#AnimasRiver: EPA considers treatment facility — The Durango Herald

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 Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Documents released this week highlight a bidding process that began a little over two weeks after last month’s spill. The request is for a subcontractor to begin work in anticipation of a treatment facility. Water would be piped from the Gold King Mine near Silverton to Red and Bonita Mine and the “future site” of a water-treatment plant in Gladstone.

The EPA tasked Environmental Restoration, LLC with the Request for Proposal. The contractor was performing reclamation with the EPA on Aug. 5 when an excavation error by the team at Gold King caused an estimated 3 million gallons of orange mining sludge to pour into the Animas River. Initial tests showed spikes in heavy metals.

Experts agree that the best solution is a treatment facility, though such a plant would be costly. The EPA offered no cost estimates for such a facility, nor would it say where the funding would come from. A reclamation expert with the Colorado School of Mines told The Durango Herald a temporary treatment plant would cost around $3 million…

“The issuance of a work order doesn’t mean that there has been a final decision to build a wastewater treatment plant. Agency staff initiated the RFP process immediately after the spill so that the procurement process would be well underway if that decision were to be made,” said EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair…

“The agency is conducting an analysis to determine if a temporary treatment plant provides a measurable benefit to water quality downstream in the Animas River,” St. Clair said. “The agency is closely coordinating with officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Southern Ute tribe, Mountain Ute tribe and Navajo Nation to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan for the Gold King Mine site.”[…]

“The system must be able to be operated all year at elevations between 11,400 feet and 10,500 feet. Extreme cold and heavy snow are to be expected and planned for. The system must be self-contained as there are no amenities on site,” the RFP says.

Meanwhile, the EPA on Thursday released a long-term monitoring plan to evaluate water conditions after the spill. Tests have continued to show that water quality has returned to “pre-event” conditions, though the Animas has long been plagued by inactive-mine leakage.

“This monitoring plan represents the next phase of this important work and reflects our commitment to continue working closely with state, local and tribal officials to evaluate the potential impacts of the spill,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

The long-term plan calls for sampling for water and sediment quality, biological impacts and fish tissue under a variety of flow conditions at 23 sites in Cement Creek, the Animas and San Juan rivers and the upper section of Lake Powell within Colorado, Southern Ute Reservation, New Mexico, Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, the Navajo Nation and Utah.

Stakeholders, including state, local and tribal officials, have until Oct. 8 to comment on the monitoring proposal.

The goal is to begin long-term monitoring in the fall. Data would be collected for one year and reviewed to determine if additional steps are needed.

#AnimasRiver: NM Sec. of State claims that EPA kept Gold King Mine spill data secret for weeks

Bottom of Animas River at Durango August 8, 2015 via Twitter and The Durango Herald
Bottom of Animas River at Durango August 8, 2015 via Twitter and The Durango Herald

From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via the Farmington Daily-Times:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials refused for weeks to share water-quality data with their state counterparts following a blowout of toxic wastewater from a Colorado mine that fouled rivers across the Southwest, New Mexico’s top environmental regulator testified Thursday.

The move by federal agencies aimed to downplay the severity of the spill, hobbling the state’s response to the high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants involved in the spill, New Mexico Secretary of Environment Ryan Flynn said.

His criticisms, aired before a U.S. House committee investigating the Aug. 5 accident, offered more fodder for congressional Republicans eager to find fault with a federal agency they perceive as having an anti-business agenda…

EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said water-quality test results were made public on the agency’s website as soon as they were validated. The EPA has closely coordinated with state officials and American Indians from the Navajo Nation, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes to keep them apprised of the test results, Allen said.

But Flynn said the EPA’s warning about the pollution came belatedly, and it was followed by incomplete testing data presented in a way that minimized the presence of contaminants above drinking-water standards. He called it a “PR stunt” by the EPA…

Flynn said he remained concerned about contaminated sediments harming the environment, and a long-term monitoring plan offered by the agency is inadequate. That echoed concerns raised by Navajo President Russell Begaye, who questioned the EPA’s role overseeing the response to a spill that it caused.

Thursday’s hearing before the House committees on Natural Resources and Oversight and Government Reform was the fourth this month examining the spill. Republican lawmakers have used the events to bash the EPA for its handling of issues ranging from climate change to the protection of streams.

