#AnimasRiver: A consensus strategy for mitigating Cement Creek is coming together

Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Officials are edging closer to recommending a Superfund listing in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill after closed-door meetings Friday.

Gov. John Hickenlooper met with officials from Durango, Silverton and San Juan County late Friday afternoon. After the meeting, the governor said it appears stakeholders are on board to pursue the designation.

“These communities have made it clear that a Superfund designation is the most viable path to address pollution in the affected area and protect our public health and environment,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re all working around the clock to ensure that remaining points of negotiation are resolved in time for the March Federal Register listing in order to move this process forward.”

The governor has until Feb. 29 to meet a deadline extension to propose a new Superfund site in San Juan County.

Local officials are also hopeful that they are getting close to offering a formal opinion on the Superfund designation, which would culminate in a vote by Silverton and San Juan County elected officials. The communities delayed a vote in late January.

There are some outstanding issues to work out, including securing assurances that impacts to the town would be mitigated and ensuring a seat at the table for local governments. But San Juan County Administrator William Tookey believes the area has gone through a bit of an evolution on the subject.

“There’s been a perception that because we haven’t gone out and requested Superfund that we were somewhat anti-clean water, which we haven’t been,” Tookey said, underscoring that the local governments simply wanted assurances. “We recognized that … if in fact a treatment plant is a solution, the resources weren’t there without a Superfund site.”

[…]

Also Friday, the EPA met separately with tribal, state and local government officials for several hours to update them on the spill and plans for monitoring the affected waters.

La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, who represented the county at the meeting, said it was the first time that all stakeholders got together in one room since the spill, including representatives from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.

Even though the meeting concerned public safety, including discussing next steps for a water monitoring plan, the agency opted to close the meeting, citing a legal opinion.

“We reviewed potentially applicable laws and did not find anything. The Sunshine Act does not, by its terms, apply,” an agency spokesperson told The Durango Herald in an email when asked why the meeting was not open to the public.

At the Friday meeting, EPA researchers released a preliminary analysis of water quality to describe the release, transport and final destination of the acid mine drainage. Results must be peer reviewed by an external panel during the week of Feb. 22. The report is expected to be completed by mid-March.

“We estimate that, by the time the plume reached the lower Animas River, the metal load in the plume was roughly equivalent to one day’s worth of high spring runoff,” the preliminary report states.

Researchers say “hot spots” of metal contaminants in the lower Animas and San Juan – unrelated to the spill – may warrant further investigation.

“It may not be possible to isolate the specific effects of the GKM event from the ongoing cumulative effect of multiple sources of metals from past or future runoff,” the preliminary report states.

In September, the EPA released a draft monitoring plan to evaluate pre- and post-event conditions. Sampling activities include water and sediment quality and biological and fish analyses in Cement Creek and the Animas. Cement Creek is a tributary of the Animas.

The EPA plans to collect the data for one year to review results.

Westendorff, however, said outstanding concerns remain with how the monitoring plan will take into account spring runoff, which could begin in as few as six weeks.

“My takeaway is there isn’t a plan now,” Westendorff said. “I hope they can get something worked out because people downstream are getting restless.”

The EPA says it is working on a long-term, robust strategy.

The EPA spokesperson, in emailed responses to questions, added: “Attendees also assessed tribal, state and local interest in collaborative approaches to monitoring water quality and solicit ideas for structuring a water quality monitor program across the watershed going forward.”

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Environmental experts say spring runoff not a concern for dredging up sediment laced with metals from Gold King Mine spill

“When you have more spring runoff, you have a lot more turbulence, so sediments can get remobilized,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

“However, usually the lowest metal concentrations we see throughout the year are during spring runoff, and that’s because you have so much dilution. So I’m not really expecting an issue.”

Scott Roberts, an aquatic biologist with Mountain Studies Institute, said water samples from the Animas during storms in October show little sign of increased metal concentrations.

“I think most people were concerned with the sediment not only deposited around the river margin, but also at the bottom of the channel,” he said. “But it’s amazing how much it seems to already have washed off with the few storms we’ve had. You don’t see a lot of evidence left.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water treatment plant can handle 900 to 1,200 gallons per minute. Currently, the facility treats only discharges from the Gold King Mine, which averages 525 gallons per minute.

Mine discharges usually increase in the spring because of more ground water movement but are diluted in the runoff.

“But we may be dealing with a whole different ground now,” Butler said. “Nobody really knows what the flows are going to be like. That’s why the EPA oversized the treatment there, so they have the capacity to handle it.”

[…]

In the meantime, state health officials are developing a notification stakeholder group to address how best to notify local governments and agencies if a spill occurs.

Health officials added a second monitoring station on Cement Creek above the confluence with the Animas River. The department is coordinating with federal agencies on a long-term monitoring plan for the entire watershed.

“We’re very lucky the disaster did not have a long tail,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told The Durango Herald. “The consequences aren’t as dire as many of us first thought.”

Still, state water experts say they don’t have a full picture of the impact the spring runoff might have.

“I don’t know, and that’s a problem for me,” said Patrick Pfaltzgraff, director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division. “I want to have some certainty, and where I don’t have certainty as a water quality professional, I want to have some process in place to respond to that.”

Broomfield City Council approves $3.7 million wastewater facility expansion — Broomfield Enterprise

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Broomfield Enterprise (Jennifer Rios):

Broomfield City Council gave the green light for the wastewater treatment facility to seek proposals for expansion to their laboratory and administrative office space.

