Southern Delivery System to be turned on today after decades — The Pueblo Chieftain

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities plans to begin using the Southern Delivery System today, more than seven years after getting the green light from Pueblo County and the Bureau of Reclamation to build it. “We plan on 5 million gallons a day initially, but we may go less. It depends on how we use it,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. “On Thursday, the water we pump will be turned into our system.”

SDS will be able to operate after an agreement was reached on Fountain Creek stormwater control on issues not explicitly covered in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit. The new agreement contains funding benchmarks that were not originally in place.

Over the next 40 years, the amount of water pumped through SDS could increase to as much as 75 million gallons a day. Another 18 million gallons a day could be pumped to Pueblo West, which through a special agreement already is using SDS for its water supply.

The treatment plant as built can treat up to 50 million gallons per day, but eventually could be expanded to treat up to 100 million gallons per day.

As part of SDS, the city of Fountain can receive more of its water through the Fountain Valley Conduit, a line built from Pueblo Dam in the early 1980s as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

The other partner in SDS is Security Water and Sanitation, which serves an unincorporated area south of Colorado Springs and has an immediate need for a new water source because of well contamination.

Construction on the $825 million project began in 2011, one year after the Bureau of Reclamation approved the final contract for the use of Lake Pueblo as part of the project. In 2009, Reclamation issued a record of decision that allowed the project to be built.

Also in 2009, Pueblo County commissioners approved a land-use permit under the 1974 HB1041, which lets cities or counties regulate projects that cross their boundaries.

SDS includes a new connection built at Pueblo Dam, three pump stations, a water treatment plant and a treated water pump station. The North Outlet Works, Juniper Pump Station just northeast of Pueblo Dam and about 17 miles of buried 66inch diameter pipeline are the features of SDS in Pueblo County.

The project grew out of water resources plans that began in the late 1980s, when Colorado Springs purchased controlling interest in the Colorado Canal system in Crowley County.

In order to use the water, as well as provide redundancy for its other sources of water, Colorado Springs developed a Water Resource Plan in 1996. That plan identified other alternatives to bring water to Colorado Springs, including a route from a new reservoir at Buena Vista, a Fremont County pipeline and a line from Crowley County.

By the early 2000s, the Buena Vista reservoir was eliminated by environmental protests, and Utilities ruled out Crowley County because of the expense of overcoming water quality issues. By 2008, Fremont County and Pueblo Dam were being seriously considered.

The Pueblo Dam option was chosen in Reclamation’s record of decision as the route.

In the second phase of SDS, which is anticipated to begin between 2020-25, two reservoirs would be built on Williams Creek east of Fountain. The upper reservoir would be terminal storage for the pipeline from Pueblo Dam, while the lower one would regulate return flows from Colorado Springs’ wastewater treatment plant into Fountain Creek.

SDS is designed to serve a population of 900,000, about twice the current number living in Colorado Springs.

The 1996 water resources plan came at a time when Colorado Springs’ population had increased from 70,000 in 1960 to 330,000 in 1996. Utilities already is working on a 50-year plan to meet its future water resource needs.

More Coyote Gulch Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

2015 #coleg: HB16-1337 (Appellate Process For Decisions About Groundwater) killed in Senate Judiciary Comm.

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

A bill to prevent new evidence from being presented in groundwater rights appeals got caught in a legislative maelstrom Tuesday from which it can’t return.

After more than two hours of public testimony, most of which was in favor of the idea, the measure at first failed to get a motion to be referred out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaving it in a kind of legislative limbo for a while.

Later, however, the panel returned and killed HB1337 long after its sponsor, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, had left.

During that time, Scott had started to investigate ways to get the support he needed to revive the bill in hopes of persuading the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Ellen Roberts, to have an actual vote on it.

Problem was, though, that Durango Republican was one of a majority of senators on the five-member committee who opposed the bill, which the committee ultimately killed on a unanimous vote.

Scott wasn’t happy at the outcome because he believed he had the votes to get the measure out of committee even though it was opposed by Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, who took nearly three weeks to assign it to a committee.

“Sad to see such disingenuous activities by senators,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “Didn’t even have the courage to kill the bill in front of farmers and ranchers who are left holding the empty water bucket.”

