices resulted in contamination of structures, soil, surface water and groundwater. EPA placed RMA on the NPL in 1987. Since that time, the site has been undergoing extensive environmental investigation and cleanup.

For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/co/rkymtnarsenal/

More superfund coverage here.


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