In #Colorado we go the extra mile to save cutthroats #HaydenCreekFire

Aerial photograph of Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery. Photo via Western State Colorado University.
Aerial photograph of Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery. Photo via Western State Colorado University.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Some 200 of the unique cutthroat trout were removed from Hayden Creek

State wildlife officers on Wednesday rescued rare cutthroat trout from a creek in the Hayden Pass fire burn area, quelling concerns about their possible extinction because of the blaze.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife says many of the rare fish — with genetic links to the iconic, pure greenback cutthroat trout — were taken from the fire zone to an isolation chamber at the Roaring Judy Hatchery near Gunnison.

Officials were worried ash and sediment from the Hayden Pass fire would wash down into the lower prong of Hayden Creek, where the fish live, strangling their oxygen and food supplies. However, videos taken from the rescue mission show wildlife officers removing several of the trout from the stream.

The trout that live in the creek share a unique genetic anomaly with a cutthroat found in the Smithsonian Museum and said to have been taken from Twin Lakes near Leadville in 1889, CPW says.

Fire commanders say the trout mission on Wednesday resulted in the netting and removal of 200 fish. One of the firefight’s main objectives has been to protect the fish as much as possible.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Peterson Air Force Base to supply $108,000 in bottled water to some #Colorado Springs-area residents — The Colorado Springs Gazette

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Private well owners and people in several small water systems south of Colorado Springs will be eligible to receive the bottled water, said Steve Brady, a base spokesman.

Those places include the Fountain Valley Shopping Center, Security Mobile Home Park and NORAD View Mobile Home Park, according to the installation’s news release.

“It’s in place as an interim solution until they can figure out a long-term solution,” Brady said.

The water distributions will not include people relying on larger water systems, such as the Security Water & Sanitation Districts, the Widefield Water and Sanitation District and the city of Fountain, Brady said. That is because the smaller systems “don’t have any other options,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement is part of a $4.3 million initiative by the Air Force to address the presence of perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in drinking water across southern El Paso County.

The bulk of that money is expected to be spent on granular activated carbon filters installed on wells tapped into the contaminated Widefield aquifer, which runs along Interstate 25 from the Stratton Meadows area to Fountain and extends east to the Colorado Springs Airport.

The filters are viewed as vital to keeping contaminated water from flowing to the three larger water systems. But the filters are expected to take months to install, and no announcements have been made on how many filters water systems in Security, Widefield and Fountain will receive.

In the meantime, each water district has been working to reduce their reliance on the aquifer, often by pumping in PFC-free water from the Pueblo reservoir. That strategy has allowed Fountain to wean itself completely from the aquifer.

Security and Widefield, however, cannot meet demand without using contaminated well water – meaning some residents, particularly those along the western portion of each community, still receive PFC-laden tap water.

One stopgap measure for Widefield involves a water distribution site for people living along the community’s western edge.

Algae: Bioindicators of Water Pollution — @_evolvingplanet

Blue-Green algae bloom
Blue-Green algae bloom

From TheEvolvingPlanet.com (Lornajane Altura):

Algae, an important bacterial and plant group in water ecosystems, are significant bioindicators in water quality evaluations. They are well suited for assessing water quality because of their short life cycle, fast rate of reproduction, and their nutrient needs. Algae are great determinants of the conditions in environments because they quickly respond to densities in a wide range of water conditions because of differences in water chemistry. An example is the change in the composition of genera because of the increase in acidity of water due to acid-forming chemicals that affect lake pH levels.

Eutrophic conditions are of great importance from the perspective of ecology and public health. The abundance of nutrients that contain nitrogen and phosphorus that flow into streams, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs greatly affect the water quality system. The ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus determines which algae genera are present, absent, or dominant in water systems that are affected by these nutrients. Commercial fertilizers that are utilized for agriculture and lawns, household laundry detergents, stormwater runoff, and organic pollution that includes livestock waste and leaky septic tanks are sources of these inorganic compounds. High densities of algae growth that result in algal blooms that annoy or produce toxins are evidence that lakes and reservoirs are recipients of these sources of pollution. Microscopic analysis of water samples from these bodies of water finds the density and diversity of these algal species that provide initial warning signs of degrading environmental conditions.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)
View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed in 2002 to keep water in the Arkansas Valley is turning its attention toward the quality of that water.

