Two water wells in Security shut down as precaution over chemical — The Denver Post

Typical water well
Typical water well

From The Denver Post (Kieran Nicholson):

Concerns over a chemical found in water wells in El Paso County have resulted in the shutdown of two wells as a precautionary measure.

The chemical known as PFOA has been detected in two wells in the Windmill Gulch aquifer.

Those wells have been voluntarily shut down, Security Water District manager Roy Heald said last month in a Fountain Valley News Facebook post.

In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detected PFOA in 94 public water systems in 27 states, including wells in Security, Widefield and Fountain.

The chemical, used in Teflon, can cause cancer, birth defects and heart disease, and weaken the immune system.

The Security wells in question pump water into a tank that “commingled” with water from the Fountain Valley Authority, diluting the Windmill Gulch water to safe, acceptable levels, Heald said in the post.

Still, the two wells have been “turned off indefinitely,” and Security will consult with the EPA on “how to move forward.”

The well in Fountain is a backup, used only in peak water use times, during summer months, said Fountain Utilities director Curtis Mitchell.

PFOA readings at that well have never exceeded EPA standards, Mitchell said Tuesday night.

Water from the Fountain well in question also commingles with other water — from the Pueblo Reservoir, the chief surface supply for Fountain — when it enters the system, Mitchell said.

Fountain will continue to monitor its water on a “voluntary” basis, Mitchell said. Fountain water recently met with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to probe and discuss the situation.

At this time of year, Fountain doesn’t use well water…

Widefield average levels are .034 ppb, “which are well below” the maximum recommended level, the district said.

Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show to focus on hemp, water, more

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

An update on a 15-year study of water tables, salinity and selenium in the Lower Arkansas Valley will be shared Feb. 11 at the annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/ Water Symposium and Trade Show.
There will also be information on farming trends, techniques and new crops such as hemp.

The event will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 11 at the William L. Gobin Community Building, 105 N. Main St., Rocky Ford.

Tim Gates, a civil engineering professor at Colorado State University- Fort Collins will speak about Arkansas River return flows from ditches at the meeting. Gates and his team have found that better irrigation practices could reduce the amount of salinity and selenium in the Arkansas River, as well as eliminating waterlogging, or high groundwater tables.

Also in the lineup for the meeting will be Chuck Hanagan, with the federal Farm Services Agency; Brian Bledsoe, KKTV 11 chief meteorologist; James Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center; Kathy Voss, consultant for Livestock for Landscapes; Troy Bauder of Colorado State University Extension Service, on conservation tillage; and Joel Lundquist, a farmer and custom harvester, on new opportunities for growing hemp.

Reservations are $20 per person, $30 per couple and $5 per student in advance; $25 per person, $35 per couple and $5 per student at the door. Payment and contact information may be sent to P.O. Box 190, Rocky Ford, CO 81067.

For information, call 791-254-7608.

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

SDS: Water treatment plant nearly finished — the Colorado Springs Independent

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…

…a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.

SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”

[…]

There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.

But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.

The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”

While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”

He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.

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

#AnimasRiver: Silverton’s vote on Superfund letter won’t happen this week as planned — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Silverton’s elected leaders will not decide this week on whether to approve a draft letter to Colorado’s governor supporting Superfund cleanup for the area’s leaching, abandoned mines…

Lawyers representing the two groups have been working to finalize language in the letter in the best interest of the community. Specifically, leaders want to clarify boundaries of any federal cleanup sites, reimbursement for costs incurred by the town and assurances any impacts will be mitigated.

“The talks are proceeding slower than we had hoped and while we have made good progress, the team is not ready to present a package to the county commissioners and town board this week,” said Mark Eddy, spokesman for the town and county. “There are still important details to be worked out.”

On Tuesday night, the group working on the letter will present to the town council members and county commissioners and the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment…

“The team is continuing its discussions with the state and EPA and everyone is working hard to try make the timeline so if there is a decision to move forward the site can be considered for listing by the EPA in March,” Eddy said.

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo via www.terraprojectdiaries.com)
The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esm Cadiente http://www.terraprojectdiaries.com)

COGCC approves new rules to enhance local government participation in locating and planning for oil and gas operations

From email from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

The nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) today approved new rules that amplify the role of local governments in siting large oil and gas facilities near communities and further bridge the regulatory roles between state regulators and local jurisdictions.

