Security now on 100% surface water

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From KOAA.com:

All Security Water District customers are now using Perflourinated Chemical (PFC) free surface water. According to Security Water officials, the surface water is brought in from the Pueblo Reservoir. Groundwater wells in the area have been shut down since the EPA found elevated levels of PFC’s, a man-made chemical, in water sources used by Fountain, Security, and Widefield.

The US Air Force plans on changing the type of firefighting foam it uses because of concerns that the foam is responsible for the water contamination.

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The move by Security Water and Sanitation Districts signaled the last time that contaminated water is expected to reach residents’ homes, said Roy Heald, the water district’s general manager.

“We’re confident now that we can maintain this, really, until we can get treatment online,” Heald said.

Security’s announcement comes as temperatures cool and the summer watering season comes to a close.

Water districts in Security, Widefield and Fountain have traditionally relied largely on surface water pumped into the area from the Pueblo Reservoir during winter months. However, those water districts relied much more heavily on the Widefield aquifer during the spring and summer months to meet demand.

That strategy became a problem in May when the Environmental Protection Agency tightened its guidelines over perfluorinated compounds and left residents in Security, Widefield and Fountain scrambling to find other water sources.

Fountain managed to go the entire summer without dipping into the aquifer, due largely to watering restrictions.

Widefield Water and Sanitation District, however, does not expect to completely wean itself from the contaminated aquifer until “sometime in October,” according to Brandon Bernard, Widefield’s water department manager.

In Security, multiple projects are underway to ensure the chemicals no longer get into the drinking water, Heald said.

This year, the district purchased extra surface water from Colorado Springs Utilities to limit its well water use.

And this winter, Security plans to install a second line connecting it to the Southern Delivery System – a move that should significantly boost its capacity for bringing in cleaner water from the Pueblo Reservoir.

Both moves are meant to keep the district from using well water until it can be filtered. The Air Force has promised to provide nearly $4.3 million in water filters to affected water systems and well owners, though Security may not get any filters until next year…

The chemicals have been associated with a host of health ailments, including kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease and high cholesterol.

Two lawsuits seeking class-action status have been filed on behalf of residents in the area against the manufacturers who produced and sold the chemicals.

Class-action certification sought by residents of Fountain, Security and Colorado Springs — The Denver Post

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

The lawsuit seeking class-action certification was filed Thursday on behalf of the nine residents living near Peterson Air Force Base, was filed by Colorado Springs attorney Michael McDivitt and New York City attorneys Hunter Shkolnik, Paul Napoli and Louise Caro.

Other companies named as defendants in the lawsuit include The Ansul Company of Wisconsin; National Foam, Inc. of Pennsylvania; Angus Fire of Bentham, United Kingdom; Buckeye Fire Equipment Company of Mountain, N.C.; and Chemguard of Wisconsin.

The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the defendants acted with gross negligence and careless disregard for the safety of residents who use water from the contaminated watershed. They are seeking a court order requiring defendants to test and monitor each property and all drinking water within the contamination area.

They are also asking that a judge order defendants to provide medical monitoring for all those in the proposed class, the lawsuit says. The plaintiffs are also seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The lawsuit says the U.S. Air Force and other branches of the military, including the Army, use or have used firefighting foams that degrade into perfluorooctanoic acid (C8), which is highly soluble in water and likely to contaminate water supplies. The so-called aqueous film forming foam is water-based and used to fight difficult fires, particularly those that involve petroleum or flammable liquids.

A similar federal civil lawsuit was filed Wednesday against 3M, Ansul and National Foam by Denver attorneys Kevin Hannon and Justin Blum on behalf of three Colorado Springs residents. Plaintiffs in that case are seeking class-action certification and damages in excess of $5 million.

Peterson, Fort Carson and the Colorado Springs Airport have been linked to contamination of the Fountain Watershed area, the lawsuit says.

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

C8 has been detected in levels exceeding EPA health standards of 70 parts per trillion in the Fountain Creek watershed that provides municipal water and feeds private wells, the lawsuit says. In fact, the Fountain watershed is one of the hardest-hit of 63 areas nationwide where C8 contamination exceeds EPA risk levels, it says.

