Meeting will address concerns about #Colorado Springs-area water issues — 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 and Ellie Mulder):

Representatives from the EPA, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Air Force, El Paso County Public Health and local water systems will discuss drinking water in the area and answer residents’ questions, El Paso County Public Health announced.

The meeting is from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 7 in Mesa Ridge High School’s auditorium, 6070 Mesa Ridge Parkway.

The meeting comes amid rising concern about the presence of perfluorinated compounds – toxic chemicals that may cause low infant birth weight and certain cancers, which have been found in the Widefield aquifer. The EPA suspects those conditions may happen after years of using contaminated water.

Local water system managers have been working to dilute water taken from the aquifer, to lower the prevalence of those toxic chemicals.

A website established by Colorado’s health department shows three areas along the western edges of Security and Widefield where the water in public systems may exceed the EPA’s recommended levels for the toxic chemicals. Private wells also are at particular risk of being over the EPA’s recommended level.

From KOAA.com:

The utilities department says they are reaching peak demand, and in order to avoid using well water have implemented the water restrictions.

City irrigation is limited to Monday and Friday. Residential irrigation for even numbered addresses is limited to Sunday and Wednesday, irrigation for odd number address is limited to Tuesday and Saturday. Commercial and industrial irrigation is limited to Monday and Friday.

The utilities department is also encouraging customer to irrigate between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on designated irrigation days.

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Fountain limits outdoor watering — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

City wants to avoid using wells that could become contaminated

Fountain restricts outdoor watering to avoid well use.

Fountain gets its primary water supply through the Fountain Valley Conduit from Lake Pueblo and other surface sources, but wants to avoid using wells from the Fountain Creek aquifer.

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency issued advisories for wells in the area south of Colorado Springs for chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS, which were used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics, cookware coatings and firefighting foam, particularly at airports.

Widefield, Security and Fountain are potentially affected, but all of the communities have other supplies and are not in crisis mode. Tests showed evidence of contamination in about one-third of Security’s wells, which were shut down. No contamination was found in Fountain.

“In an attempt to avoid using our well water as a last resort to meet peak demand, and to continue providing 100 percent surface water, we are asking our customers to conserve,” said Curtis Mitchell, utilities director.

Outside irrigation in Fountain will be limited to two days per week for city, residential and commercial uses.

“We will continue to monitor the water supply and water usage and keep the public updated,” Mitchell said.

#AnimasRiver: EPA weighs options for dumping Cement Creek treatment plant sludge

The EPA's wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 -- photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio
The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Environmental Protection Agency officials said Wednesday they are deciding where to haul sludge from the temporary water-treatment plant for Gold King Mine wastewater.

The EPA periodically has updated the communities of San Juan and La Plata counties in recent months as a Superfund proposal moves forward, and most aspects of the agency’s work has been in the evaluation stages thus far.

On Wednesday, the EPA told La Plata County commissioners that the agency is considering whether to dispose of nontoxic sludge produced by the temporary treatment plant at a mining district site or a landfill.

La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake said he opts for the least expensive option.

“It’s not toxic waste, so it can go anywhere,” he said.

Commissioners inquired about the life of the plant, which is supposed to end this fall.

“It was designed and constructed to be an interim measure,” Superfund project manager Rebecca Thomas said. “We’ll continue to evaluate options, but we’ll come up with a comprehensive remedy for the entire mining district.”

Thomas said for now, the temporary plant is operating as usual, and a long-term solution could include a permanent water-treatment facility.

The EPA also is evaluating what Superfund designation will mean for private property owners, officials said Wednesday.

#Colorado Springs helps districts with water contamination — KOAA.com

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

The water districts are all connected through the Fountain Valley Authority and the Southern Delivery System project, which just went online last week. Right now, the SDS is coming in handy for Fountain, Security and Widefield.

