Mining industry backs ‘Good Samaritan’ fix for Gold King — The Colorado Statesman

Summitville Mine superfund site
Summitville Mine superfund site

From The Colorado Statesman (David O. Williams):

Mention the practice of re-mining to anyone familiar with Colorado mining history, and the specter of the 1990’s Summitville disaster — dwarfing last summer’s Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River — is likely to loom large.

Taxpayers have doled out more than $150 million to try to clean up the mess left by a Canadian company that declared bankruptcy in 1992 after it dug up old mine works in the San Juan Mountains near Del Norte and piled them into a cyanide heap leach to extract gold, silver and copper.

But once the company pulled the plug, acid mine drainage made its way downstream, where it killed off a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. Colorado and federal regulators had to scramble to keep the situation from becoming even worse.

Re-mining, or going back in to recover minerals from old, abandoned mines, is now being mentioned as a possible means of getting modern mining companies to help clean up the toxic drainage from thousands of old, abandoned hardrock mines contaminating streams across the West – like the Gold King Mine near Silverton.

“Yes, I support [re-mining] as long as it’s done in a safe and responsible manner,” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, recently told The Colorado Statesman. Lamborn last month introduced the Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act to “incentivize private sector actors to remediate abandoned mine lands.”

Under Lamborn’s bill, so-called “Good Samaritan” permits would provide limited liability protections for non-profit groups, local governments and the mining industry to clean up abandoned mines. Under current law, Lamborn says the most qualified parties for cleanup efforts are “scared away” by the possibility of assuming 100-percent liability for old mine sites.

Re-mining is floated as a way to incentivize and help pay for cleaning up old mines, but some environmental groups balk at the idea of letting modern mining companies take on old mine messes because of the possibility of making things worse.

“That’s why we wrote the bill so that if you act in a grossly negligent or even willfully negligent way, you still have huge liability, so only people who are using good-faith efforts are able to be exempt from liability,” Lamborn said. “Anyone else who’s a bad actor is not let off the hook.”

Lauren Pagel, policy director of the nonprofit environmental group Earthworks, testified last month before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment that the mining industry cannot be allowed to call the shots with Good Samaritan cleanup legislation.

“If a ‘Good Sam’ version passes that the mining industry favors, it would allow a private entity to create an Animas [River]-type spill, and exempt the polluting party from responsibility for their mistake or from compensating damaged communities downstream,” Pagel said.

But Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, said Good Samaritan legislation will remove the disincentives to private-sector cleanups of abandoned mines, which include perpetual liability under the Clean Water Act and operator status under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA — the law overarching EPA Superfund.

“Public sector and EPA cleanups will continue, but to the extent that private-sector mining companies are allowed to participate, there is no harm in allowing those companies to help defray costs through the removal of any minerals they may be able to extract,” Sanderson said.

Doug Young, senior policy director of the Keystone Policy Center, a nonprofit conflict-resolution organization based in Keystone, is working is help draft Good Samaritan legislation that works for everyone. He told the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment he’s been working on the issue for 20 years and hopes to avoid the usual pitfalls.

“There are folks who are nervous about the idea of re-mining, because it could be a loophole that could be abused, meaning people go in and the cleanup is secondary to recovering minerals,” Young told The Statesman, adding that cleanup has to come first. “We don’t want more Summitvilles or more Gold King Mines. There’s a way you can craft it to be careful about that.”

Good Sam sans mining reform

Pagel argues the EPA already has a process called an Administrative Order of Consent that removes liability for groups truly interested in cleaning up old mines. What’s really needed, in her opinion, is reform of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which does not require royalties for mining hardrock minerals on public lands. Such a pool of money could be used for cleanup of the thousands of abandoned mines leaching into streams around the West.

“The only way to begin to address the pollution associated with old mine sites is to create a robust Hardrock Mine Reclamation Fund — similar to the fund that was created in the 1970s for the coal mining industry,” Pagel testified.