The regulations address two recommendations from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force. Specifically, the rules will:

Provide earlier notice to local governments and opportunity for local officials to work with operators on the location of large oil and gas facilities adjacent to communities.
Require additional mitigation measures and best management practices at these locations to address the potential impacts of oil and gas development activities.
Require operators to share information with municipalities about future oil and gas development plans to encourage discussion and improve planning for both parties.
Monday’s decision followed extensive public involvement, including three and a half days of testimony on the proposed rules dating to late last year, three stakeholder meetings in October and 11 statewide outreach meetings over the summer that included 39 local governments as well as several citizen and industry groups.

“I appreciate the hard work of the COGCC staff and Commission to develop rules that implement the intent of the Task Force recommendations,” said Bernie Buescher, a Task Force member who supported the recommendations that led to the new rules. “The consultation and information sharing provisions reflect the desires of the Task Force to create more collaboration and communication between local governments and operators on large facilities near communities.”

“The new rules provide meaningful opportunity for operators and local governments to negotiate siting issues early in the permitting process,” said Kirby Wynn, Oil and Gas liaison for Garfield County and representative for a coalition of Western Slope local governments at the rulemaking. “This was an extremely challenging rulemaking with diverse, entrenched, opinions. COGCC is to be commended for finding balance between the needs of local governments to consult with industry on well pad locations while providing sensible time limits for that consultation to occur.”

“Going into this rulemaking, there were many expectations about its purpose, but the discussions among local and state governments, industry, and citizens have increased understanding on all sides of how local and state authority can be exercised in a complementary fashion to protect the public from oil and gas-related impacts,” said Barbara Green, an attorney specializing in local government issues and a participant in the rulemaking.

The new rules are tied to recommendations (Nos. 17 and 20) of the Governor’s Oil and Task Force. On February 24, 2015 a two-thirds majority of the Task Force approved nine recommendations. Two of those required action by other agencies and two required action of the General Assembly. Five others required action by the COGCC, but only two of those five required a rulemaking process by the Commission.

All documents, party statements, meeting audio and many other materials related to this rulemaking are housed on the COGCC website here: http://cogcc.state.co.us/reg.html#/rules/gtfrulemaking

The rules approved Monday are the latest activity in a years-long effort at COGCC to strengthen its oversight of oil and gas development in Colorado. Since 2011, the COGCC and the administration of Governor John Hickenlooper has crafted rules to lengthen distances between drilling and neighborhoods, reduce the effects of light, noise and odors, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting, significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules and toughen requirements for operating in floodplains.

The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, increased ease of access and volume of data available to the public, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission left several sides of the debate – including environmental and industry interests – dissatisfied with certain results, suggesting that the process struck a compromise…

Under the rule-making that concluded Monday, operators are required to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities.

Perhaps the biggest issue was defining a large-scale facility. The definition for large facilities was connected to “urban mitigation areas,” which include areas within 1,000 feet of at least 22 homes, a school or a hospital.

Commissioners set the trigger for operators to consult with local governments in urban mitigation areas at eight new wells, or 4,000 new or existing storage barrels, not including water storage. The motion passed on a 5-4 vote.

No operations in La Plata County would fall under the definition, according to the La Plata County Energy Council. The county has only two urban mitigation areas, which were built after natural gas wells were drilled.

Some counties, including La Plata, pushed for counties to be included in the mandate to register with local governments, as opposed to just requiring registration with towns and cities. The COGCC ultimately included counties in the registration process.

But La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Democrat, who co-chaired the governor’s task force, said counties are left with a limited voice.

“It doesn’t require companies to provide counties with the same information they will be required to provide municipalities,” Lachelt said. “This is an erosion of local control.”

Having dedicated six months to the task force, Lachelt was disappointed with the end result. She said the commission fell short of providing better protections for communities.

“This process did not achieve those goals,” Lachelt said. “We have much work to do in Colorado to protect communities and local control.”

Not all of La Plata’s three county commissioners, however, are concerned. Republican Brad Blake believes counties have had and continue to have a strong voice.

“I’m not thrilled with the outcome, or sad with the outcome, because I think we still have the authority to look into these issues,” Blake said.

He and the La Plata County Energy Council were disappointed that the county joined an alliance of several Front Range governments – led by Boulder – in calling for stricter rules. They wanted La Plata to represent its own interests.

“La Plata entered into rule making with counties that they have absolutely nothing in common with,” said Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council.

She also pointed out that there are existing memorandums of understanding with operators and a quarterly notification process in La Plata County.

“La Plata County operators have been the leaders in sharing information and participating in local land-use codes and complying with COGCC regulations for decades,” Zeller said.