Colorado Springs ratepayers turned Thursday’s public meeting about updates to the long-term Integrated Water Resource Plan into a Q&A session, asking what happens when neighboring districts are impacted by fracking, drought and contamination. Springs Utilities revealed to News 5 that the company is already helping in the efforts to deliver clean water to the three impacted communities after learning they had man-made compounds above the EPA’s new advisory level in their groundwater. “Right now, Springs Utilities staff is working with the staff of those entities to determine how they can use their allocations through the Fountain Valley Authority and SDS to augment their groundwater sources,” says CSU water resources manager Brett Gracely.

Colorado Springs shares the Widefield aquifer where the PFCs were found, but it has not used any water from it since the early 2000s. Now the other, smaller districts are scrambling to find other options. Springs citizens agree they should be good neighbors, but are still concerned about their own water. Ratepayer Dennis Moore says, “We’ve got to do something to help them, but how do we help them within our own resources without depleting our resources? It’s going to be interesting, so they’ve got to find a manageable way to do that.”

Instead of using its planned share of Pueblo Reservoir water through SDS and the FVA pipelines, Colorado Springs is letting the others siphon off a greater allotment, using other already established sources to provide water to its customers. Gracely says, “Because it’s a joint public health concern, it’s not well-defined, so we’ll do what we can in terms of in-kind services and our existing collaborations.”

As Colorado Springs continues to explore new options for retaining and delivering water for future generations, citizens agree that it is better to have extra as an insurance plan, since you never know when you will need it. “I remember back when, when people were fighting SDS and everything,” says Moore, “and now I’m beginning to see it’s a very good reason to have it.”

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

#AnimasRiver: New Mexico sues Colorado over #GoldKingMine spill

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Brett Berntsen):

The state of New Mexico has filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado in U.S. Supreme Court, adding to a string of legal actions in response to the Gold King Mine spill.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed the complaint on Monday, alleging that Colorado’s policies and practices led to the Aug. 5 incident. In May, Balderas’ office filed similar lawsuits against the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and two mining companies.

The case against Colorado focuses on the state’s attitude toward the threat that abandoned mines pose to downstream communities. The Gold King Mine spill north of Silverton, Colo., occurred when a crew from the EPA working to address wastewater seepage accidentally released 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River.

New Mexico is demanding reimbursements for the costs incurred during the emergency and for cleanup efforts moving forward. The complaint also calls for Colorado to claim partial responsibility for the spill.

“It was Colorado’s permitting process that ultimately failed,” said Tania Maestas, New Mexico’s Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs. “It was a complete catastrophe that flowed downstream.”

The lawsuit points to a 1996 agreement between Colorado and the Sunnyside Gold Corp., a major mining company in the Bonita Peak Mining District outside Silverton, that allowed the mining company to plug leaking mine shafts, rather than operate expensive water treatment plants. This caused wastewater to build inside abandoned tunnels, eventually spilling out of sites that are higher in elevation, according to the complaint.

These new sources of seepage garnered the attention of the EPA, which in 2011 proposed designating the mining district outside Silverton, Colo., as a Superfund site to spur cleanup efforts. According to the complaint, however, Colorado fought the designation due to its negative connotations, “choosing instead to protect the local tourism and skiing economy.”

“While Colorado refused to act, the volume of water and hydraulic pressure within the Gold King Mine continued to build, setting the stage for the catastrophic blowout,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit also takes issue with Colorado’s plans moving forward.

“It’s the response that’s equally, if not more, frustrating,” said Ryan Flynn, secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department.

Flynn said Colorado has focused on the impacts to recreation and tourism, rather than addressing the needs of downstream stakeholders in New Mexico. He said the move to sue is a last resort, but efforts to communicate outside of court have failed to produce results.

Colorado’s Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, however, expressed concern that the lawsuit will cost unnecessary amounts of time and money.

“I have done what I can within the bounds of my power and authority as Attorney General to resolve this matter without litigation,” Coffman said in a statement on Wednesday. “It could take years, even decades, to resolve this.”

Flynn said he thinks New Mexico has a strong case, though, and hopes that it will prompt action.

“Our job is to protect New Mexico,” he said. “All we want is to start getting results.”