Democrats have sought to put the focus on the mining industry and ongoing pollution from tens of thousands of abandoned mines across the country…

The Colorado spill came from a cluster of century-old mines in the San Juan mountains that together discharge an estimated 330 million gallons of toxic wastewater annually, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified. That’s over 100 times more pollution than the Gold King spill.

“We were trying to get a handle on a situation that was growing increasingly dangerous,” McCarthy said. “This is not the EPA’s … finest hour. But I am here to tell you that we are taking responsibility.”

She added that mining companies contribute “close to zero” money to help clean up such sites, under an 1872 mining law that the administration of President Barack Obama has proposed to change…

McCarthy responded that she did not believe the law had been broken, but a review of the accident needs to be completed before a final determination. An Interior Department investigation of the spill is due in late October. The EPA Inspector General’s office is conducting a separate review.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The 3-million-gallon blowout of mine waste last month didn’t cause a massive die-off of trout in the Animas River, but wildlife officials are still concerned about the steady decline of fish populations over the past decade.

In August and early September, Colorado Parks and Wildlife crews conducted a survey of trout numbers in sections of the Animas near Durango and Silverton.

“We did it last year, and normally we skip a year,” Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said at the time. “But because of the spill, our biologists decided it’d be a good time to do it again, and see what’s going on.”

A prepared statement from the Parks and Wildlife on Tuesday said the survey did not show effects on fish from the mine spill, but the results did provide a “mixed picture” for trout.

In Durango, officials saw an increase in the overall biomass of fish, but aquatic biologist Jim White said that’s because Parks and Wildlife stocks about 40,000 fingerling trout every year.

Two segments – from the La Plata County Fairgrounds to the Ninth Street Bridge, and from Cundiff Park to the High Bridge – met the “Gold Medal” water status for biomass, a standard of 60 pounds of fish per surface area.

But overall, the river did not meet the Gold Medal status.

Fish greater than 14 inches improved slightly from 2014 – from nine to 11 fish per acre – but the Gold Medal standard is 12 fish longer than 14 inches or more per acre.

Parks and Wildlife officials said the number of large fish remains low, and trout have shown little signs of natural reproduction, issues that wildlife experts have been combating for almost 10 years.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update: Surplus supply going into water year 2016

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

What to do with all the water?

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District tackled the question Thursday by approving additional allocations requested by cities and farms in the Arkansas Valley.

But more than half of additional water brought in by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will be carried over to next year and added to next year’s allocations.

In May, the district allocated about 46,000 acre-feet (15 billion gallons), with about one-third going to cities and two-thirds to farms. But continued wet conditions added another 22,500 acre-feet to the amount available for allocation.

A total of 72,000 acrefeet were imported, but some of it goes for other obligations or to account for losses.

Wet conditions and the way water has to be delivered or accounted for cut down on demand for the additional water, Executive Director Jim Broderick explained.
Most cities had plenty of water in storage and not many places to store additional water.

“A lot of people were at their limit and not making request,” Broderick said. “It’s been a wet year and there is no place to put the water. Everything got full.”

The big exception was the Pueblo Board of Water Works, which did not take any water from the first allocation. Pueblo Water took 6,500 acre-feet. All told, cities added 8,200 acre-feet to their supplies.

The large canal companies downstream did not jump at all of the additional water either, because there was no way to store it for when it would be needed. About 2,600 acre-feet were allocated during the second round.

That still leaves about 11,700 acre-feet that was brought over from the Fryingpan River basin through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake for later distribution in the Arkansas River basin.

“It will be applied to the first allocation next year,” Broderick said. “My guess is that a lot of the water is going to be available to agriculture.”

That could create a problem even with average moisture next spring, raising the possibility that water stored in excess capacity, or if-and-when accounts, could spill.

About 55,000 acre-feet of if-and-when water is stored in Lake Pueblo now, about one-quarter of the water in the reservoir.

Some winter water could also spill, if the amount exceeds 70,000 acre-feet. About 24,000 acre-feet are now in storage. However, winter water could be stored downstream as well.

