Lake Nighthorse to Dryside pipeline construction begins — The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.

On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment…

The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.

Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.

The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.

Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.

The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.

As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.

A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.

Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.

Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.

#AnimasRiver: Senators seek repayment for mine spill response — The Farmington Daily Times

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A half dozen U.S. senators are backing an amendment to expedite federal reimbursements to states, tribes, local governments and individuals for expenses incurred during the Gold King Mine spill.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., led the effort on Monday with senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing an amendment to a Senate bill for the Water Resources Development Act.

In addition, the amendment calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with states, tribes and local governments to develop and implement a water quality program to monitor the rivers contaminated by the Aug. 5, 2015 spill…

The water quality program would be responsible for collecting water samples and sediment data, and releasing that information online for the public’s review, according to the amendment.

In a joint press release on Monday, the senators said they support holding the EPA accountable for the spill, and they emphasized that reimbursements to government entities and individuals are needed.

Udall said reimbursements to state and tribal governments “have taken far too long,” and the amendment will start the reimbursement process.

“It also takes important steps to help rebuild confidence in the quality of the water in the San Juan and Animas rivers through long-term monitoring,” Udall said.

Heinrich called the rate to repay individuals “unacceptable.” He also called for action to reform “outdated policies” to clean up contaminated mines in the West and on tribal lands.

“Western communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land and livelihoods,” Heinrich said.

The bipartisan effort received support on Wednesday from Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, who continued his calls for reimbursing Navajo farmers.

Begaye said in a press release that funds received as a result of the amendment would be used to build a laboratory in Shiprock that would be used to study the water quality of the San Juan River.

“This amendment sets forth funds to be provided for monitoring of the San Juan River and irrigation canals. We need for our farmers to be confident that the water quality is irrigable,” the tribal president said.

#AnimasRiver: Bennet and Gardner hope to push payments from the EPA #GoldKingMine

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Colorado senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, joined Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, John McCain, R-Arizona, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in endorsing the measure, according to a news release…

In a prepared statement, the senators said they hope to push the Environmental Protection Agency to cover costs incurred beyond Oct. 31, 2015, which the agency said it would not do, barring extenuating circumstances.

The measure would require EPA to pay all costs eligible for reimbursement unless the agency proves that the amount is not consistent with what is mandated under federal law.

If approved, EPA would have 90 days to pay out claims and give notice whether the agency will pay within 30 days of reaching a decision. It would also establish a water quality-monitoring program, which the EPA would reimburse local agencies to operate.

“It’s been more than a year since the Gold King Mine spill, and it’s unacceptable that the EPA still hasn’t fully reimbursed Colorado communities for their costs,” Bennet said in the prepared statement.

“The communities in southwest Colorado paid out of their own pockets to maintain drinking water, provide for extra staffing costs, keep the public updated, provide water for irrigation and monitor water quality. This amendment ensures that the EPA fully reimburses these communities and works collaboratively to institute a robust long-term water quality monitoring plan.”

Reimbursements to entities affected by the Gold King Mine spill, for which the EPA has taken responsibility, have trickled in since an agency-contracted crew released a massive plume of mine wastewater more than a year ago…

According to EPA records, the agency has paid more than $5.2 million in costs associated with the Aug. 5 blowout, but local agencies say outstanding costs remain unpaid.

San Juan County (Colorado) administrator Willy Tookey said the EPA has paid more than $250,000 (EPA records show $269,196) to the county and town of Silverton, yet $90,000 remains outstanding.

Megan Graham, public affairs officer for La Plata County, said the county has received $172,000 in costs, and is waiting for an additional $87,000. EPA records indicate $369,578 has been paid out to La Plata County, and it was unclear Monday why there is a discrepancy.

The city of Durango, too, says it’s due more money, having been paid $45,410 of its $444,032 request. Finance director Julie Brown said the city was notified Monday that the EPA intends to pay $101,465.

Local companies and individuals impacted by the spill also are caught in the EPA’s waiting game for reimbursements.

As of July, the EPA received 68 claims for financial reimbursements, yet the agency has not made any awards. The EPA has maintained it must conduct all reviews and investigations before awarding grants for financial damages.

It was unclear Monday what the 68 filings totaled in cost amount. However, a response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October, when there were just over 30 filings, showed claims of financial damages surpassed $1.3 million.

Those who believe they have been financially damaged by the EPA-triggered event have until Aug. 5, 2017, to file a Form 95, the claim process for financial reimbursements from economic loss caused by wrongful U.S. government actions.

#AnimasRiver: Lackawanna Mill cleanup update

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best
Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

On Monday, a joint project between the Bureau of Land Management, the town of Silverton and volunteers from around the area hauled away the last metal debris around the Lackawanna Mill, a site just north of Silverton not included in the EPA’s Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund designation.