Flynn added that he is open to further discussion if Colorado chooses to rethink its response. He said the issue lies in the state government, not with regional officials north of the state border.

Kim Carpenter, San Juan County’s executive officer, echoed this sentiment. He said he has worked well with county officials in Colorado, but doesn’t agree with how higher-ups in Denver have handled the situation.

“At times, it seems the state doesn’t think this is a big deal,” Carpenter said.

The gravity of the situation, however, is one of the main points that New Mexico has consistently argued. Flynn said the mine spill caused immense economic and environmental damage and will continue to pose problems in the future.

“We want communities to be compensated for their losses,” Flynn said. “When people think about the Four Corners, I don’t want the image to be a yellow river.”

The lawsuit seeks restitution for the financial damages suffered in the wake of the spill, including declines in tourism and crop losses for farmers.

Maestas said the case against Colorado doesn’t specify a dollar amount. She said the federal tort claim against the EPA asks for $154 million, and it would be up to the EPA to determine how much Colorado would pay.

From The Albuquerque Journal (Dan Boyd):

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Supreme Court this week by Attorney General Hector Balderas and outside attorneys hired by the state Environment Department, seeks reimbursement for all costs – including “stigma” damages – connected to the mine spill, in which more than 3 million gallons of toxic waste was spewed into a tributary of the Animas River and flowed into New Mexico.

“The Gold King Mine release is the result of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price,” Balderas said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn described the lawsuit as a last resort, saying his agency’s attempts to negotiate a deal with Colorado officials have been unsuccessful.

“We can’t continue to wait,” Flynn told the Journal . “At some point, we have an obligation with the citizens we’re serving to move forward.”

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges a Colorado department signed off on a plan to block the tunnels of a closed mine in the same network as the Gold King Mine with concrete plugs – or bulkheads – to try to block acidic wastewater from escaping, the lawsuit alleges.

The plan essentially turned the mine into an “enormous wastewater storage facility” and Colorado environment officials were aware of the possible risk of a blowout, the suit claims.

“It’s going to be very difficult for Colorado to explain why they ignored these warnings,” Flynn said…

In addition to the lawsuit against Colorado, New Mexico has also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the EPA and the owners of the Gold King Mine that seeks more than $136 million in damages. That amount would include money to pay for economic losses the state attributes to the mine spill, specifically in the tourism, recreation and agriculture sectors.

New Mexico is no stranger to lawsuits with its neighbors. The state has also been embroiled in a lengthy legal battle with Texas that hinges on whether groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico is draining the Rio Grande and depriving downriver water users in the Lone Star State from their rightful share.

That lawsuit also was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, as is typically the case when one state sues another.

In the Wednesday interview, Flynn acknowledged interstate lawsuits are typically not resolved quickly and said there’s a good likelihood the case could still be pending when Gov. Susana Martinez’s second term expires at the end of 2018.

“Anytime you go to court, there’s some risk,” Flynn said, adding that New Mexico officials are still open to negotiating with Colorado and hopeful the case might be resolved out of court.

Both mine spill lawsuits are being driven by Attorney General Balderas, a Democrat, working with the administration of Martinez, a two-term Republican.

This week’s lawsuit claims Colorado’s actions have “prejudiced New Mexico’s economy, finances and natural resources, and have injured the health, comfort, safety and property of New Mexico’s citizens.”

Although New Mexico officials have taken a hard-line approach to the Gold King Mine spill fallout, some Colorado officials have said their testing shows no risk to human health from the contaminants.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper even drank water from the Animas River just days after the spill – after adding an iodine tablet to purify the water – in an attempt to downplay environmental concerns.

“If that shows that Durango is open for business, I’m happy to help,” Hickenlooper said, according to the Durango Herald.

From the Associated Press via the The Denver Post:

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the state Environment Department announced late Wednesday that they filed a complaint against Colorado with the U.S. Supreme Court.

