From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus and Edward Graham) via the Cortez Journal:
The Gold King Mine blowout six months ago that dumped 3 million gallons of orange sludge into western waterways spurred action that could lead to remedies for the long-standing problem of toxic drainage from thousands of abandoned mines.
A flurry of bills has been introduced in Congress, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper established a task force to identify priorities for restoring inactive mines across the state.
But it’s not a small problem, and there are no quick solutions…
“I think those photographs of the orange Animas River focused people’s attention in a way that wasn’t focused before,” U.S. Sen Michael Bennet said of the renewed efforts in Congress to address the nation’s mining legacy. “I’m not saying at the local level. I think people at the local level understood that this has been an issue for a long time, but I think that this has caught the attention of Congress finally.”
Bennet, a Democrat, and Republicans Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton have crafted Good Samaritan legislation that would provide liability protection for third-party groups to pursue mine cleanup efforts. Although their legislative efforts preceded the mine spill, the fallout has renewed attention on the need to remediate abandoned mines.
“This is something that I’ve been supportive of for as long as I’ve been in public office, but this certainly gives it a stronger impetus and perhaps momentum to finally finish the job,” Gardner said.
Last month, Hickenlooper unveiled the Mining Impacted Streams Task Force, which includes state water, mining and salt and hazardous waste officials, as well as federal agencies.
The goal is to identify gaps in data by pooling resources from the Water Quality Control Division, Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and tribal entities, among others.
Researchers will look at water-quality data going back 30 years to take a full watershed approach, examining water from the Upper Animas River Basin to Lake Powell.
Hickenlooper wants to turn disaster into action, pointing to the resiliency of the Durango community.
“Do we come out stronger?” Hickenlooper asked. “That’s the hope … Otherwise, you’ve lost so much. If you say you’re going to build back to almost as good as we used to be, that’s like nature’s winning.”
Hickenlooper wants the task force also to identify new technologies that could assist with reclamation efforts.
“We’re looking at what are some out-of-the-box ideas on how you address mines like this, mines that show some great risk,” the governor said.
Having data and identifying priorities to tackle the inactive mines also provide ammunition for getting federal help, including possible Superfund listings for sites across the state and encouraging Congress to pass “Good Samaritan” legislation…
“We believe that with good, appropriate Good Samaritan legislation that we can actually achieve that goal and we hope that we’ll be able to find that good common ground – sensible common ground – to do what we would all like to have done, and that’s to be able to clean up these areas,” [US Rep. Scott Tipton] said.
Patrick Pfaltzgraff, director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, said the new state task force and other efforts will allow the long-standing problems to be addressed.
“There’s a bunch of different impacts throughout the state in the mining district that we’re going to have to look at and try and get our arms around,” Pfaltzgraff said.
“I need a site picture as to what the problem is before you can even think about what you’re going to do by way of treating it. Then we can start providing decision-makers with the information that will allow them to make those next-step decisions.”
Hickenlooper added, “With good people, or good communities, many times bad things do create better conditions. I think this might be one of those cases where it is going to be stronger.”
From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):
The Feb. 1 snow survey found that snow pack above Middle Park is 112 percent of the 30-year average, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office.
The average is based on readings taken between 1980 and 2010.
February’s reading shows snowpack is currently sitting above last year’s, which was at 100 percent of the average in February.
“This is the Feb. 1 reading, and we’ve got quite a bit of the winter still left, so stuff can still change,” said Mark Volt with NRCS Kremmling. “Either we can get lot more than normal or a lot less than normal.”
March is typically the snowiest month of the year.
The average snow density is 24 percent, meaning there are 2.9 inches of water per foot of snow, according to NRCS Kremmling…
So far, major river basins across Colorado are also reporting higher than average snowpack.
The upper Colorado River Basin is at 104 percent, the Gunnison River Basin is at 109 percent, the South Platte River Basin is at 101 percent, the Arkansas River Basin is at 109 percent, the Upper Rio Grande Basin is at 102 percent, and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins are at 110 percent, according to NRCS Kremmling.
Statewide snowpack was at 111 percent of normal on Feb. 1, according to NRCS Denver…
The April 1 snow survey is typically the most important in terms of characterizing the state’s runoff, Volt said.
Here’s the release from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas:
As water leaders contend with unprecedented drought and demand, will the river people of the Colorado band together as regional citizens? Water policy expert Patricia Mulroy weighs in.
It’s 6 am. In Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tijuana, someone is stumbling into the kitchen to grab that first cup of coffee. In the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Baja, and Sonora, a farmer is opening his head gate to water his field and tend his herd. In the depths of the Grand Canyon, a camper is emerging from his tent to marvel at the sight of an eagle winging across the chasm. Mechanics are adjusting enormous generators sending hydroelectric power to countless communities. And the birds of the Cienga de Santa Clara are heading out to find their morning meal. As distant and different as all this awakening life is, it shares one vital ingredient: water from the Colorado River.
It is a river steeped in legend and lore and often its mere mention induces competition and conflict. For most of the 20th century our competing interests have been in constant collision. Each has jockeyed to advance his needs over those of his neighbors. We quickly forgot the underlying premise of the Colorado River Compact of 1922: that the river was to be developed and managed by seven equal partner states outside the framework of traditional Western water law. Only in the last 25 years have we begun to realize that the framers of this river “constitution” were not as misguided as we thought and that cooperation and joint management of the system would be the only thing that would make a modern 21st century existence on this river possible.
