Has the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill groundwater reached Pueblo Reservoir?

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas and Tracy Harmon):

Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is calling for sediment testing along the Arkansas River and at the bottom of Lake Pueblo to see if there is possible contamination from the now-closed Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill in Fremont County.

McFadyen said Tuesday during a press conference that she is concerned about the impact the possible “growing uranium and molybdenum plumes could have on Pueblo County.”

However, state health officials say the concerns are unfounded. But McFadyen remains concerned.

“This has been going on for 40 years and we can see that the situation is not getting any better and it’s time for us downstream from Canon City to take a stand,” McFadyen said, referring to the ongoing battle over the Cotter Mill cleanup.

Jeri Fry, director of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste Inc., shared the history of the Cotter controversy and presented maps from a 1987-89 study sowing ground uranium and molybdenum plumes that stretch from the Cotter Superfund site toward the Arkansas River.

“It’s likely that the molybdenum and the uranium plumes have grown since then. We just want answers,” McFadyen said. “And if the Arkansas isn’t contaminated, then that’s a very positive finding . . . We don’t find what we don’t look for.”

However, the concerns are unfounded, according to Colorado Department of Public Health Public Information Officer Warren Smith and Cotter Corp. Mill Manager Steve Cohen. They agree that Arkansas River water is not impacted by contamination from the Cotter mill.

“The Arkansas River is sampled routinely and the results have been showing that the river water quality has not been impacted,” Smith said.

“We constantly collect samples and data every quarter and there is no evidence that Cotter has impacted the Arkansas River.”

Both state and federal health officials study the data and “nobody has ever found anything to suggest that,” said Cohen.

“I am personally disgusted that the Pueblo County commissioners would have a meeting about this and not invite us to speak on the topic,” Cohen said.

And Jennifer Opila, Colorado Department of Public Health site director, said:

“I understand that the sediment has not been sampled (since 2004), but without impact on the water quality, there is no information that would lead us to believe the sediment would be contaminated. There is no contamination of the Arkansas River near the Cotter site, so Pueblo Reservoir would not be impacted.”

“This issue and all other potential issues will be looked at as part of the remedial investigation as we work toward final cleanup,” she said.

McFadyen said she is aware of water testing, but is calling for sediment testing and if it is positive, “Cotter should pay to treat it.”

McFadyen said in 1986, the USGS suggested on behalf of the federal government that sediment and not only the water be tested in the Pueblo reservoir.

“With the plume growing toward the Arkansas River, it’s time. It’s time to take action,” McFadyen said.

She said the possible contamination also could affect Colorado Springs because of the Southern Delivery System, which pipes water from Lake Pueblo up to that community.

State health officials overseeing the Cotter Corp. mill have not felt the study of Minnequa and Pueblo reservoir water quality pertinent since 2004.

“A 2004 review of water quality of the (Minnequa and Pueblo) reservoirs as well as the Arkansas River and associated drainages concluded that they are not impacted by the mill contaminants,” Smith said.

Part of the reason that the downstream reservoirs have not been tested since 2004 is due to the absence of high levels of radium-226, thoium-230, molybdenum and nickel in bodies of water much closer to the mill.

“Sediment sampling in Sand Creek (just north of the mill site), the Arkansas River and the Fremont Ditch indicate that constituents of concern are similar to (natural) background data. These locations are closer to the mill than the Pueblo reservoir and the Minnequa Reservoir,” the state health review concluded.

While the legacy contamination is still present in Lincoln Park groundwater plume (though declining), remedial measures have been effective in preventing public exposure to the Lincoln Park plume. A 2008 water use survey concluded that only one Lincoln Park water well exceeded a drinking water standard for contamination.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry draft public health assessment in 2010, conducted at the request of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste, found that Cotter contamination did not present a current threat to human health or the environment, according to state health documentation.

“We need to understand all of the materials and how they are moving through the groundwater and how after these 30-40 years they have reached the river and if they are moving on downstream,” Fry said.

“That is a terrible trick to play on our neighbors. When you see a barn burning, do you go tell the authorities or do you just turn your head? And I am telling the authorities. Let’s all band together and get this tested.”

More From KOAA.com (Lena Howland):

“This site is leaking into the neighboring community and it has contaminated the wells and it is a slow moving problem and because of that, people aren’t aware of it,” Fry said.

Fry is calling for more testing of water near the site and they’re looking for help from the community.

“Until we know where it is, we can’t realistically, effectively clean it up,” she said.

She fears the waste may have spread downstream through the Arkansas River and to the Pueblo Reservoir, which has caught the attention of Pueblo County Commissioner Buffie McFadyen.

“I do believe it’s time for Pueblo to get involved and work with the citizens of Fremont County to not only demand a remediation plan that’s realistic to cleanup the site, but also to demand testing along the Arkansas in the sediment and in Pueblo Reservoir,” she said.

McFadyen, now also demanding more testing of the sediment specifically.

And the possibility of tainted water is unsettling to some locals in Pueblo.

“This water comes from the same area, I imagine it passes through, so it’s picking up stuff definitely,” Patricia Hitchcock, a Pueblo resident said.

While others say, this isn’t anything to worry about just yet.

“I think there’s always a little bit of concern about stuff in the water, it wouldn’t keep me out unless it was really serious, but a little bit of concern. In 10 years, I haven’t gotten sick once from the water,” Daniel Rottinghaus, a Pueblo kayaker said.