Lamborn, however, says mining reform is a non-starter in a Congress controlled by his party, primarily because it will kill mining projects and jobs.

“[Earthworks’] approach to reforming the mining act is never going to happen, so they’re chasing a pipe dream — plus it’s a totally different subject anyway,” Lamborm said. “To obtain a global solution is simply beyond what can be accomplished right now, so some people are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet last week joined New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, all Democrats, introducing the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015, which would reform the mining act to charge royalties and create a cleanup fund.

But Young, who worked on Good Samaritan legislation for years for Tom Udall’s cousin, former Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, says mining reform is too tough a fight in the current congressional gridlock.

“If you create a program of Good Samaritan and deal with the liability, the funding will come without having to do a frontal, uphill political battle of either amending the 1872 Mining Law or proposing other fees and royalty funding provisions,” Young said, adding there are 30 watershed groups in Colorado focused primarily on abandoned mine drainage.

Superfund tour through Colorado paints positive picture — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

It was a long, difficult road as the community of Leadville went through a more-than-20-year process through the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazardous cleanup Superfund program. But local government officials here on Thursday told a large constituency of Southwest Coloradoans that, ultimately, it was worth it.

Various agencies from the Animas River watershed are on a three-day tour of several Superfund sites in Colorado, hoping to gain knowledge on the process as stakeholders look to make a decision about long-term water treatment in the Animas basin.

The situation in Leadville, in many ways, has a striking similarity with the leaking mine network north of Silverton – with its long mining history, relative isolation and fragile economy…

But after more than a century of unregulated mining in Leadville, a two-hour drive west of Denver, an adit suffered a blowout, causing a die-off along the Arkansas River down to Pueblo. In 1983, Leadville was placed on the EPA’s Superfund list, just a few years after the program was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the town was officially taken off the National Priorities List. After the many battles between local, state and federal agencies, local officials there said it left a bittersweet feeling throughout the community.

“In the beginning, it definitely had an impact on our economic development,” said Howard Tritz, an assessor at the time. “It was a real obstacle. But the stigma of being a Superfund site has pretty much blown away; people are starting to come back here. It was bittersweet.”[…]

Melissa Sheets, a reclamation project manager with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said this week’s tour, which includes a number of stakeholders, is a sign the agencies have learned from past mistakes in dealing with local communities.

“I think we’re learning as Superfund grows up,” Sheets said. “Unfortunately for this community (Leadville), they got the Superfund designation when this program was brand new, so I think they got a lot of the bumps in the road. This outreach we’re doing is absolutely unprecedented. We’re trying to make sure everyone has an opportunity for input.”

After visiting Leadville, the group went to Minturn’s Eagle Mine Superfund site, where residents said there really was no other option beside Superfund.

“There’s always some tension and disagreement as to what cleanup measures are going to be most effective,” said Bob Weaver of Leonard Rich Engineering. “But it’s really important to realize everybody wants to achieve the same goal. You’re not always going to agree, but it’s a lot better than doing nothing.

Representatives from the Animas River were sure to point out the many differences between Leadville and Minturn, ranging from potentially responsible parties to differences in geology. But San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman said overall it’s been a productive trip.

“I’ve learned a hell of a lot,” he said. “Anything we’re going to get is from working together. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Durango Mayor Dean Brookie said seeing the actual physical implementation of Superfund helped push the decision-making process…

Leadville Mayor Jaime Stuever offered one last bit of advice for the group before a tour of the California Gulch Superfund site.

“We live in an environment in today’s world were we have problems,” he said. “If you look at how many years mining took place here, you realize it takes a long time to clean up a mess that’s been here many, many years. How could we have done it ourselves? We couldn’t have done it ourselves.”