A panel of scientists, including three epidemiologist formed to study water contamination in Wood County, W.Va., “found probable links between (C8) and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy induced hypertension and hypercholesterolemia,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs all tested for elevated levels of C8 in their blood and their properties likewise had elevated levels of C8. They include:

  • Alan and Leslie Davis and Donald and Theresa Easter, all of Colorado Springs, get their water from the Widefield Water and Sanitation District.
  • Billy and Linda Long, and Lonnie Rouser Sr., all of Fountain, get their water from Fountain Water District.
  • Joyce Moore and Rhonda Sharkey, both residents of Security, receive their water from the Security Water District.
  • Besides being used in firefighting foams, C8 was once widely used in nonstick cookware and as surface coatings for stain-resistant carpets and fabric, the lawsuit says. The chemical is readily absorbed in the blood stream, kidney and liver after consumption or inhalation, the lawsuit says.

    The EPA issued lifetime health advisories about the health effects of C8, the lawsuit says. It can remain in the environment, particularly in water, for many years and can be carried in the air.

    An August 2016 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study found that the source of groundwater contamination of the Fountain watershed could have come from fire training areas at Peterson Air Force Base, the lawsuit says.

    All 32 of Security Water and Sanitation District’s municipal wells are contaminated, the lawsuit says. One well was 20 times the EPA’s risk level and the EPA recommended that pregnant women and small children should not drink the water.

    The class-action designation is sought in part because it would be impractical for the great numbers of people affected by the pollution to litigate their claims individually, the lawsuit says.

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    Second Widefield aquifer lawsuit in the works

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

    McDivitt Law Firm said it plans to file a lawsuit this week over the fouling of the Widefield Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to thousands of residents in southern El Paso County.

    McDivitt is partnering with a New York firm, Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC, which has been running television ads in recent months to woo clients.

    Mike McDivitt, the firm’s founder, said about 1,000 people have retained his firm, and many more residents have expressed interest.

    The possible move comes on the heels of another federal suit filed earlier this week against 3M, Ansul Foam of Wisconsin and National Foam of Pennsylvania. The companies manufactured and sold a military firefighting foam laden with chemicals associated with a host of health ailments, including cancer.

    The first suit was filed by the Hannon Law Firm of Denver on behalf of three customers receiving contaminated water.

    McDivitt’s suit was expected to be filed Wednesday, but he said the filing was delayed.

    #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.

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Cotter to pay ~ $1 million for EPA oversight

    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 (Tracy Harmon):

    Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nearly $1 million to cover past costs the government agency incurred while working at the Superfund site during a two-year period.

    The Cotter Corp. oversees a now-defunct uranium mill just south of Canon City which has been on the EPA’s Superfund cleanup list since 1984. Officials are in the process of decommissioning the mill.

    The agreement requires Cotter to pay EPA $957,604 for past oversight costs, incurred between 2012 and 2014. Funds are required to be paid to the EPA by Sept. 23 and will be placed in a special account and used to pay for any future costs at the site, according to Richard Mylott, EPA spokesman.

    Public comment submitted in June urged the EPA to seek full restitution.

    “The EPA believes the settlement is in the government’s best interest. The EPA will immediately recover $957,604 in past response costs that will be used to fund EPA’s future work at the site and avoid potentially protracted expensive litigation,” according to the 19-page settlement agreement.

    One public comment submitted indicated it is difficult for the public to weigh-in on the agreement because government documents were not made available to assess what the total cost of oversight has been to the EPA. Certain EPA billing documents were not made public because of confidential business information which protects the documents from being released under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the agreement.

    In a separate agreement, penned in June 2014, Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay EPA’s costs for oversight of the mill’s cleanup into the future.

    Cotter produced uranium oxide, or yellowcake, at the mill in Fremont County from 1958 until 2006. Contamination to groundwater and soil resulted from the use of unlined impoundment ponds to hold tailings between 1958 and 1979.

    In addition, a June 1965 flood caused the impoundments to overflow into Sand Creek, releasing contaminates into the nearby Lincoln Park neighborhood, Mylott explained.

