Telluride: “People don’t want to talk about pipes. It’s just not sexy” — Greg Clifton

Photo via
Photo via

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Justin Criado):

The 2017 General Fund budget is approximately $200,000 more than the current year’s amended budget, with the biggest difference being indirect project costs.

Areas of focus next year will be water and wastewater projects as the city continues to replace outdated water lines, update treatment plant technology, and develop better ways to store and treat water and wastewater.

Water and wastewater projects are covered through separate enterprise funds, which use taxes and service fees to raise capital.

“People don’t want to talk about pipes. It’s just not sexy,” Town Manager Greg Clifton said of the current pipe-replacement project. “But when water doesn’t come out of the faucet, our phones will ring.

“There’s so much work behind the scenes just to make sure water comes out of the faucet.”
For 2017, projected Water Fund revenues are $2.6 million, while projected expenditures are $3.5 million.

The town currently is replacing a 60-year-old pipe along East Colorado Avenue as part of a comprehensive project to revamp the infrastructure.

Plans to replace more pipes around town and the Bridal Veil Basin are in the works for next year, including repairs to pipes that carry water through the Lewis and Blue lakes areas.

“We’re chipping away on these things,” Clifton said. “(Colorado Avenue) was our worst pipe.”

Efforts to improve the water system have been ongoing for some time now, Clifton explained, including construction of the Pandora Water Treatment Plant in 2014.

The Mill Creek Water Treatment Plant is in need of equipment and holding tank updates, which are projected to be $278,500, according to city officials.

A new computer-monitored control panel will be installed to help regulate the lines, and one of the two holding tanks will be relined.

Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud explained that water lines need almost constant maintenance.

“I think we’re doing pretty good in that regard, but we do have some differed maintenance,” Ruud said.

Karen Guglielmone, environmental and engineering division manager for the town, explained during a recent budget workshop session that replacing pipes and fixing leaks in the Bridal Veil Basin and surrounding areas is difficult given the potentially treacherous location.

“It’s a hodgepodge of various pipe types. Much of it still has to be replaced,” Guglielmone said. “It’s very dangerous to get up there during avalanche season.”

The projected Wastewater Fund revenues for 2017 are just under $2.3 million, while projected expenditures are $2.8 million.

Treatments to remove chemicals from wastewater will be an area of focus in an effort to comply with new state regulations regarding wastewater care, Clifton said.

EPA probes toxic Colorado mine tunnels, investigates possible harm to human health — The Denver Post

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 Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Crews are debating whether to try to contain toxic mine drainage or funnel it out and clean it perpetually at huge expense

Colorado and federal authorities want to resolve the issue as soon as possible because today’s untreated flow into Animas headwaters — averaging 3,750 gallons a minute — may be hurting not only the environment but human health, officials said recently.

All it would take inside this abandoned Red and Bonita Mine tunnel is a turn of the blue screw on that bulkhead plug to stop hundreds of gallons of the [acid mine drainage] from leaking. But if the EPA crew does turn that screw, shutting a valve, the blockage could cause new toxic blowouts from other mountainside tunnels, veins, faults and fissures.

So, for now, the feds are letting Animas River mines drain, tolerating the massive toxic discharge that equates to more than a dozen Gold King disasters every week.

“We don’t want to discount the Gold King spill, but it is good to keep it in perspective,” said EPA project chief Rebecca Thomas, who’s managing cleanup at the now-stabilized Gold King Mine and 47 other mining sites above Silverton.

“Think about the millions of gallons draining each day. It’s something we should be paying attention to as a society – because of the impact on water quality,” Thomas said.

The environmental damage from contaminants such as zinc and aluminum (measured at levels up to tens of thousands of parts per billion) already has been documented: fish in Animas headwaters cannot reproduce. But questions remain about harm caused by lead in water at exceptionally elevated levels up to 1,800 parts per billion, cadmium at up to 200 ppb, arsenic at up to 1,800 ppb and other heavy metals.

The EPA this month intensified an investigation of possible effects on people at 15 U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, American Indians whose traditions take them to high valleys, and vehicle riders who churn dust along roads.

Lead contamination at the Kittimack Tailings, a popular 8-acre course for off-road riding, has been measured at 3,800 parts per million, which is 7.6 times higher than the federal health limit. EPA scientists, collecting water and dirt samples this month, planned to interview campground hosts, all-terrain vehicle tour guides and southern Ute tribe members — assessing possible exposures.

If people inhale or ingest contaminants around any of the 48 mine sites, cleanup at that site would be prioritized, EPA officials said.