Turquoise and Twin Lakes are nearly storing at capacity. Lake Pueblo is at 80 percent of capacity, but 145 percent of average for this time of year, according to Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

If water conditions are typical, 26,000 acre-feet could spill next spring, but it is too soon to make an accurate prediction, Vaughan said. But he said most forecasts are calling for at least 100 percent of snowpack.

“Part of the question is are we bringing water in and using it that year, or are we storing it?” Broderick said. “For the past few years, we have been using other water and storing (Fry-Ark) water.”

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

2016 #COleg: State Rep. Sonnenburg’s new rain barrel bill will require registration and augmentation

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From KUNC (Bente Birkeland):

“If you have a rain barrel, that’s less that’s going to run into the street,” said Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling).

And he believes, less water for farmers and ranchers – which is why Sonneberg opposed the rain barrel bill when it last came up and made sure it was defeated. He’s now floating a new measure that would allow rain barrels, if people register them. Then it would be up to water providers to determine how to replace the lost water.

“We’re going to bring a bill that does it right and honors the prior appropriation system and Colorado water law,” said Sonnenberg. “We need a simple and fair process on how that water should be replaced.”

But during a recent hearing at the state capitol, academic water experts from Colorado State University testified that there would be no need for a bill like Sonnenberg’s.

“This water doesn’t run off any way, and we capture a little of it and we put it on our gardens or we put it on our roses or something,” said Dr. Larry Roesner, a civil and environmental engineering professor at CSU.

“It would take a lot of water before it made a significant impact,” said Roesner.

Two other CSU experts, along with Roesner, testified before the Water Resources Review committee, which is meeting in the interim to discuss water policy.

“When you have scientists come in and give you the facts I think it’s important to incorporate that into your thought process,” said Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango).

As the chair of the committee, Roberts was frustrated when the previous rain barrel bill didn’t pass. She wanted to come back to the topic in between sessions – especially since next session will be during an election year.

“I’m struggling myself to explain to people on the street why this is so controversial. In my district in southwest Colorado, those who want to use rain barrels, use rain barrels today, and a lot of people across party lines were appalled that the legislature was struggling so much with this,” said Roberts.

For Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates the measure is mostly about educating the public about water. He said too many people fail to understand where their water comes from, and he said water providers in other states where it is legal say rain barrels help connect people to water policy.

The latest ENSO diagnostic discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center


From NOAA:

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory

Synopsis: There is an approximately 95% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, gradually weakening through spring 2016.

During August, sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies were near or greater than +2.0°C across the eastern half of the tropical Pacific. SST anomalies increased in the Niño-3.4 and Niño 3- regions, were approximately unchanged in the Niño-4 region, and decreased in the Niño-1+2 region. Large positive subsurface temperature anomalies persisted in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific during the month, with the largest departures exceeding 6°C. The atmosphere remained coupled to the anomalous oceanic warmth, with significant low-level westerly wind anomalies and upper-level easterly wind anomalies persisting from the western to east-central tropical Pacific. Also, the traditional and equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) were again negative, consistent with enhanced convection over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific and suppressed convection over Indonesia. Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic anomalies reflect a strong El Niño.

All models surveyed predict El Niño to continue into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2016, and all multi-model averages predict a peak in late fall/early winter (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index of +1.5°C or greater. The forecaster consensus unanimously favors a strong El Niño, with peak 3- month SST departures in the Nino 3.4 region near or exceeding +2.0°C. Overall, there is an approximately 95% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, gradually weakening through spring 2016 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period).

Across the contiguous United States, temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Niño are expected to remain minimal during the early Northern Hemisphere fall and increase into the late fall and winter (the 3-month seasonal outlook will be updated on Thursday September 17th). El Niño will likely contribute to a below normal Atlantic hurricane season, and to above-normal hurricane seasons in both the central and eastern Pacific hurricane basins.

Building Hoover Dam: A wonder of engineering — CNN

Click here for a great gallery of construction photos for Hoover (Boulder) Dam.

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The latest newsletter from the Water Center at CMU is hot off the presses

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


A draft program and registration/ sponsorship links are now up for the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum: Managing for Extremes. The forum will be at CMU in Grand Junction on October 28-29. Full details here.