The measure was designed to align the Colorado Groundwater Commission with other state panels when it comes to adjudicating certain issues, in this case, groundwater rights. Unlike decisions made by that commission, appeals in all other state panels — much like lower courts in general — bar the introduction of new evidence on appeal.

Scott said that practice has allowed well-funded water rights sellers to try a case twice, something small farmers and ranchers told the committee they can’t afford to do.

The bill also pitted two well-heeled investors against each other: former GOP Gov. Bill Owens and billionaire businessman Phil Anschutz. Owens, who opposed the bill, is executive director of a land and water development and asset management company; Anschutz, who supported the bill, has numerous farming interests, many of which rely on groundwater supplies…

On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to SB97 to bar the Legislature from using severance tax revenues for anything other then their intended purpose.

Those taxes, paid by mineral extraction companies, go to fund the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and in grant and direct disbursements to local communities, to offset the impact of such industries as mining and oil and gas development.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

A legislative battle over ground-water disputes that divided top Republicans washed out in committee Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 1337 would have made it harder for municipalities, developers or others to win court cases for permits to pump water that might otherwise be used agriculture didn’t get a motion for a vote after hours of testimony from farmers and water districts.

The bill would keep those who would dispute decisions from the state Ground Water Commission from introducing new evidence in the appeal process. Their competitors said it would allow them to out-spend farmers, ranchers and rural water districts to overpower them in court.

“The size of a checkbook should not determine how water is managed,” Marc Arnusch, a Weld County farmer and member of the Lost Creek Ground Water Management District told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Committee chairwoman Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango who is a lawyer, said that instead of the routine 2 out of 100 state Ground Water Commission cases a year that are appealed to district court, many more would have to pay for studies and legal expertise up front to hedge against the potential of an appeal later.

“I don’t see how this would reduce costs for everybody,” she said. “It would drive them up.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who is considering a run for governor in 2018.

Scott and House sponsor Don Coram have been at odds over the bill with Republican Senate President Bill Cadman and the last Republican governor, Bill Owens, who personally urged Republican lawmakers to kill the bill.

Owens works for an investment group that deals in water.

The legislation sailed through the Democrat-led House, passing 60-5 on April 1. It was not assigned to a Senate committee until three weeks later.

“It’s been a wild ride to get to this hearing,” Scott said.

The bill’s supporters fear municipalities getting well permits to pump year-round instead of seasonally, as agriculture does.

“No one wants to see more ‘buy and dry’ of ag water,” Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft said. “This legislation is necessary to level the playing field on applications to change water rights in designated basins. What’s happened is that if the application is appealed to the district court, the applicant is using legal maneuvering to bring new information that was not presented to the Ground Water Commission.”

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

A measure that aimed to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers appealing groundwater rights rulings drowned in the Legislature on Tuesday.

The legislation would have prohibited entering new evidence on appeal after a state commission makes a decision on groundwater disputes…

The bill had powerful opposition from former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.

“Big boy politics at its worst,” lamented Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, where it passed 60-5, with the support of Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

The 12-member Colorado Ground Water Commission issues decisions on disputes. Appeals, however, are handled by water court judges in district courts across the state.

State law allows for new evidence to be entered upon appeal when the issue hits water court, though such appeals are rare.

At that time, larger water interests – often those that try to transfer water from agricultural to municipal use – rely on water engineers and other experts to stack evidence in the case, say proponents of the bill.

Smaller farmers and ranchers – who are fighting for their water rights – are forced to invest in attorneys to combat the insertion of new evidence. Costs can become unbearable.

“It finally puts a stop to the games being played by those looking to take advantage of our designated basin system,” Marc Arnusch, a member of the Ground Water Commission, said of the legislation.

“A case must be heard again completely from the beginning, which causes a great deal of time and money.”

Coram assumed the measure would be a simple fix to an obvious problem. But that was before it became embroiled in politics.

Since leaving office in 2007, Owens has worked on water and land resource issues, including proposing water sales to municipalities. Coram gave Owens and Cadman “100 percent credit” for the bill’s troubled path in the Senate.

“I’ve worked on things in this building that’s taken me two, three years to get through. I’ll be back,” Coram said.

Critics of the bill – including Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango – say the measure would erode an unbiased appeals process before a judge. They point out that most of the commission members are political appointments by the governor, unlike a court.