“While there’s still talk about how to deal with the big things, we’re looking around to see what are the little projects we can do that can have some punch,” said Lisa Richardson, a … technician for BLM.

The remediation of the Lackawanna Mill Site began in 1996 when crews removed piles of mine tailings that were dumped beside the Animas River when the mill operated from 1928 until it shut down sometime in the 1960s.

“The river was eroding into the tailings,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Because it was right on the banks of the Animas it justified doing that.”

As a result, an area that once leached heavy metals into the Animas River is now a thriving wetland, home to several beaver ponds and prime habitat for riparian and avian life.

In 1999, the town of Silverton used a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to purchase about 26 acres for $110,000 with the intent of expanding Kendall Mountain Recreation area, which included part of the Lackawanna mill. The BLM also owns a portion of the land.

At the time, Silverton town officials proposed repurposing the historic mill into a space that would promote economic development and heritage tourism. Such ideas as a museum, artist residency, hotel and even an amphitheater were thrown into the mix. Lack of funding stalled the project.

However, last year life at the Lackawanna Mill seemed to reawaken. The town of Silverton launched a project to repair the building’s failing roof and other crumbling infrastructure.

“It (the damage) was significant,” said Chris George, parks, facilities and recreation coordinator for the town. “There were a lot of areas we couldn’t stand on until it was reinforced.”

The project, completed this year, didn’t address any of the structural needs inside the decrepit mill, George said. And many outstanding issues, such as utilities and access, remain a major obstacle to Lackawanna breathing new life.

“It would be an incredibly challenging job to make that a piece of economic return,” said town Administrator Bill Gardner. “Will it happen someday? I hope so. The dream is still there.”

Regardless, Richardson said removing the debris, which included rusty scrap metal, car parts, plywood and “just junk,” was significant both aesthetically – the mill is visible from town – and environmentally as the site is located above the wetlands and beaver ponds.

“It’s been used as a dumping site, so a lot of the junk is not associated with the mill, archaeologically speaking,” she said. “If we can, we want to keep those things on-site and put them in places where they won’t end up in the beaver ponds, which are really taking off.”

Richardson said the genesis of the debris cleanup day started when Outward Bound, an outdoor education program, approached the BLM with the idea of a community service project at Lackawanna.

Last year, a class of Outward Bound students built a temporary boardwalk across the wetland, allowing crews of mostly volunteers access to the mill site.

“All this volunteer work has led this project to cost almost nothing,” Richardson said.

Altruism is no stranger in the once-heavily mined San Juan Mountains around Silverton. The mining has impacted water quality in the Animas watershed since it started in the 1870s. For the past two decades, efforts to improve the watershed have been led by the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a coalition of mainly volunteers.

“If you add it all up over 20 years, there’s probably a million dollars of volunteer time from the stakeholders group,” Butler estimated, adding that the group has held similar community cleanup days.

“I think people really enjoy the beauty of the landscape around them, and this is something simple and easy they can do to try and improve environment.”

Despite the goodwill of countless individuals and organizations, the scope of hard-rock mining’s legacy around Silverton and the effects to downstream communities proved too large for a grass-roots movement to handle.

Last week, the EPA officially declared a number of mine sites responsible for degrading water quality as a Superfund site, thereby taking control of future cleanup efforts on a substantial portion of the district.

The EPA, for its part, has maintained in the year since one of its contracted crews triggered a massive blowout at the Gold King Mine that the agency will involve local entities as best it can.

Bill Simon, a retired co-founder of the stakeholders group credited with organizing countless cleanup days, said he’s not so much opposed to federal intervention as he is to losing community involvement.

“The advantage of doing that is you develop a sense of stewardship so that they care for what they’ve done and fully understand the consequences, environmentally, of extraction endeavors,” Simon said. “It gives an idea of the true cost.”

Next year, if the funds are available, Richardson said a project will aim at reseeding the grounds around Lackawanna. She hopes to draw out volunteers for that effort, too.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine nears Superfund designation

From The Colorado Independent (Eliza Carter):

The Environmental Protection Agency decided this week that the Gold King Mine near Durango is a top priority for Superfund designation. The mine, which was abandoned in 1923, spilled about 3 million gallons of mustard hued, toxic sludge into the Animas River in August 2015 and continues to leach today.

The agency added the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes Gold King, to its National Superfund Priorities List, meaning that congressional approval is the only remaining obstacle to Gold King becoming a Superfund site. The designation would unlock millions of dollars for the EPA to investigate and address years of contamination.
Environmentalists, however, aren’t optimistic about swift action from Washington.

Erica Brown, a spokeswoman at the Durango-based environmental group San Juan Citizens Alliance, called Congress “wholly uninterested in acting.” Brown noted that the area around Gold King receives funds for cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, so cleanup will continue, but Superfund money is still out of reach.