“We cannot stick our heads in the sand,” General Manager Jay Winner told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday. “There’s going to be a paradigm shift to water quality.”

Winner’s comment followed an assessment of how state regulations on nutrients in water will shift in the near future by Peter Nichols, the district’s attorney and a former chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

Nichols explained that four large dischargers in the Arkansas River basin — Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Fountain and Security — are headed toward state standards that will require them to further treat discharged wastewater to meet numeric standards for nutrients by 2022.

In addition, there will be more limits on nonpoint source pollutants, those which do not have a defined source. While the state enforces water quality, the directives are issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“What they’ll look at is whether the levels are protective to uses downstream,” Nichols said.

That would affect the largest user of water in the basin: large-scale, commercial irrigated agriculture.

“This is a very large problem,” Nichols said. “The state has taken an incremental approach to fund projects to get (the numbers) under control.”

The Lower Ark has taken an active role in flood control on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in the past, Winner said. It will now be more concerned about projects that improve water quality as well.

There also is concern that regulations for irrigators on water quality could tighten, and the Lower Ark’s Super Ditch program, which fallows some land so water can be leased, would benefit water quality, according to ongoing studies by Colorado State University- Fort Collins.

The Lower Ark also is developing a pilot project on 2,000 acres to see how improvements like sprinklers or drip systems could improve water quality. This would complement past studies that show water quality gains by changing irrigation patterns.

#AnimasRiver: Sen. Gardner wants to fast-track reimbursements for #GoldKingMine spill

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Durango Herald (Kate Magill):

Senators Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Thursday called for a hearing on a bill that would expedite reimbursements to communities impacted by last year’s Gold King Mine spill.

In a letter to senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the pair called for a hearing on Gold King Mine Accountability and Compensation for Taxpayers legislation that they introduced in May.

The bill would require the EPA to fully reimburse communities for expenses caused by the spill. It would also expedite the payout of emergency response costs for tribes, local and state governments. The letter asks for the “swift consideration” of the bill.

It is one of several pieces of legislation pending approval in Congress concerning the spill, as well as good Samaritan legislation for mine reclamation. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, introduced a similar EPA reimbursement bill in September last year that would also require the EPA to compensate those affected by the spill.

Here’s the release from US Senator Gardner’s office.

#AnimasRiver: Navajo Nation Endorses Superfund Cleanup Of Colorado Mines — CBS Denver

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From the Associated Press via CBS Denver:

The Navajo Nation has formally endorsed a Superfund cleanup of southwestern Colorado mines, including one that released millions of gallons of wastewater into a river on Navajo land.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is considering a Superfund designation for the Gold King Mine and other sites, released the letter Monday…

A Superfund designation could release millions of dollars for a cleanup. The EPA says a decision could come as early as this fall.

Cement Creek aerial photo -- Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

Pollution control systems added to Rico Argentine mine — The Cortez Journal

St Louis Tunnel Ponds June 29, 2010 - view south towards Rico. Photo via the EPA.
St Louis Tunnel Ponds June 29, 2010 – view south towards Rico. Photo via the EPA.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The long-closed site is on about 80 acres just north of Rico. Its leaking St. Louis Tunnel and pond treatment system sit beside the Dolores River, which provides agricultural and municipal water for 27,000 people in two downstream counties, several towns and the Ute Mountain Ute reservation.

But unlike Gold King Mine, the Rico Argentine Mine has had significant pollution-control systems in place. And more control systems are planned, said Paul Peronard, the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup coordinator at the mine.

“Here, we have a great understanding of the mineworks and have controls and monitoring in place, so we know where the pressure is,” Peronard said during a June 29 tour. “Based on that, the risk is pretty low.”

The mine is being reclaimed by Atlantic Richfield Co. under a 2011 Superfund order from the EPA. The reclamation program has four major components: new relief wells, more advanced water treatment, real-time monitoring, and a new waste disposal site.

How crews work to prevent a blowoutConstruction and drilling have begun on two new relief wells that will help drain the tunnel and prevent a blowout.