The federal Superfund cleanup of toxic mines across 80 square miles in southwestern Colorado is shaping up as one of the EPA’s largest mining legacy projects, contingent on Congress and agency chiefs lining up funds. EPA restoration work here is expected to set the standard for dealing with a wide western problem involving tens of thousands of toxic mines contaminating streams and rivers, for which total cleanup costs have been estimated at more than $20 billion.

In the past, cleanup work at toxic mines in Colorado stalled because of technical difficulty, lack of will and scarce funds. No work has been done for years at the collapsing Nelson Tunnel above Creede, where millions of gallons of some of the West’s worst unchecked acid mine drainage contaminates headwaters of the Rio Grande River, despite a 2008 federal designation as a Superfund environmental disaster.

But EPA officials are pushing for this post-Gold King cleanup including 48 Animas sites, concentrated around Bonita Peak above Silverton, because an EPA-led team in August 2015 accidentally triggered a blowout — setting off a 3 million-gallon spill that turned the river mustard-yellow in three states and sent contaminants nearly as far as the Grand Canyon.

This month, EPA project leaders, bracing for winter snowfall that limits what they can do until summer, anticipated a mix of different solutions at the various sites — each unique with different conditions. They’re considering construction of water treatment plants, like the temporary plant set up to neutralize and filter drainage from the Gold King Mine.

That plant has cleaned 273 million gallons of water over the past year before discharging it into Cement Creek, one of three main headwaters creeks flowing into the Animas River. Meanwhile, six surrounding toxic mines along Cement Creek drain an untreated sulfuric acid flow measured at 1,476 gallons per minute to 7,590 gallons.

A water treatment plant can cost up to $100 million with annual operational costs as high as $1 million.

EPA officials said they’ll combine installation of water treatment systems with bulkhead plugs to hold acid muck inside mountains. And the feds also are exploring use of “bio-treatment” systems using plants and plastic devices to filter and remove contaminants.

The overall cleanup is expected to take years.

“Ideally, we would come up with a way to take care of the water that did not involve a lot of very expensive, in-perpetuity water treatment,” Thomas said.

There are questions dogging hydrologists and toxicologists as they embark on remediation studies.They want to know how mining tunnels, dozens of natural fissures and faults, and mineral veins are connected.

“That is a big puzzle piece,” Thomas said, because subsurface links will determine whether bulkhead plugs safely can be used to contain toxic muck without raising water tables and triggering new blowouts.

They want to know how much acid water is backed up in major tunnels, including the American Tunnel and the Terry Tunnel, and in the Sunnyside Mine. The Sunnyside was the largest mine in the area and the last to close in 1991. EPA officials said natural faults or fissures may connect acid water backed-up Sunnyside water in the American Tunnel, where bulkheads have been installed, with the Gold King Mine.

Canada-based Kinross Corp., which owns Sunnyside, is considered a potentially responsible party, along with Gold King owner Todd Hennis, liable for a share of cleanup costs.

And EPA officials say they are monitoring underground changes that may be affecting flows from at least 27 draining tunnels — called adits — that contribute to contamination of Animas headwaters. The state-backed installation of plugs over the past decade may have triggered the rising groundwater levels that documents show the EPA and state agencies have known about for years.

For example, orange sludge oozed from a grate at the Natalie Occidental Mine — one of the worst sources of untreated mine waste — north of the Silverton Mountain ski area.

EPA on-scene coordinator Joyel Dhieux inspected it this month, hiking beneath snow-dusted mountain peaks. The backed-up sludge obscured a culvert installed years ago by state mining regulators. A huge tailings heap, leaching contaminants into a creek, suggested significant underground tunnels.

“The sludge could create a blockage in the mine that could increase the risk of a blowout. … This will require thoughtful planning,” Dhieux said. “Kittimack could be easy. You go in and remove the mine tailings. This one, it could be a more complex solution because of the risk. … This is an ‘unknown unknown.’ I honestly don’t know what the mine works look like behind this grate.”

And then there’s the problem inside that Red and Bonita Mine tunnel where a bulkhead plug is installed but not closed. Dhieux and her crew determined the plug, installed in 2015, 15 feet thick and framed in steel, appears solid.

If the EPA closes the bulkhead, she and other EPA officials said, it will be done very slowly. They’re considering a partial closure, as a test, next summer. The plan is for dozens of researchers to fan out across green mountain valleys, while contractors inside the tunnel turn the screw, watching for sudden orange spurts.

Loveland: Algae bloom in Green Ridge Glade Reservoir update

Green Ridge Glade Reservoir
Green Ridge Glade Reservoir

From The City of Loveland (Gretchen Stanford):

I hear your concerns about the water quality and taste and odor issues we are experiencing in Loveland. My goal is to be as transparent as possible by sharing information about what is causing the taste and odor issues in Loveland and what Loveland Water and Power (LWP) is doing to resolve the problem.