Our supply is dwindling and the demand pressures are not subsiding. As science became more sophisticated and informed, we have come to realize that the amount of available water from this river is not as great as we once imagined it to be. Lawsuits and decrees over the decade further cut into what is reasonably available. And the beginnings of a fundamental shift in the climate conditions affecting the Colorado River Basin are reducing what we do have available even further. We have emerged from one of the wettest centuries in the region to the stark reality of a much drier future. At the same time global food demand is on the rise, urban populations are growing, and an ever-growing environmental ethic is demanding more resources be left in the system to protect the ecosystem.
This interconnected river community has, and continues to be, in an intense period of transformation. The fiercely defended individual water right is beginning to be moved aside by the notion of a shared responsibility and recognized interdependence. Attitudes are slowly changing as water leaders engage their communities in difficult conversations about doing more with less. These changes go right to the heart of how we see ourselves as communities and whether we can envision ourselves as part of a larger region. Yet to be born is the notion of living as the citizen of a river community, enjoying all the rights and responsibilities that accompany that privilege.
Patricia Mulroy, a leader in the international water community, will present the University Forum lecture “Forging a Common Future: Becoming A Citizen of the Colorado River Basin,” at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the Barrick Museum Auditorium. As the general manager of both the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mulroy helped guide Southern Nevada through an unprecedented period of growth and one of the worst droughts in the history of the Colorado River. She is now the Senior Fellow for Climate Adaptation and Environmental Policy as well as a Practitioner in Residence for the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law.
From from the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Durango Herald:
The head of the New Mexico Environment Department blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday during a legislative committee meeting, saying federal officials are downplaying the long-term effects of the Gold King Mine spill.
Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn told members of the House agriculture committee that the agency has been pressuring communities to get behind a proposal that calls for monitoring water quality for only a year.
Flynn also argued that the proposal would look at whether the water is safe for recreation rather than digging deeper into recurring spikes in the readings of heavy metals that state officials fear could affect crops, livestock and wildlife in the years to come.
The EPA has maintained that water quality returned to normal in the weeks following the Aug. 5 spill. Flynn disputed that, and he pointed to readings taken after a series of storms last fall.
“When storm events occurred, the sediment was remobilized, and we’re seeing the levels of lead and other metals in the river increase well above safe drinking water standards,” Flynn testified. “So the idea that: ‘Hey, everything is back to normal, we’re good,’ is just flat out false and that’s a problem.”
Flynn said the agency needs to treat the incident as a human health issue.
The EPA did not respond directly to Flynn’s criticisms, but noted that it has been working with communities in the region on a draft monitoring plan. Flynn is part of that working group, according to the agency.
“The work group’s goal is to finalize a plan based on broad stakeholder input that has support among the jurisdiction,” EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said in a statement.
State, local government and tribal representatives met last week in Colorado to discuss steps forward, but the timing on a final monitoring plan remains unclear.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
River District to funnel $8M to irrigation projects
The Colorado River District Board of Directors has agreed to act as a funding conduit for up to $8 million in federal Natural Resourc- es Conservaon Service (NRCS) funding to help fi- nance a series of water use efficiency projects in four federal irrigaon projects in the Lower Gunnison Basin.
Last year, the River District was awarded $8 million of grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2014 Farm Bill that will leverage up to $50 million worth of work in cooperaon with, and other funding from, the Bureau of Reclamaon and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Program.
The Board approved a new type of financial coop- erave agreement called an “Alternave Funding Arrangement” that enables the River District to act as an agent of the NRCS.
The Board directed staff to manage all of the NRCS funding for the benefit of the irrigaon districts in the four focus areas..
The four beneficiary irrigation project areas include the Uncompahgre Valley, Bostwick Park, the North Fork Valley and the Crawford Country. Deputy Chief Engineer Dave Kanzer and Water Resources Specialist Sonja Chavez have been the quarterbacks in the collaborative effort to perform mod- ernizaon and system opmizaon acvies that will increase agricultural water use efficiency within the Lower Gunnison Basin.
Kanzer noted that the irrigaon districts can lose more than 30 percent of their water to seepage and deep percolation.
The Regional Conservaon Partnership Program (RCPP) funding from the NRCS will help minimize those losses by modernizing river diversions and water conveyance and deliveries for farm use. This work, combined with en- hanced management of reservoir releases, is projected to provide beneficial results related to increased agricultural producon, improved stream flows, beer water quality, and improved river habitat that, among other benefits, will help threatened and endangered fish species.
“In my view, this has to be done for the future of our agricultural producers in the basin,” said Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the River District.
Marc Catlin, River District Director from Montrose County, said: “The future is here, and we have got to start doing these things if we are going to maintain agriculture on the Western Slope.”
He called for the program to work with younger producers to help them learn how to farm with new technology.
“This is a big deal,” said Dave Merri, Director from Garfield County. “This is the product of 20 years of work in the Gunnison Basin. It is a great way to go ahead and put good stuff on the ground.”
Gunnison County Director Bill Trampe urged that the program provide an economic analysis of projects to help educate others to the pluses and minuses of the modernisations.
Tom Kay, an organic agricultural producer from Hotch- kiss, who has already implemented irrigation improvements, said his growing season has been lengthened due to beer water management that effecvely has stretched his water supplies. “Without Dave Kanzer and Sonja Chavez, this would be nowhere,” Kay said of the River District staff working on the project.