    Cotter officials have been working to clean up contamination since 1988.

    Republican River: “This is not nearly as restrictive as some people fear” — Deb Daniel

    Republican River Basin by District
    Republican River Basin by District

    From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

    The Republican River Compact Administration signed off on a resolution presented by Colorado last week during the three-state entities’ annual meeting.

    The resolution lays out the final steps Colorado has to take for compliance with the Final Settlement Stipulation and Republican River Compact, between it, Nebraska and Kansas.

    If Colorado meets the requirements laid out in the resolution, it will be protected from any further lawsuit filings in the matter by Kansas or Nebraska.

    “It basically means Kansas can’t come after us again and again,” Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe said. “It doesn’t prevent them from raising some other issue we haven’t thought of yet.”

    He added the states have agreed to try to work out future issues among themselves instead of immediately going to the costly and time-consuming non-binding arbitration process.

    “This is not nearly as restrictive as some people fear,” Deb Daniel, general manager of the Republican River Water Conservation District, said of the resolution.

    A final agreement on the use of Colorado’s compact compliance pipeline, as well as the voluntary retiring of more acreage along the South Fork of the Republican River, are the key components in the resolution. Colorado already has removed 23,838 acres from irrigation in the South Fork Republican River Basin, through voluntary retirement programs such as the federally-funded CREP.

    The resolution, presented last week in Burlington by Wolfe, and signed by him and Kansas’ David Barfield and Nebraska’s Gordon W. Fassett, calls for Colorado to utilize voluntary programs to retire up to an additional 25,000 acres from irrigation in the South Fork Republican River basin.

    The resolution states Colorado will retire at least 10,000 acres by 2022, and the remaining 15,000 acres by December 31, 2027. It also includes language allowing Colorado to submit to the other states for their approval a plan to reduce consumption within Colorado by other means if the state cannot or will not retire 25,000 acres by the 2027 deadline.

    “It gave us and the users the most flexibility going into the future,” Wolfe said.

    Daniel noted the agreement does not make any mention of stream flows or how much acre feet of water must be removed from consumptive use, only acreage.

    Here’s the Coyote Gulch post with the announcement from Governor Hickenlooper’s office.

    Is there a way to revive drought-stricken soil? — The High Country News

    San Luis Valley March 3, 2016. Photo via Greg Hobbs.
    San Luis Valley March 3, 2016. Photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The High Country News (Leah Todd):

    Among the myriad strategies farmers in Colorado’s San Luis Valley have attempted during a decade-long, soil-wracking drought is planting cover crops: efficient plants that enhance the soil’s ability to hold water. Cover cropping has helped Rockey slash water use by 40 percent and eliminate synthetic fertilizers.

    “It’s all about building a resilient system that takes care of itself,” Rockey said of his business, Rockey Farms, which he operates with his brother, Sheldon, 41. The Rockeys’ cover crop mix includes legumes that pull nitrogen from the air and store it in the soil, allowing the brothers to create nitrogen-rich fields without dousing them in chemicals. More organic matter in the ground, like decomposing roots of the cover crops, makes better soil; better soil needs less water; less water means more valley farmers can sustain their livelihoods.

    More farmers here are adopting the practice, said Samuel Essah, an associate professor with Colorado State University’s San Luis Valley Research Center. It’s a model that, in theory, could work for bigger operations.

    Even so, cover crops are used on only about 1 percent of farmland nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, though the trend is increasing. The sparse uptake is partly due to economics: Cover cropping requires part of a farm to go out of production each year, growing fewer cash crops and, in turn, generating less revenue. And the transition doesn’t happen overnight. It took several years for the Rockeys to see the kinds of soil benefits that saved them money – a tough sell to banks that expect a loan payment every year.

    In some ways, the Rockeys are poster children of the San Luis Valley, a largely agricultural region the size of New Jersey flanked by mountain ranges and home to about 45,000 residents. Their grandfather established the farm in 1938. Today, four generations later, the Rockeys’ children are growing up in the fields. On a recent morning, Ellaree Rockey, 10, drove a tractor the size of a mobile home.