“It’s a stacked commission,” Roberts said.

“When you go to court, there is an independent judge … there are procedural differences.”

#AnimasRiver: “…shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship” — The Denver Post #GoldKingMine

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Animas River headwaters contamination exceeds state standards for cadmium, copper, lead and other toxic acid metals draining from inactive mines, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sunnyside Gold Corp. revealed Tuesday.

Until now, federal pronouncements after the EPA-triggered Aug. 5 Gold King blowout touted a return to pre-disaster conditions along the river.

But the move toward an ambitious Superfund cleanup of 48 mine sites in southwestern Colorado has catalyzed cooperation and a far more aggressive, comprehensive and precise approach toward acid mine drainage.

At Tuesday’s Animas River Stakeholders Group forum, locals along with EPA and Sunnyside officials all said they now find those “pre-spill conditions” intolerable. Fish haven’t been able to reproduce in the Animas for a decade, even 50 miles to the south through Durango.

Beyond the Gold King and other Cement Creek mines, “there are elevated levels (of heavy metals) in all three drainages” flowing into the Animas, said Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s project manager. “It is a much broader look now.”

[…]

EPA officials this week are holding forums in tribal communities, Durango and Silverton to discuss their Superfund process, which usually drags out for more than a decade. An official listing of the Animas area as a National Priority List disaster, a step toward funding for cleanup, isn’t expected until fall.

The shift here from skepticism toward energetic stewardship is reflected in more community groups demanding, and in some cases conducting, increased testing of river water and sediment to monitor contamination.

The Mountain Studies Institute, a Durango-based research group, did an investigation of aquatic insects that live in sediment on river banks and found that copper levels increased between 2014 and 2015.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. manager Larry Perino presented data from tests of mining wastewater launched last fall on the day of the Gold King disaster. Contractors sampled on Sunnyside properties a couple of miles east of Silverton — a different drainage from Cement Creek — where mining waste tailings sit along the main stem of the upper Animas.

Those tailings as water rushes over them apparently are leaking the cadmium, copper and six other metals at levels exceeding Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards. The cadmium and copper had dissolved into Animas headwaters.

Sunnyside shared the data at Tuesday’s meeting in Silverton.

Dan Wall of the EPA then presented federal data showing lead contamination of soils along Cement Creek and in water near the tailings heaps containing elevated cadmium, zinc, manganese and copper.

EPA crews have done tests around Animas basin for decades and increasingly are trying to pinpoint mine site sources of contamination.

“We have to do more high-resolution work before we start talking smoking guns,” Wall told the locals at the forum.

A broadening cooperation is happening despite EPA efforts to target Sunnyside, owned by the global mining giant Kinross, as a responsible party obligated to pay a share of Superfund cleanup costs.

“Just because you are a potentially responsible party doesn’t mean it has to be adversarial,” Perino said.

Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited have raised concerns about possible re-churn of heavy metals from the 3 million-gallon Gold King deluge as snow melts, increasing runoff into the upper Animas. But biologists also point to benefits of dilution to reduce concentrations of dissolved heavy metals.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White confirmed that, since the shutoff of a water treatment plant on Cement Creek in 2005 when Sunnyside’s American Tunnel was plugged, fish populations deteriorated along a 30-mile stretch of the Animas south of Silverton.

There are few rainbow and brown trout today, and brook trout decreased by 80 percent after 2004, White said.

“It is not healthy. Things have gotten worse in the Animas River since 2004 or 2005,” he said. “We’ve seen this consistent dropoff — the primary thing is the dissolved metals” including zinc, cadmium and aluminum.

Even 50 miles south in Durango, the fish put into the river in stocking programs have not been able to reproduce, he said.

“We’re just not seeing young fish surviving, in Durango as well,” White said.

Other forces, such as sediment from urban development and fertilizer runoff, also play a role downriver in addition to acid metals drainage from inactive mines.

Hundreds of inactive mines continue to drain more than 1,000 gallons a minute of toxic acid heavy metals into Animas headwaters. It is one of the West’s worst concentrations of toxic mines.

For at least a decade before the Gold King disaster, the mine drainage reaching Animas canyon waters along a 30-mile stretch south of Silverton “had a hideous impact,” Trout Unlimited chapter president Buck Skillen said.