Councilmembers unanimously passed six consent agenda items Tuesday night without discussion…

The Environmental Services Division in Public Works provides laboratory services to the Water and Wastewater Treatment facilities. The laboratories share staff, space and equipment between the two facilities to comply with all water and wastewater regulations in an efficient and cost effective manner.

“The laboratory at the water treatment facility, constructed in 1997, is adequately seized for the staff and work load,” a memo reads. “The laboratory at the wastewater treatment facility, constructed in 1987, has not been expanded to keep up with the additional staff and work lead increase over the last 28 years.”

The lab was built with work space for two staff member, and does not support the five employees and equipment added since 1987.

Burns & McDonnell, a Denver-based engineering firm, was retained in late 2014 to complete a study for the facility, east of Lowell Boulevard on West 124th Avenue, and determined the existing space was about half of the size that is typical for the staffing and testing performed at the facility.

Construction costs are estimated between $3.7 million to $3.8 million, according to a city memo. That amount is included in the 2016 budget.

Erie seeks bids for water plant project — The Denver Post

The water treatment process
The water treatment process

From The Denver Post:

The Town of Erie is accepting bids for the design and construction of the Water Plant Solids Handling Equipment Project at the town’s water treatment facility.

The project includes moving the plant’s powdered-activated carbon system and providing carbon storage. The town also plans to explore options for pretreating water to reduce unwanted tastes and odors.

Bids are being accepted through 3 p.m. Feb. 19.

For more information, visit http://erieco.gov.

State provides $9.4 million for small community wastewater and drinking water system improvements

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Meghan Trubee):

Thirty-two drinking water and wastewater systems in small communities throughout Colorado will receive a total of $9.4 million to fund planning, design or construction of public water systems or treatment works necessary for the protection of public health and water quality.

Governmental agencies, nonprofit public water systems and counties representing unincorporated areas with fewer than 5,000 people were eligible to apply for grants up to $850,000. Funding was provided by the state Legislature under Senate Bill 09-165 and SB14-025.

In the event a recipient cannot accept the grant in whole or part, available funds will be distributed per the small communities grant program rules. This list is subject to change based on contract negotiations.

cpdheawardssmallwaterprojects

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Three Pueblo communities are among 32 entities receiving $9.4 million in state grants for planning, design or construction of water projects.

The Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment announced the funding this week. It is available to small towns or water systems serving fewer than 5,000 people.

Boone, located east of Pueblo, will receive $850,000, which will be used to upgrade its water system.
The town is looking for an alternative source, because its wells suffer from water quality issues, said Mayor Robert Ferriter.

Rye, located southwest of Pueblo, will get $440,000 for its water system. The town has been improving its water system since 2009, when it was under a boil order.

The Avondale Water and Sanitation District will get $596,057 to make sewer improvements.

“We were happy to get it,” said Bert Potestio, president of the district. The grant will be matched by local funds and used to lift water to treatment lagoons. “We plan to start work as soon as possible.”
Several other area water and sanitation providers also are tabbed to receive funds. They include: Pritchett, $185,000; Manassa, $15,000; La Veta, $850,000; Manzanola, $253,328; Baca Grande Water and Sanitation, $88,300; Costilla County (Garcia Water), $99,816; Sheridan Lake Water Co., $609,568; Patterson Valley Water Co., $150,500; Fowler, $304,355; and Bristol Water and Sanitation, $94,500.

SDS: Water treatment plant nearly finished — the Colorado Springs Independent

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…

…a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.

SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”

[…]

There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.

But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.

The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”

While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”

He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

Security water district addresses contamination concerns — KOAA.com

securitywatersanitation

From KOAA.com:

The Security Water and Sanitation District met with the community tonight to address concerns over chemicals that have been detected in the local water supply.

A recent study from the EPA revealed that water in Security, Widefield, and Fountain has traces of PFA, a dangerous chemical.

Although the cities have some of the highest levels, city officials said the levels are still too low to be considered dangerous.

The EPA says the chemical can be removed from water at treatment plants or with activated carbon filters.

All three water districts stress that customers should not be worried about the effect this has on water quality in the area, and said their water is safe to drink.

The EPA is planning to meet with water officials in Security next week to discuss solutions.

Fountain, Widefield, Security [water] systems contain chemicals linked to health hazards — the Colorado Springs Business Journal

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

Known as perfluoroalkyls, or PFAs, research suggests the chemicals are potent carcinogens and endocrine disrupters at levels far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional exposure limits for drinking water.

And no one seems to know where the contaminants are coming from — or even that they were there in the first place. The city of Fountain’s 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report doesn’t mention PFAs or any other “unregulated reportable contaminant.”

Ron Woolsey, who heads Fountain’s Water Department, was unaware of any PFA contamination of the city’s water supply or of the EPA test results. It’s not clear if the EPA reported these results to the three affected systems.

“We get about 70 percent of our water from the Frying Pan/Arkansas project, via Pueblo Reservoir,” he said. “The remaining 30 percent comes from wells in Fountain and wells on the Venetucci Farm that we share with Security and Widefield. When [CSU’s] SDS [Southern Delivery System] comes on line, we’ll get 100 percent of our water from Pueblo Reservoir.”

CSBJ provided Woolsey with links to source documents uncovered for this story.

“Thanks for that information,” he said. “You’re sort of the canary in the coal mine for us. We’re going to investigate further, talk to [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] and figure out what the next step will be. Those [PFA substances] sound pretty alarming.”

Both Colorado Springs and Pueblo use Fry-Ark water, and no PFAs were detected in their water systems.

It could be that water from Fountain Valley wells or surface water sources are contaminated by either landfills or residue from industrial processes, but no one is really sure.