    But a few things set Rockey Farms apart. For one, they plant cover crops on half of their 500 acres, instead of just a fraction of their operation, each year.

    They’re also experimenting with more diverse cover crops than other farmers. Whereas some farmers in the San Luis Valley rotate potatoes with a single crop – one favorite is a grass called Sorghum Sudan – the Rockeys plant a 16-species mix.

    Instead of spraying insecticides or other chemicals, the Rockeys plant flowers to attract insects that eat disease-carrying bugs – a practice unrelated to their water-saving efforts, but important to controlling viruses.

    The Rockeys didn’t always farm like this. Though their family has always been innovative – their uncle, a former missile range worker with a Ph.D. in physics, experimented with injecting ozone into irrigation water, a practice the Rockeys still use – until recently the Rockeys farmed much like their neighbors, rotating potatoes and barley, irrigating their crop circles with sprinklers the length of football fields.

    But, fighting against hard and compacted soil, they turned to cover crops, whose root systems break up the ground and create pores for rainwater to infiltrate into the dirt. Cover crops were also an alternative to barley, which hosted a fungal disease that harmed their potatoes. Their uncle had read about the practice, and in 2000 they decided to give it a try.

    Then, water got scarce. A multi-year drought starting around 2002 shrank the region’s water table, drying up wells and forcing farmers to take some acres entirely out of production.

    “We are definitely now doing it for water savings,” Sheldon Rockey said. “We would never switch back, because we couldn’t afford to.”

    Growing a field of barley takes about 20 inches of water, according to the San Luis Valley Research Center’s Samuel Essah. A crop of Russet potatoes typically needs about 18. Only about seven inches of rain fall in the valley each year, so farmers pump the rest from their shared aquifer.

    The Rockeys say their soil’s improved water retention has allowed them to grow potatoes using just 14 inches of water, instead of 18. The 16-species cover crop mix needs just six inches to flourish, cutting their overall water use by about a third.

    The benefits of cover crops are more than just anecdotal. Studies have shown that cover crops improve soil, slow wind erosion, help control pests and weeds and, in some cases, even improve yield. A survey by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education of more than 700 Midwestern farmers in 2012, for instance, found corn planted after cover crops had a 10 percent higher yield than adjacent fields without cover crops. The survey found that yields were even higher in areas hard-hit by drought.

    By saving on water and the cost of synthetic fertilizers, the Rockeys make as much money now as they did when they farmed and sold both potatoes and barley. “For their varieties, it’s working,” said Essah. “Whether that can work (on a large scale), that’s where we are not sure.”

    The Rockeys farm a special kind of potato called fingerlings, a niche product that draws up to three times the price of a mainstream potato, like the Russet. That’s a potential problem for transporting this strategy to bigger farms. Although some large-scale farmers have pioneered the practice in other regions, using other crops, it’s unclear whether potato farmers with slimmer profit margins can take half their farm out of production each year, like the Rockeys have, and still make ends meet.

    Cover crops need water, too, a turnoff for some farmers whose water supplies are already limited, said Rudy Garcia, a soil health specialist for the National Resources Conservation Service. A Texas A&M study found multi-species cover crop mixes, like the blend that the Rockeys use, require the most water of any cover crop studied, but also create the most soil-fueling biomass. For the strategy to work, the water savings from healthier soil have to outweigh the water a farmer uses on the cover crops themselves. And that might not be the case for everyone: research suggests the benefits of cover cropping are highly site-specific, and can vary widely.

    “Because they’ve already mastered their conventional system, large-scale farms are going to have to be shown (its effects) before they adopt it on a large scale,” Garcia said. “Cover crops are much easier to introduce (to) small-scale farmers.”

    For the Rockeys, eliminating synthetic fertilizer and reducing water use is not just about yielding a better crop. It’s about ensuring the future of their community by naturally improving soil and reducing water use. Their father, after all, was the first to warn the Rockey boys about drought as they grew up in the 1980s.

    Even then, he saw the future of the valley irrevocably tied to the future of its water.