It marks the second major legal salvo fired by New Mexico in the wake of the August 2015 spill, which fouled rivers in three western states with a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals…

New Mexico is also suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the owners of two mines.

“We had hoped EPA and Colorado would try to work with us and come up with solutions,” New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn told The Associated Press. “But the state of Colorado, its leadership, seems intent on defending EPA at every turn and is unwilling to work with us to move forward in a meaningful manner.”

The EPA has declined to comment on the litigation, but it has said repeatedly that it takes responsibility for the cleanup.

Colorado officials previously declined to comment on New Mexico’s claims, citing possible litigation…

The EPA said water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels. But New Mexico officials and others continue to warn about heavy metals collecting in the sediment and getting stirred up each time rain or snowmelt results in runoff.

The lawsuit against Colorado details the results of recent soil samples taken north of Durango, Colorado, where discolored sediment was visible at residential properties. The results showed lead at concentrations far above the risk level established by EPA.

The lawsuit also outlines the business and regulatory history of the Sunnyside Gold Mine, where operators were allowed to install plugs — or bulkheads — that eventually caused wastewater to back up and fill the mine and its workings. That led to problems at nearby mines.

The shuttering of a water treatment plant for mine discharge further aggravated the situation, according to New Mexico officials.

By 2011, acidic drainage from four inactive mine sites at and above the former treatment plant — including at Gold King Mine — was pouring into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River, at a rate of nearly 850 gallons per minute, according to the lawsuit.

“The Gold King Mine release was the coup de gr—ce of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price,” the lawsuit states.

New Mexico contends Colorado’s past, present and ongoing conduct and the resulting contamination amounts to a public nuisance.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said New Mexicans rely on the Animas and San Juan rivers for drinking water, ranching, farming, tourism and more, so communities must be compensated and protected from future health and safety risks.

The state is seeking damages and demands that Colorado address the problems at the mines.

New Mexico and Colorado officials had been in talks for months, and Flynn said the state is still open to discussions in hopes of settling with the EPA and Colorado.

“We’re here out of necessity,” Flynn said. “I would prefer to spend time and resources resolving this rather than duking it out in court.”

Colorado Springs woman fights for free bottled water for Security-Widefield, Fountain residents

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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ellie Mulder):

In an online petition that has received about 2,000 signatures, Callie Loudenber is asking local and state officials to pay for bottled water and filters for El Paso County residents whose water she calls “dangerous.”

[…]

After reading about the issue Friday, Loudenber ran an online search on how to create a petition. She was directed to change.org.

She began sharing the petition on her personal social media, and it soon took off.

Although she is asking for short-term solutions, including free bottled water, she also is advocating for a long-term solution “that doesn’t increase these residents bills to pay for a problem they didn’t create and have been living with for years,” according to the petition.

She emphasizes that someone doesn’t have to live in the Security area to be concerned about the issue of contaminated water.

“I want it in people’s minds. I want people to be talking about it, thinking about it – not just in Colorado,” she said. “This could happen anywhere, and it’s something we need to take seriously.”

She’s a stay-at-home mother who lives in Colorado Springs, but she has already witnessed the effect the situation is having on her family members who live in Security Water District’s Zone 1. Her aunt, for example, has asked family not to visit because “she doesn’t feel comfortable” about it, Loudenber said.

In addition to creating the petition, she has reached out to businesses and organizations, including Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, which will hold a bottled water distribution for affected residents from 10 a.m. to noon Friday at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, 5354 U.S. Highway 85.

Loudenber said she plans to volunteer at the distribution.

Shannon Brice, Care and Share’s marketing and communications director, said the organization wants to make sure residents don’t have to cut into their food budgets to buy bottled water.

“We’re well aware of the need for people to have healthy food and nourishment for their bodies,” Brice said. “We wanted to make sure we were part of the solution.”

Danielle Oller, spokeswoman for El Paso County Public Health, said a community meeting is planned for 6 p.m. July 7 to provide “clear information to residents to address the concerns that they’re having. Information about the location will be released shortly.

The county will also test private wells for free, Oller said. For more information, call El Paso County Public Health at 575-8602.