“We’ve lost almost all of the trout and a number of bugs,” Skillen said. “We’ve had the equivalent of the Gold King spill every four to seven days over the last 10 years. But the water didn’t turn orange. So it wasn’t on everyone’s radar.”

SDS: #Colorado Springs councillors OK stormwater agreement with Pueblo County

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

The City Council committed Colorado Springs on Wednesday to spend more than $460 million over 20 years on a stormwater projects pact with Pueblo County.

The intergovernmental agreement, negotiated chiefly by Mayor John Suthers, is expected to resolve Fountain Creek stormwater problems for downstream residents and avert lawsuits threatened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Department of Justice and by Pueblo County.

Further, the accord would allow Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System to start pumping water as scheduled on April 27.

Pueblo County officials threatened to rescind that $825 million project’s 1041 permit, which they issued in April 2009, if the city didn’t ante up enough guaranteed funding for stormwater projects.

The deal now hinges on a vote by Pueblo County’s three commissioners, set for 9 a.m. Monday.

Any delay of the SDS would reduce the worth of warrants on equipment and work while leaving four partner communities – Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security – without the water deliveries they expect.

The council, meeting in special session Wednesday, didn’t hesitate to approve the pact. Only Councilwoman Helen Collins, a steadfast foe of government spending, dissented in the 8-1 vote.

The agreement calls for 71 stormwater projects to be completed by 2035. Engineers for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs chose the projects and will review them each year to allow for fluctuating priorities.

The money will be spent in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million. Any private developers’ projects or other efforts would be in addition to the promised amounts.

If the projects aren’t completed in time, the accord will be extended five years. And if Colorado Springs can’t come up with the money required, the city-owned Utilities will have to do so.

The agreement was tweaked slightly Wednesday, on request of the Pueblo County commissioners, to increase one miscalculated payment to a water district by $332, to add the word “dam” to references to a study of water-control options, and to add “and vegetation” to a clause about removing debris from Pueblo’s city levees. A clause was added to note that after the agreement expires, both sides agree to coordinate and cooperate with one another, as they always will be upstream-downstream neighbors.

“This is basically an investment in this city,” said water attorney David Robbins, a consulting lawyer for the council. “The stormwater facilities would have ultimately had to be built anyway. They benefit your citizens, not just the people downstream.”

Asked about the option for a dam, Robbins said, “It has been studied, studied again, and another study may add to our knowledge, but doesn’t require this city to contribute any more money. The dam would require moving two railroads and an interstate highway. Just the facility relocation costs make it quite expensive.”

Colorado Springs has failed to properly enforce drainage regulations, conduct adequate inspections, require enough infrastructure from developers or properly maintain and operate its stormwater controls, the EPA found during inspections in August.

The downstream victim has been Pueblo County, which saw Fountain Creek sediment increase at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, degrading water quality and pushing water levels higher, Wright Water Engineers Inc. found during a study for the county last year.

Sediment increased from 90 to 25,075 tons a year, while water yields rose from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found.

As Colorado Springs development sprawls, the amount of impermeable pavement grows. So the city also is beefing up its long-underfunded Stormwater Division, increasing the staff of 28 to 58 full-time employees, mostly inspectors, and more than doubling the $3 million budget for compliance to about $7.1 million.

The city and Utilities negotiated for nearly a year with Pueblo County, as Colorado Springs has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works would like to see up-front bonding and longer term for an intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.

Still, it’s probably the best deal possible, the board agreed during comments on the proposed deal at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.

In February, the board provided its input with a resolution recommending certain actions to Pueblo County commissioners.

Colorado Springs City Council approved the deal Wednesday, while Pueblo County commissioners will meet on it Monday. It provides $460 million for stormwater projects over the next 20 years, triggers $50 million in payments over five years for Fountain Creek dams and adds $3 million to help dredge and maintain levees in Pueblo.

“One of the things we encouraged Colorado Springs to do was bond the projects up front,” said Nick Gradisar, president of the water board. “It would be to everyone’s advantage to do the projects sooner rather than later.”

Board member Tom Autobee said the agreement is comprehensive, but was uncertain about the 20-year timeline for improvements.

“What I’d like to see is to extend it beyond 20 years for the life of the project,” Autobee said. “We need to look at that.”