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison River through Black Canyon streamflow to increase to 1100 cfs

From email from Reclamation Erik Knight:

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 1100 cfs on Monday, November 16th. The purpose of this increase is to lower Blue Mesa Reservoir down towards the winter icing target. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 673,000 acre-feet which is 81% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for the remainder of the year.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1100 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

The latest ENSO Diagnostic Discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center

Mid-October 2015 plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center
Mid-October 2015 plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center

Click here to read the discussion. Here’s an excerpt:

<blockquote>ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory

Synopsis: El Niño will likely peak during the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, with a transition to ENSO-neutral anticipated during the late spring or early summer 2016.

A strong El Niño continued during October as indicated by well above-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Most Niño indices increased during the month, although the far eastern Niño-1+2 index decreased, accentuating the maximum in anomalous SST farther west. The subsurface temperature anomalies also increased in the central and eastern Pacific, in association with another downwelling equatorial oceanic Kelvin wave. Low-level westerly wind anomalies and upper-level easterly wind anomalies continued over the western to east-central tropical Pacific. Also, the traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values remained negative. These conditions are associated with enhanced convection over the central and eastern tropical Pacific and with suppressed convection over Indonesia. Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic anomalies reflect a strong and mature El Niño episode.

Most models indicate that a strong El Niño will continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, followed by weakening and a transition to ENSO-neutral during the late spring or early summer. The forecaster consensus remains nearly unchanged, with the expectation that this El Niño could rank among the top three strongest episodes as measured by the 3-month SST departures in the Niño 3.4 region going back to 1950. El Niño will likely peak during the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, with a transition to ENSO-neutral anticipated during the late spring or early summer 2016.

El Niño has already produced significant global impacts. El Niño is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday November 19th). Seasonal outlooks generally favor below-average temperatures and above-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation over the northern tier of the United States.

Snowpack news: Average to above average except Rio Grande, storm due in mountains Monday

Click a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data for Colorado.

#Drought news: Abnormal dryness (D0) reduced in NW #Colorado

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Central Great Plains, Middle Mississippi Valley, and Lower Ohio Valley

Looking at the area from Indiana westward through Nebraska and Kansas, beneficial light to moderate precipitation in the western half of Nebraska and adjacent Colorado, some of which fell as snow. This brought an end to the abnormal dryness in the southern Nebraska Panhandle and adjacent Colorado. Farther south and east, only light precipitation at best fell from central parts of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri westward through Kansas, primarily in eastern sections of the region. As a result, limited D0 and D1 expansion occurred in parts of Kansas, where very little precipitation fell. No changes seemed warranted farther east. Most of eastern Kansas and the southwestern quarter of Missouri received less than half of normal precipitation during the last 30 days, as did portions of central Indiana and Illinois. Precipitation deficits of at least 4 inches have accumulated in most of the same region since early August, with totals in much of central Missouri 6 to 8 inches below normal during this period…

The Rockies, Intermountain West, and Far West

Moderate to heavy precipitation fell on the Sierra Nevada, northwestern California, western sections of Washington and Oregon, northern sections of the Rockies and Intermountain West, scattered areas from western Colorado to central Arizona, and a few other isolated spots. Other locations received little, if any. The wet/snowy season is off to a rapid start in the Intermountain West and West Coast States. Snowpack is well above normal for this time of year in the Sierra Nevada and parts of Nevada where drought has seemed intractable, Reno Tahoe Airport recorded 4.2” of snow November 9-10 (including a daily record 2.4” on the 9th), and over a foot blanketed some areas northeast of the city. But given the long-term nature of the drought in much of the Far West, only scattered areas of improvement were noted. D1 in south-central Idaho improved to D0, areas of D3 shrank a little in western Idaho and west-central Montana, severe drought eased to moderate levels in central Washington, abnormal dryness was eliminated in northwestern Colorado, coverage of D1 and D2 declined in southeastern Arizona, and a few other isolated areas saw improvement. Areas where drought was more entrenched will need abundant precipitation to continue much farther into the wet season before any notable improvement could evolve…