The fact that it took more a year after the spill to access Superfund dollars has some wondering why there wasn’t a swifter federal reaction. According to Brown, it was actually a rapid response by the standards of federal bureaucracy. The EPA only considers sites for National Priority listing twice a year – and Gov. John Hickenlooper asked that they do so for Gold King’s district last winter.

The agency then assessed the district’s needs and held a public comment period. Wednesday’s announcement marked the end of the review process, which actually took less time than usual.

Overall, Brown said that the spill helped to highlight the gravity of the mining industry’s legacy in Colorado. State estimates put the number of abandoned and inactive mines in Colorado at about 17,000. But Brown says that, in the past, the potential hazard those mines presented wasn’t perceived with urgency. “A lot of folks in the downstream communities did not understand how bad the problem really was, so was there very little engagement.”

Now, public opinion research shows that Coloradans are more concerned about their waterways in the wake of the mine spill. According to a poll conducted by Chism Strategies in Colorado, 67 percent of Coloradans say they want their elected officials to do more about cleaning up mines.

Of particular concern is the fact that Gold King is still leaking. On the one-year anniversary of the spill, the mine was estimated to be spewing 500 gallons per minute into the river, which serves as a backbone for the region’s economy and way of life. It’s an alarming number, but not cause for alarm, thanks to mitigation efforts from the EPA. The agency installed a treatment plant at the mine in the wake of last year’s spill, so the water emerging from the mine is not likely to cause environmental damage.
While the Gold King disaster grabbed the country’s attention, environmentalists say it’s only a symptom of a much more widespread and grave problem. Some are looking ahead to wholesale reform of the mining industry and mining clean-up – but there are serious challenges.

At issue is the fact that taxpayer-funded government agencies are often on the hook for the impacts of mines abandoned by private companies, which is permitted by mining law from 1872, just before Colorado gained its statehood. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced legislation in November 2015 that would reform how the law works, but it has not yet been voted on in the Senate.

Brown expressed profound frustration about congressional apathy, saying that elected leaders are “more concerned with making the mining industry happy than they do the American people.”

Gold King is among ten other toxic sites being added to the priorities list, including a plastic manufacturing site in New York and a lumber site in Florida.

#AnimasRiver: San Juan [#NM] Water Commission looking @ pipeline from Lake Nighthorse

Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR
Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

The commission decided today that it will meet in October to discuss whether to pursue a conceptual design of the pipeline.

Aaron Chavez, director of the San Juan Water Commission, highlighted the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 as a reason the county could benefit from a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse.

During a meeting in August about the spill, County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said a pipeline to Lake Nighthorse could be used during emergency situations to provide water to downstream communities…

Chavez said that while the lake could provide additional water to San Juan County, there has been no pumping this year from the reservoir — which is fed by the Animas River — due to concerns stemming from the Gold King Mine spill, which released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater containing toxic metals into the river.

Chavez said the original purpose of Lake Nighthorse was to provide communities a reliable source of water during droughts…

The possibility of a pipeline also comes with other concerns. Chavez highlighted invasive species, such as quagga mussels, as one of those issues. A recreation plan is currently being developed for Lake Nighthorse, and officials fear boats on the reservoir could introduce quagga mussels to the system. The invasive species could then attach to pipeline infrastructure, leading to clogged water systems.

Chavez said a conceptual design for the pipeline is estimated to cost $10,000 to $15,000, while a more detailed study would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said the pipeline will be expensive to construct.

“We can’t just put it in Lake Farmington and call it done,” Dunlap said.

He said the pipeline would need “spurs” to all the San Juan County water treatment facilities.

#AnimasRiver: Updated EPA National Priorities List includes #GoldKingMine

From the Engineering and Mining Journal:

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added three mining-related sites to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. These include the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site in San Juan County, Colorado; the Argonaut mine, Amador County, California; and the Anaconda Aluminum Co.’s Columbia Falls Reduction Plant site, also known as the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. (CFAC) site, in Columbia Falls, Montana.

The law establishing the Superfund program, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), requires the EPA to update the NPL at least annually and clean up hazardous waste sites. The designation comes a little more than a year after the EPA released 3 million gallons of water from the Gold King mine into the Animas River fouling rivers and lakes from Colorado to Nevada. The Gold King mine is one of several abandoned mines in the Bonita Peak district…

The lawsuits stemming from this mishap are just now coming to a head. The state of New Mexico, however, is suing the state of Colorado, claiming it approved the plans that led to this situation.

The Bonita Peak Mining District site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. Water quality in the BPMD has been impaired by acid mine drainage for decades. Since 1998, the state of Colorado has designated portions of the Animas River downstream from Cement Creek as impaired for heavy metals, including lead, iron and aluminum. The EPA has waste quantity data on 32 of Bonita Peak’s 48 sources. These 32 sources have waste rock and water discharging out of adits at a combined rate of 5.4 million gallons per day. Cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc are the known contaminants associated with these discharges.