Loveland has been abuzz for months about the unusually large, stubborn algae bloom at Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, one source of Loveland’s drinking water. Although this bloom is fierce, the drinking water in Loveland still meets federal regulatory requirements, plus even more-stringent state standards, for drinking water.

This algae bloom in particular is the largest we have ever seen. As a result of the 2013 flood, more nutrients have entered into runoff as it makes its way to our reservoir. The extreme heat and abundant sunshine we have had this summer developed into the perfect storm for an enormous algae bloom.

This bloom has revealed new algae species that reproduce more quickly and produce stronger geosmin, the compound that causes taste and odor issues. Additionally, the Big Thompson River is now afflicted with a significant level of the same algae. We cannot treat the free-flowing river water in the same way as we do the reservoir. And at this time, we are blending water from both the river and the reservoir at the Water Treatment Plant (WTP).

LWP water quality specialists are closely monitoring water quality by testing water samples at the Water Treatment Plant as well as at homes and businesses throughout the city on a daily basis. We are also treating the reservoir with a hydrogen peroxide-based algaecide that was developed as an environmentally safe alternative to copper-based algaecides. The only end-products of the treatment we use are oxygen and water. In addition, we are using a safe, absorbent activated-carbon compound inside the treatment plant to remove as much taste, odor and color from the water as possible.

Our technical staff continues to explore safe alternatives for treating algae blooms in the future while walking a thin line between the price tag of new technology and reasonable rates for our customers. Next week, LWP will begin a feasibility study to evaluate options for algae mitigation. The study will include permanent aeration or oxygenation system in the reservoir. We will also do a preliminary design of a larger system to store and dispense the activated carbon compound at the WTP. Unfortunately, those large capital costs are currently not budgeted.

While we would like to predict when the algae will die, it is important to note that algae is a living, unpredictable organism. Blooms usually end shortly after the first frost but we have no way to predict when that might be. We will continue to update our website http://www.cityofloveland/waterquality and Facebook page with timely information as we receive it.

The safety and quality of our drinking water is one of LWP’s most important goals. We recognize the vital role water plays in our daily lives. LWP takes water quality very seriously and will continue to produce safe, clean drinking water for our customers. We ask for your patience while we work to resolve this problem and find a way to prevent it in the future.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

An algae bloom in Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, the worst Loveland’s Water and Power division has experienced, is to blame for the unsavory taste and odor plaguing the city’s water supply. The blue-green algae is harmless, health-wise, according to state lab test results.

While the minuscule taste-and-odor compound released by the algae makes the taste disgusting, a lucky 25 percent of residents think the water’s fine because they can’t taste or smell the compound.

Soon, the other 75 percent of the city will have better-tasting water. The first hard freeze will mean a slow die-off of the algae bloom, water treatment manager Scott Dickmeyer said. After that, the water’s taste and smell should return to normal within a week or two.

But Loveland will have to invest in some new mitigation methods to keep the algae at bay.

Green Ridge Glade has always been susceptible to algae growth because it’s deep and relatively still. It’s not a recreation hub like Horsetooth Reservoir, from which Fort Collins gets its water, and water doesn’t flow in and out of it at a rapid rate like at Horsetooth because Loveland is its sole user.

So as temperatures rise, the reservoir’s deeper, stiller water produces nutrients that promote the growth of anabaena, a type of algae common in water systems.

Loveland officials use a hydrogen peroxide-based product to kill the algae, but the issue has gotten worse since the 2013 Big Thompson floods because of the nutrient influx and the mysterious introduction of a new species of algae that’s harder to kill.

That’s why even though the algae issue is nothing new, many residents noticed it for the first time late this summer…

The city’s been using powder-activated carbon to remove the taste-and-odor compound from the water and funneling more Big Thompson River water into its treatment plant, but each method has drawbacks.

Powder-activated carbon removes only 50 to 60 percent of the compound because it’s not great at trapping such tiny particles. Loveland’s treated water contains about 20 to 40 parts of the compound per trillion parts of water…

“It’s a very, very small amount, but most people are very, very sensitive to it,” Dickmeyer said. “It only takes about 5 parts per trillion for our customers to start noticing it.”

And within the last few weeks, algae started cropping up in the Big Thompson River, so diluting the taste with another water source wasn’t an option.

Loveland Water and Power is considering adding oxygen to the reservoir to discourage algae growth. The division is also considering more aggressive treatment options that won’t “cost a fortune,” Dickmeyer said.

CU grads invent water filter that targets hormones —


From (Nicole Brady):

Hormones can get into the water by seeping out of of landfills, through human and livestock waste, and industry waste. A filter like Brita won’t get rid of hormones. An expensive reverse osmosis filtration system will, but Noestra is designed to be an affordable alternative — and well worth that price, considering the impact hormones can have on our health.