Board member Jim Gardner was assured by Gradisar that Pueblo County is guaranteed a voice in which projects are completed.

“They have a priority list and can’t switch unless both sides agree, as I understand it,” Gradisar said.

“This is a great opportunity to correct the issues,” said Mike Cafasso.

“What we said got listened to,” added Kevin McCarthy. “I think this is the best deal we’re going to get.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs won’t need the full use of the Southern Delivery System for years, but some can’t wait for the $825 million water pipeline to be turned on.

Pueblo County commissioners heard testimony supporting a proposed agreement with Colorado Springs designed to settle issues surrounding the City Council’s decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise after the county had incorporated it into conditions for a 1041 permit in 2009.

“One in five people in Pueblo County live in Pueblo West and are impacted by SDS,” said Jerry Martin, chairman of the Pueblo West metro board. “With the newest break, we will depend on SDS for a very long time.”

Pueblo West joined the SDS project as a costsaving alternative to a direct intake on the Arkansas River downstream of Pueblo Dam. It shared in the cost of permitting and building the pipeline.
Last summer, it used SDS when its own pipeline broke.

Pueblo West’s main supply comes from the South Outlet Works and crosses under the river. The new break is more severe, Martin explained.

An agreement reached last summer allows Pueblo West to use SDS before it is fully operational, and settled some lingering legal issues related to Pueblo West’s partnership in SDS.

Security Water and Sanitation District, located south of Colorado Springs, also needs SDS to go online before summer, said Roy Heald, general manager of the district.

“Security has an immediate need for water because there are emerging contaminant in our wells,” Heald said.

Seven of the district’s 25 wells into the Fountain Creek aquifer were found to be contaminated earlier this year. The solution is to blend water from the Arkansas River with the well water to dilute contaminants. Right now, Security gets enough water from the Fountain Valley Conduit to make its supply safe. But in summer, water demands will increase, Heald explained.

Larry Small, the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said the agreement paves the way for flood control projects seven years after the district was formed.

Small was on City Council when the stormwater enterprise was abolished on a 5-4 vote. He voted against eliminating the fee that was then in place. He was hired to run the Fountain Creek district two years later. The district has representatives from both Pueblo and El Paso counties.
The district was formed by the state Legislature out of concerns about the effect of El Paso County’s growth on Fountain Creek and the danger that is posed to Pueblo.

The $460 million for Colorado Springs stormwater projects over the next 20 years is needed to slow down Fountain Creek, but that doesn’t mean Pueblo would be protected. There are at least 18 projects south of Colorado Springs involving either detention ponds or dams that the district wants to get started on.

That process would get a kick start with $20 million in the next nine months if the agreement is approved by commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council in the next week. Three more payments of $10 million over the next three years would follow under terms of the 1041 agreement.

“This agreement says that we’re not just going to put something in place, but that we’re going to monitor it,” Small told commissioners. “It’s a cooperative, collaborative process. We don’t have to rely on rumors and innuendo.”

The city of Pueblo also would benefit from a potential $6 million in Fountain Creek dredging or levee maintenance projects that would cost the city only $1.2 million over the next three years. Pueblo Stormwater Director Jeff Bailey last week told The Pueblo Chieftain that the city has projects lined up, depending on how the funds are structured.

A separate $255,000 project to dredge between Colorado 47 and the Eighth Street bridge already is in the works. It would be funded by Pueblo County, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Fountain Creek district and the state.

For Colorado Springs, SDS is a 40-year solution to provide water both for future growth and redundancy for the major water infrastructure it already has in place. Earlier comments to commissioners from Colorado Springs officials indicated only about 5 million gallons per day initially would flow through the SDS pipeline to El Paso County. It has a capacity of 75 million gallons per day.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said warranties on the project kick in when testing on SDS is completed at the end of this month, however, so Colorado Springs also would like to see the pipeline up and running by next week.

Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Rock Pile Superfund Site update — EPA lawsuit

Commodore waste rock superfund site Creede
Commodore waste rock superfund site Creede

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Federal and state officials have agreed in principle to a $6 million settlement with a mining company to recover cleanup costs at the Superfund site just north of town.

A proposed consent decree with Denverbased CoCa Mines was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver Thursday.