Meanwhile, anti-fracking interests have proposed a slew of ballot proposals for this year, including banning fracking altogether and mandating larger setbacks of wells.

“It’s not just the wells or the drilling, or the noise and lights and traffic 24 hours a day,” said Shawndra Barry, with the newly-formed League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans. “It is being disenfranchised with no due process.”

From The Denver Post (Emilie Rusch):

A contentious state rule-making process intended to give local governments more say in the siting of large oil and gas facilities in their communities ended Monday as divided as it began almost a year and a half ago…

But on the heart of the matter — how big a proposed oil and gas facility must be to trigger local government involvement — commissioners were split, just like the many industry representatives, environmental groups, local government officials and members of the public who testified during the marathon, day-long hearing.

Commissioners voted 5-4 in favor of defining “large scale” as eight new wells or 4,000 barrels of new or existing storage, not including water.

Tripping either threshold gives local governments a say on where the well pads can be sited and provides nearby residents with more stringent protections regarding noise, emissions, fire control, etc. — but only when the proposed facility falls within an urban mitigation area.

Urban mitigation areas, as defined by state law, are areas where oil and gas operations are within 1,000 feet of 22 or more homes or a large facility such as a school or hospital.

Whether the new rules, which will go into effect 20 days after publication by the secretary of state, are enough to head off future conflict remains to be seen.

Industry representatives and advocates of local control expressed disappointment immediately after the commission’s vote.

“We’re disappointed that the COGCC chose to go beyond the original task force recommendations, especially in these economic times with oil prices the way that they are and jobs suffering,” Colorado Petroleum Council executive director Tracee Bentley said.

“But we do very much appreciate the process that COGCC staff ran. It was a very thorough and very well-vetted process,” she said. “We’ll continue like we always have, to work with local governments and stakeholders.”

Oil and gas companies had advocated for a much higher 12-well or 9,600-barrel storage threshold.

Allied Local Governments — a pro-local control consortium representing Brighton, Broomfield, Erie, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, and Boulder and La Plata counties — hoped the commission would err on the side of requiring more communication, triggering local input at 2,000 barrels of on-site storage including water, and 45,000 feet of well-bore length.

At the beginning of Monday’s hearing, the COGCC staff proposed 90,000 feet of well-bore length and 2,000 barrels of storage, not including water.

Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said she would not be surprised if a citizen-initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.

“The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.

Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org
Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

SDS: Mayor Suthers tries to calm Pueblo councilor/commissioner complaints

Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.

Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…

So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.

Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”

Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”

“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”

The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.

The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.

Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.

On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.

“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.

But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.

He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.

Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.

Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.

On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.

Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.

And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…

Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.

While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.

Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.

Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.

At stake is the city’s own water permit.

The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.

When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.

“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”

Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.

“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”

The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.

“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”

The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.

Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.

Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.

Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.

Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.

Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.

“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.

As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”

Silverton officials hold Superfund hearing Tuesday ahead of Thursday vote — The Durango Herald

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):

It’s going to be a busy and potentially landmark week for the town of Silverton as officials look to stamp a letter addressed to Gov. John Hickenlooper requesting Superfund status by Thursday.

All this week, Silverton Town Trustees along with San Juan County Commissioners will enter final negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency over its hazardous cleanup program with the hopes of a final vote on Thursday. The town will also hold a public hearing Tuesday.

“We’re negotiating the next 20 to 30 years of our county,” said Silverton Town Trustee Pete Maisel. “So it’s weighing pretty heavy on our shoulders.”

[…]

Despite local efforts, the long-inactive mining district has degraded water quality in the Animas River to the point that the presence of trout has all but disappeared in the 25-mile stretch downstream from Silverton, with 3 out of 4 species now gone.

But when the EPA accidentally triggered the Gold King Mine blowout in August, the sight of a disturbing bright-orange river cast a normally unseen problem into the spotlight of public attention. For Silverton officials under pressure from downstream communities, few options were left aside from a Superfund status.

“There’s really no other program out there with the financial resources to take care of the necessary remediation for this area,” San Juan County Manager Willie Tookie said in November. “Superfund is pretty much it.”

The EPA considers polluting sites for its National Priorities List twice a year: once in March and again in September. To be considered this spring, Silverton officials must send a letter to Hickenlooper, directing the governor to request Superfund status.

Throughout negotiations, three main points of contention have emerged: the boundaries of the Superfund designation; the promise of federal funding; and the name of the Superfund project.

“This is not going to be a fast solution, but we’re also not dragging our feet,” Maisel said. “Negotiations are going well, we’re working hard on it.”