Cotter officials tell News5 these claims of contamination in the Arkansas River are simply not true and that they routinely test the water and sediment.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Tuesday morning, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste gave a presentation to commissioners about their suspicions that the toxic substances have leaked into Pueblo Reservoir.

Why should we in Colorado Springs care? Because one source of water for Colorado Springs and Fountain is the Pueblo Reservoir, via the Fountain Valley Authority line and the Southern Delivery System pipeline.

Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is, Pueblo County Commissioner is overseeing efforts to learn more about the situation.

Here’s a community newsletter about the issue.

And here’s a presentation made today by the citizen group.

Public meeting scheduled for citizen input on uranium extraction technology in Tallahassee area W. of Cañon City

uraniumdrilling

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

State health officials will host a public meeting for input on ablation technology that Black Range Minerals proposes to use to extract uranium in the Tallahassee area west of Canon City.

The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. May 31 at Quality Inns and Suites, 3075 E. U.S. 50. The Colorado Department of Public Health is working to make a determination on how to regulate use of the new technology to manage risks to the public and the environment.

Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acre site.

Black Range proposes to use ablation — dubbed “uranium fracking” — which involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a high-pressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.

Health officials also will take public comment through July 8 via email to Jennifer.opila@state.co.us.

Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Replacement pipeline in the works

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

After two recent breaks in the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s pumpback pipeline which returns contaminated water to an impoundment, officials on Friday outlined a plan to replace 3,500 feet of the pipeline.

Cotter officials reported two leaks occurring at the end of November and in early December in a pipeline that captures contaminated water that seeps past an earthen dam on Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill. It appears that both times the leaks were contained to Cotter property, according to Warren Smith of the Colorado Department of Public Health.

The now-defunct mill is undergoing the decommissioning process as health officials decide how best to safely retire the site. The pipeline proposal can be seen at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm.

The importance of designing industrial locations for spill containment, they will happen

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

From The Canon City Daily Record (Sarah Rose):

The Cotter Corp. reported a water spill at their site [November 26, 2015] to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the CDPHE said.

“(Cotter) discovered a spill of approximately 1,800 gallons of water at the pumpback line immediately upstream of the SCS dam on Cotter property,” a CDPHE email states. “They believe that the spill occurred overnight or early that morning. All water was drained back to the sump and no standing water was left on the ground. The leak has been repaired and the pumps have been turned back on.”

The CDPHE stated this incident is currently under investigation, but they believe water did not go beyond the property.

“A multi-part containment system keeps surface water and groundwater on Cotter property from entering Lincoln Park,” the email stated. “System features include a compacted clay barrier extending to non-porous shale on the upstream side of the Soil Conservation Service Dam, a water collection pipe and three pumps. An underground cutoff wall downstream adds another layer of protection.”

Meanwhile there was another spill yesterday, December 3, 2015. Here’s a report from Sarah Rose writing for The Canon City Daily Record. Here’s an excerpt:

Thursday morning Cotter employees discovered that the pumping system shut down, CDPHE said.

“Cotter personnel then inspected the SCS pumpback line and found the location of the break,” a CDPHE email stated. “Based on the amount of time between the morning inspection and observing the 10 a.m. shutdown, Cotter estimates that approximately 500 gallons of water leaked from the pipe line. Leaked water flowed approximately 20 feet, ponded in a slight depression and infiltrated into the soil. It appears that the water stayed on Cotter property.”

“This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies” — Jeff Parsons

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A company’s application to conduct exploratory borehole drilling for uranium in the Tallahassee neighborhood west of Canon City has been denied.

The Mined Land Reclamation Board on Oct. 28 denied the application from Black Range Minerals that would have allowed development of an underground borehole extraction experiment in the Tallahassee Creek area. As presented, the application would have proceeded under the minimal requirements of a prospecting permit.

Objections to the proposal were filed by opponents including Tallahassee Area Community, Inc., Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction and the Information Network for Responsible Mining.

“Under Colorado law, the difference between prospecting activities versus mining activities equates to a big difference in how carefully regulators review the permit and how well water quality will be monitored and protected,” said attorney Jeff Parsons, who represented the opponents and Tallahassee resident Kay Hawklee in the proceedings. “This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies that haven’t yet proven they can be utilized without polluting the watershed.”

Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County Commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acres of property known as the Hansen Deposit, which is believed to be the largest uranium deposit in the district.

Black Range proposed to the state to use underground borehole mining, dubbed uranium fracking. The process involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a highpressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.

Black Range’s proposal submitted to the state anticipated the development of the underground borehole passing through an unconfined drinking water aquifer in the Tallahassee Creek basin, but omitted a complete water-quality monitoring plan, Parsons said.

“The proposal that Black Range Minerals submitted was so minimalist that the company didn’t even identify the location of the main borehole or the detailed water-monitoring regime normally required for mining activities,” he said.

“This was an attempt by Black Range Minerals to get its mining operation going on the quick,” said Cathe Meyrick, president of Tallahassee Area Community group. “If we’re going to have an uranium mine next door, we expect the state to require a thorough review, including a comprehensive water monitoring plan and have enough protections in place to ensure that our drinking water isn’t contaminated.”

uraniumdrilling

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Comments sought for decommission plan

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Public comment is being sought on a Quality Assurance Project Plan designed to help health officials oversee decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill.

The plan establishes the requirements for environmental data collection. It can be viewed at recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm

State health officials will be accepting informal public comments until Nov. 13. Submit comments to Jennifer Opila at jennifer.opila@state.co.us.