The Southeastern Great Plains, Lower Mississippi Valley, and Adjacent Southeast

Moderate to heavy precipitation fell on most of this region. Most areas from the Mississippi/Ohio Confluence southward through the Lower Mississippi Valley, southeastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas reported at least an inch of precipitation, with 2 to locally over 5 inches measured in a swath from southern Missouri into northwestern Arkansas, plus an area farther south extending from southeast Oklahoma and northeastern Texas eastward through southern Arkansas, much of Louisiana, and some parts of Mississippi outside the areas of abnormal dryness and moderate drought. Large areas of improvement were introduced in the wetter areas, and most other areas were unchanged; however, D0 was expanded into parts of eastern Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee, and northwestern Mississippi that missed most of the precipitation. The eastern half of this area received only 50% to 75% of normal rainfall in the last 30 days, and deficits of 4 to locally 6 inches have accumulated since early September…

Looking Ahead

During November 12-16, the heaviest precipitation should fall on windward slopes in western Washington and northern Idaho. Peak values of 12 to nearly 18 inches are anticipated in the northwesternmost reaches of Washington while totals may top 6 inches in northernmost Idaho. Substantial totals are also expected in western Oregon and far northwestern California, with amounts topping out in the 2 to 4 inch range along the Oregon Coast. Relatively heavy precipitation is also anticipated across the northern half of the Great Lakes, with 2 to 3 inches forecast in northwestern Wisconsin and adjacent areas. Meanwhile, moderate precipitation (with amounts above 2 inches only in a few isolated locations) is expected across the northern half of New England and New York, far southern Florida, the southeastern Great Plains and western Lower Mississippi Valley, and parts of the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades. Temperatures should average well above normal (5 to 10 degrees) in the northern half of the Plains and much of the Great Lakes Region. In contrast, temperatures should average around 3 degrees below normal in the Great Basin and central Intermountain West.

For the ensuing 5 days (November 17-21), the odds at least slightly favor wetter than normal conditions nationwide, except in a small part of the northern Plains and in a swath across the Big Bend of Texas, southern sections of Arizona and New Mexico, and central and southern California. All of Alaska has enhanced chances for above normal precipitation as well. The best chances for wetness are in the southern half of the Mississippi Valley. We should see warmer than normal temperatures on average in the central and eastern parts of the country and cooler than typical conditions from the Rockies westward.

Arkansas Basin roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Now that a plan for Colorado’s water future is nearly finished, there are some concerns it might not have much of a future itself.

“What’s going to happen to the Colorado Water Plan?” asked Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, at Wednesday’s Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting. “Is it going to sit on a shelf?”

Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, was quick to reply that the final plan has more moving parts than its encyclopedic draft.

“There are dates so we have guidance and ways we can measure progress,” Hamel said. “If it sits on the shelf, we’ve wasted a lot of people’s time.”

The water plan will be finalized by the CWCB and presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper next week in Denver. The governor ordered the plan in 2013, and it has consumed the state’s roundtables for the past two years.

The primary purpose of the water plan, initially was to fill the supply gap for the state’s growing population, but it evolved to include conservation, land use and storage goals as well. It also includes agriculture, watershed health and funding goals.

In the process, the roundtables also developed basin implementation plans of their own.

It was clear at Wednesday’s meeting that the roundtable is not content to sit on its plan. Gary Barber, a former chairman of the roundtable, was hired to implement the plan.

State grant funding for the position is for just one year, and Barber’s job will be to keep projects moving ahead, said Sandy White, chairman.

Meanwhile, the roundtable has hired Deb Phenicie to coordinate its watershed health initiative and is in the process of selecting a coordinator for outreach and water education, also funded through the roundtable process.

Hamel tied the roundtable’s actions to the course the CWCB will take in implementing the water plan.

“It’s imperative for the CWCB to have regular reviews,” Hamel said, noting there was some disagreement about how often the state water plan would be reviewed. “Our goal in the Arkansas basin is to keep the project list current. The CWCB has to take a leadership role as we go from governor to governor.”

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013