The proposal would still be subject to a 30-day public comment period and the approval of the court.
Through last June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had spent $10 million on the Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Pile Superfund site.

More than half of that money went toward the stabilization of the waste rock pile and the reinforcement of the West Willow Creek channel that runs along side it during an emergency response in 2008 and 2009.

In a complaint filed the same day as the proposed consent decree, EPA alleged that a company operating under a joint venture partnership with CoCa had sent 500 tons of mine waste onto the waste rock pile and contributed to its destabilization.

The complaint also alleged that CoCa inherited liability for the site when it bought out its former partner in 1989 and thereafter failed to conduct cleanup.

CoCa Mines owned and operated in an area that’s now part of the Superfund site from 1973 to 1993.
Cleanup work at the Superfund site has come to a halt while EPA conducts a feasibility study on potential remedies for the Nelson Tunnel, which is responsible for the majority of the contaminants in West Willow Creek.

One potential option would involve the dewatering of the collapsed tunnel, although it would be dependent upon the initiation of mining by Rio Grande Silver at the nearby Bulldog Mine. The tunnel, completed in 1902, was used to drain and ventilate mines along the Amethyst vein, while also providing a route to haul ore out of the mines.

EPA initiates lawsuit over Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Mine Waste Rock Pile Superfund Site

From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

The Environmental Protection Agency has sued a mining company operating in Mineral County in federal court to recoup hazardous waste cleanup costs.

The U.S. sued Coca Mines Inc. for cleanup of hazardous substances in the Nelson Tunnel and the Commodore Waste Rock Pile Superfund Site.

The superfund site is in the San Juan Mountains less than 2 miles from the town of Creede. Shafts were dug in a series of hard-rock silver mines operated between 1889 and the 1980s tapping the “Amethyst Vein.” Horizontal tunnels also were bored, including the Nelson Tunnel.

The Nelson Tunnel is partially collapsed but continues to drain acid runoff.

The Commodore Waste Rock Pile, just outside the entrance of the Nelson Tunnel, included a water conveyance system that failed around 1995, releasing mine waste containing heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese and zinc into West Willow Creek.

The creek flows into the Rio Grande River 4 miles below the site.

In 2008 and 2009, the EPA conducted waste removal studies at the waste pile site.

The EPA is now in the process of completing a feasibility study of remedial actions for the site.

Through June 30, 2015, the EPA incurred nearly $10 million in costs. Some of those costs were covered by the Asarco Environmental Trust.

The lawsuit says the discharge each day from the Nelson Tunnel into Willow Creek carries 375 pounds of zinc, 1.37 pounds of cadmium and 6.39 pounds of lead. Zinc levels have hit 25,000 parts per billion, hurting fish reproduction for more than 4 miles down to a confluence with the main stem of the Rio Grande, where dilution eases the impact.

2015 #coleg: HB16-1337 (Appellate Process For Decisions About Groundwater) passes out of House

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

From the South Platte Sentinel (Greg Brophy/Mark Hillman):

Local ground water management districts protect the underground water rights of farmers and other residents of rural Colorado. House Bill [HB16-1337], now under consideration at the State Capitol, will ensure that water speculators cannot play deceptive games in court in order to exhaust the limited legal budgets of these districts.

HB 1337 will clarify a recent court decision, which found that state law was unclear regarding whether new evidence could be introduced when decisions of the Ground Water Commission are appealed in district court.

Essentially, the court said that entirely new evidence can be presented in court – evidence that was never considered by the commission or local ground water district.

HB 1337 is an easy fix. It simply requires parties in contested appli-cations to present all their evidence at the administrative hearing level. This is in line with how things are done in Water Court where the applicants must prove they are not injuring existing water rights and show all their evidence at that time.

HB 1337 ensures applicants only get one bite of the apple and aren’t able to put on multiple cases on the same contested application in order to run up the costs to the detriment of our communities, farms and towns.

Because of our roots in rural Colorado and in agriculture, we wanted to be sure people are aware of this important legislation.

We urge you to call or e-mail Senate President Bill Cadman to thank him for his leadership and let him know that this bill is important to rural Colorado.

While you’re at it, thank Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (Sterling) and Sen. Larry Crowder (Alamosa) for their leadership in protecting Colorado agriculture. The future of eastern Colorado is in their hands!