“Over time, we’ve found those hormonal balances really do add up and it does have a serious effect on your overall well-being,” co-creator Emma Jacobs said.

And if you need evidence that hormones are indeed messing with our natural balance, consider what the Noestra creators found when they tested water from the Boulder Creek.

“This is what usually scares people,” says Eversbusch. “You can measure the amount of hormone by semester. So in the fall and spring it’s pretty high, and when all the students leave in the summer it’s much lower.”

Keystone: Greeley Water wins taste and odor competition at RMSAWWA conference

LadyDragonflyCC -- Creative Commons, Flickr
LadyDragonflyCC — Creative Commons, Flickr


Nine municipalities from a three state region competed for the title of best drinking water based on taste, odor and appearance.

The judges at a taste test at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works (RMSAWWA) annual conference in Keystone deemed Greeley as the city with the best water in the region.

Nine municipalities from a three state region competed for the title of best drinking water based on taste, odor and appearance.

The winner of this competition will represent the RMSAWWA at the national “Best of the Best” taste test at the AWWA Conference in Philadelphia next June.

Castle Rock Water was named runner-up.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

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

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The EPA has stabilized the collapsing mouth of the Gold King Mine, cementing heaps of rock and sediment dug up during mining’s glory days, trying to prevent another blowout and pioneer a solution to the West’s continuing acid metals contamination of coveted water.

And as the feds push through this work, they face once-resistant Colorado communities that are increasingly keen on having a clean watershed.

The action this summer in the mine-scarred mountains above Silverton is raising expectations that, whatever final fix may be made at the Gold King, it will build momentum for dealing with toxic mines elsewhere.

That all depends on Congress lining up funding.

At the Gold King’s timberline portal, an EPA team sprayed gray cement across an area 50 feet high and 30 feet wide to secure entry. Initially, EPA workers crawled into the mine on hands and knees over planks put down to keep them from sinking into orange-hued acid metals muck. They installed cement blocks and a wooden dam to divert a 691 gallons-a-minute toxic discharge…

Then the EPA team welded steel frames 63 feet deep into a cleared 18 foot-wide tunnel. They buttressed the tunnel deeper, another 67 feet in, drilling in expanding screws, steel bolts and grates. They’re pumping that acid metals discharge through a partially buried pipeline that runs 4,000 feet to a temporary waste treatment plant.

At the plant, EPA contractors — mixing in a ton a day of lime to neutralize the 8.3 pH acid flow to 3.5 pH — recently sliced open bulging sacks filled with reddish-brown sludge. They spread 3,500 cubic yards of the sludge across a flat area to dry, trying to extend the plant’s capacity to clean Gold King muck.

Generators rattle. A canary-yellow air tube snakes out the mouth as workers in helmets with head lamps hike in.

Down in town, Silverton and San Juan County leaders’ recent about-face — from a tribe-like mistrust of the EPA toward eagerness to get cleanup done at the Gold King and 46 other sites — is becoming more adamant. Some locals say they see economic benefits if mining’s toxic hangover can be cured. And Silverton’s town manager is broadening his appeal to the nation’s most ambitious geologists to make this a hub for hydrology research…

Next, the EPA must officially designate a National Priority List disaster and find a Superfund or other way to cover cleanup costs — action that’s delayed until fall. Then in the Superfund process, the EPA would start studies to find the best way to fix each of the Animas sites.

At issue is whether final cleanup should rely on water plants, costing up $26 million each, to treat mine drainage perpetually, saddling future generations with huge bills — or aim for a more complicated “bulkhead” plug approach that could contain acid muck inside mountains, perhaps using pressure sensors to give early warning of blowouts…

But Silverton and San Juan County leaders last month said they’re mostly pleased with EPA progress at the mine, though federal muzzling of front-line crews and access restrictions have impeded close-up inspection.

Outstanding issues include locals seek assurances water treatment will continue until final cleanup is done; a demand for reimbursement of $90,000 they spent — “They did pay one tithing, and promised more,” Kuhlman said; and a desire to close off an ore heap used by motorcross riders along the Animas…

A solution based on plugging likely would be controversial. State-backed bulkheads installed near the Gold King Mine “are what started this whole problem,” Commissioner Kuhlman said, referring to the plugs in the American Tunnel of the Sunnyside Mine, which backed up mine muck and doubled discharges from mines in the area — setting up the Gold King blowout. A bulkhead installed in the adjacent Red and Bonita Mine hasn’t been closed.

The appeal is that holding water inside mountains means the acidic muck, which forms when natural water leaches minerals exposed by mining, does less harm.