On the petition’s page, Loudenber shares links to articles and places to go for further information. Many include examples of how other states have dealt with similar issues.

“I’m really careful to make sure I stay away from anything that looks like it might be relayed to a conspiracy theory, because I don’t want to invalidate what we’re doing,” she said.

The petition, titled “Free Bottled Water for Security, CO,” can be found at http://change.org/p/colorado-governor-free-bottled-water-for-security-co.

New Study Quantifies Benefits of Agricultural Conservation in Upper Mississippi River Basin

A harvested field in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Credit: USGS.
A harvested field in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Credit: USGS.

Here’s the release from the USGS (Anne Berry Wade/Sarah Haymaker):

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have published a new study that demonstrates that agricultural conservation practices in the upper Mississippi River watershed can reduce nitrogen inputs to area streams and rivers by as much as 34 percent.

The study combined USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) data with the USGS SPARROW watershed model to measure the potential effects of voluntary conservation practices, which historically have been difficult to do in large river systems, because different nutrient sources can have overlapping influences on downstream water quality.

“These results provide new insights on the benefits of conservation practices in reducing nutrient inputs to local streams and rivers and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sarah Ryker, Interior’s acting assistant deputy for Water and Science. “The incorporation of agricultural conservation practice information into watershed models helps us better understand where water quality conditions are improving and prioritize where additional conservation actions are needed.”

Until this study, nutrient reductions have been difficult to detect in the streams because changes in multiple sources of nutrients (including non-agricultural sources) and natural processes (e.g., hydrological variability, channel erosion) can have confounding influences that conceal the effects of improved farming practices on downstream water quality. The models used in this study overcame these difficulties to help validate the downstream benefits of farmers’ conservation actions on the land.

“As the results of this valuable collaboration with the USGS indicate, voluntary conservation on agricultural lands is improving water quality. When multiple farmers, ranchers and working forest land managers in one region come together to apply the conservation science, the per acre conservation benefit is greatly enhanced,” said USDA Natural Resources and Environment Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills. “While there are no short-term solutions to complex water quality issues, USDA is committed to continuing these accelerated voluntary conservation efforts, using collaborative science to target conservation in watersheds where the greatest benefits can be realized.”

Nutrient reductions attributable to agricultural conservation practices in the region ranged from five to 34 percent for nitrogen and from one to 10 percent for total phosphorus, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

High levels of nutrients containing nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural and urban areas contribute to hypoxic regions (low oxygen “dead zones”) in offshore marine waters.

The study underscored evidence that slowing the water and routing it into the ground can significantly reduce the nitrogen that is eventually transported to streams. Structural and erosion control practices, such as conservation tillage, in the Upper Mississippi River Basin have been shown to reduce runoff and peak flows, thereby increasing water infiltration into the soils and the subsurface geology. An added benefit of these conservation actions is that, in some areas, hydrological and biogeochemical conditions in the subsurface can promote the removal of nitrogen by natural biological processes.

Phosphorus reductions were lower than was seen for nitrogen, possibly because of long time lags between conservation actions and the time it may take for sediment-bound phosphorus to move downstream. In addition, some erosion control practices, such as no-till and reduced tillage, have been shown to increase soluble phosphorus levels in farm runoff, which can potentially offset some benefits from erosion control practices.

The innovative approach combined information from process-based models from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with a USGS hybrid statistical and process-based model to quantify the environmental benefits of agricultural conservation practices at a regional scale.

The USGS watershed model was calibrated with data from over 700 water-quality monitoring stations operated by numerous local, state, and federal agencies throughout the Upper Mississippi River basin. The investigation used the most recently available farmer survey data from CEAP (2003-2006), together with stream water-quality data that are approximately coincident with the time period (1980s to 2004, with the average centered on 2002) over which farmer conservation practices, as measured in the survey, were adopted.

Additional information on the USGS SPARROW modeling approach and a nutrient mapper and an online decision support tool for the Mississippi River basin is available online.