Mine and EPA officials estimate there is 1.7 million to 2.2 million gallons of water backed up in the mine. The contaminated water has high concentrations of manganese, zinc, copper, arsenic and cadmium.

The Rico Argentine mine’s workings come together to continuously drain through the collapsed St. Louis tunnel at a base flow of 400-600 gallons per minute, spiking to 1,000 gallons per minute in the spring.

But in the past few years, officials have noticed that the pressure behind the collapsed tunnel has been increasing each spring, which they attribute to silt, which has constricted the flow of the drainage.

Monitoring devices in the mine tunnel give operators real-time data on the elevation of the of backed-up water and the built-up pressure. Currently, the water level in the tunnel is at 8,860 feet elevation from sea level. A level considered dangerous is 8,871 feet.

A siphon in the tunnel has been pulling water out and piping it to the treatment facility. But officials fear that is not enough, so two new horizontal relief wells are being drilled into the tunnel to pump backed-up water to the treatment facility. The new wells and pumps are scheduled to be operational by the end of summer.

“We are currently getting water out of there, but let’s not miss the point of preventing a blowout, so we’re installing big relief wells as a redundant safety factor. If it backs up to a level we don’t want, we can pump it out more efficiently,” Peronard said.

Water-treatment system is scaled upA pilot water-treatment system that uses biological controls is working better than expected and is being scaled up to treat higher volumes of mine drainage year-round.

The Enhanced Wetland Demonstration Treatment System is one of two in the nation and is the only one at such a high elevation.

Water from the mine flows through a series of treatment cells with bio-reactor substrates of sawdust and organic material that use bacteria to break down heavy metals.

The treated mine water then flows through a series of 11 settling ponds before being released into the Dolores River.

“The water treatment plant is designed to handle the variable flows and water temperatures year-round,” Peronard said.

The biological system is preferred over the previous lime treatment system, he said, because the spent substrate matrix only has to be replaced every 5-15 years. It also can operate during winter without on-site management in the avalanche-prone area…

“The water here needs to be treated forever, so we want to make the costs as low as possible to give the plant longevity and not be a huge money pit,” Peronard said.

A double-lined, solid waste disposal site has been built at the site to permanently store mine wastes from the abandoned lime-treatment system as well as the toxic sludge that is removed from settling ponds. The pit can hold 60,000 cubic yards of waste, and can be expanded to store up to 365,000 cubic yards of waste.

Systems monitored in real timeCritical systems are wired to be monitored in real time, and there are live cameras throughout the plant. Mine managers and the EPA are notified remotely about the water level and pressure behind the collapsed tunnel, and on flow rates from the mine into the water treatment facility.

“We get real-time readings that ping us on the conditions,” Peronard said. “It’s an impressive system that continuously tracks and monitors operations.”

If a problem threatens the Dolores River, an automated notification system alerts county and emergency managers, irrigation managers, sheriff departments and irrigators.

And the historic and current monitoring data is, or soon will be, posted on the EPA website.

“If the public wanted to know the elevation of water behind the tunnel, they can look it up,” Peronard said.

New dam considered as a backupAs an additional precaution against a blowout, the EPA and Atlantic Richfield are considering building a dam just beyond the St. Louis adit that would be capable of capturing up to 2.2 million gallons of water backed up inside the mine.

“If you did have a catastrophic blowout, the dam would knock everything down right there,” Peronard said.

The plans for the dam are in place, and the EPA will make the decision by the end of the summer on whether it is necessary.

Atlantic Richfield is paying for “99 percent” of the costs of the mitigation and reclamation project at the mine, the EPA said, but total costs were not reported. Eventually, a long-term operator will be contracted to maintain the system, and oversight will be handed off to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The tour gave area water managers confidence that the old mine is being controlled.

“It gives me peace of mind that the are doing a good job with the treatment of water and are planning for larger flows,” said Randy McGuire, water-plant manager for the downstream town of Dolores.

“The redundancies designed into the system raises my confidence level,” said Todd Parisi, emergency operations coordinator for Dolores County.

For documents on the mine cleanup and treatment facility at the Rico-Argentine mine go to https://www.epaosc.org/site/site_profile.aspx?site_id=7459