ARSG MEETING SUMMARY
June 28, 2016
ATTENDEES: Peter Butler, Steve Fearn, Chuck Wanner, John Ott, Bob Oswald, Melody Skinner, Buck Skillen, Mark Rudolph, William Tookey, Chris Tookey, Trevor Denny, Laura Jenkins, Jonah Seifer, Amy Rawn, Lea Linse, Emelle Frojen, Mollie Podmore, Joseph Friedland, Brendan Boepple, Ann McCoy-Harold, Larry Perino, Ray Ferguson, John Ferguson, Bill Coughlin, Briana Greer, Cordel Schmidt, Fred Knight, Dave Philips, Ron Borrego, Ty Churchwell, Anthony Culpepper, and Paul Nazaryk.
In early May, Steve and Peter took Sen. Cory Gardner and EPA Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath up Cement Creek for a short tour. EPA contractors and staff showed them the treatment facility at Gladstone.
New Mexico filed a lawsuit against EPA and Kinross (Sunnyside) in federal district court over damages caused by the Gold King spill. The state also filed a lawsuit against the State of Colorado in the Supreme Court for its role in the spill. Unfortunately, these lawsuits have made cooperation and collaborative efforts to improve water quality more difficult, especially for the entities being sued.
San Juan Mining & Reclamation Conference – Aug. 3-5. This in an annual conference hosted by Mountain Studies Institute and several watershed groups in the San Juans. The venue rotates around to different towns. This year it happens to be in Durango. See below to register.
San Juan Mining & Reclamation Conference
Ty Churchwell reported on Good Samaritan legislation. Several bills passed out of a committee in the House one of which includes a Good Samaritan component (H.R. 3843). This one bill passed out of one committee but has also been referred to two others.
Aquatic life in the Animas – Sampling by MSI since the spill. – Anthony Culpepper with MSI summarized some of MSI’s sampling activity this past spring. MSI has been taking weekly samples in Durango throughout the spring, plus some opportunistic sampling when the river has looked discolored. They’ve also taken macroinvertebrate samples. Overall, the macroinvertebrates appear not to have been harmed by the spill. The Colo. Dept. of Parks and Wildlife had the same finding with regards to fish. The macroinvertebrates did have higher levels of copper in their tissue after the spill than before which is not surprising since the Gold King has a lot of copper. MSI has a very nice graphical analysis of it water quality sampling on its website. MSI Water Quality Sampling Analysis
(Several notes on MSI’s spring water quality data taken in Durango: the only metals that were near or exceeded water quality standards were manganese, lead, aluminum and iron. Manganese levels were no different than they usually are, but they do exceed the EPA secondary drinking water standard. This is not a health or environmental standard. This standard is designed to reduce staining on plumping fixtures.
For two samples, lead was higher than the instream water supply standard, which we have seen before in a couple of samples over the years. It has been a very rare occurrence. The water supply standard is used to help drinking water treatment plants meet drinking water lead standards after treatment. The drinking water standard for lead is ten times lower than the instream water supply standard and is based upon an individual’s lifetime of drinking that water. Durango has never had an issue with lead in drinking water. Treatment of drinking water removes at least 90% of all lead.
There were aluminum samples above the chronic aluminum standard as there have been in years past. But the aluminum standard is based upon the median of samples collected over a time period. In other words, just under half of all samples can be over the numeric standard, and the standard is still not exceeded. The chronic aluminum standard was not exceeded in Durango this spring.
The chronic iron standard is also based upon the median of a number of samples. In this case, more than half of samples were above the standard so that it was exceeded this spring. Typically, it is not exceeded. Iron is not toxic. The standard is based upon the smothering of the substrate where most macroinvertebrates live.)
Comments that have been submitted on Superfund Designation – There were 48 comments submitted about the designation. Only a small number of them discussed particular data, process issues, or site specifics. Several comments referred to specific issues contained in the San Juan County and Town of Silverton letters requesting the Superfund designation. Most of the comments that contained a discussion of specific issues came from participants in ARSG.
We put this item on the agenda in case people wanted to discuss any particular issues at the meeting. There wasn’t a lot of discussion.
EPA Activities for Summer – Sampling, Possible Remediation Sites, Treatment Plant Operation. EPA undertook a major sampling effort in mid-June to catch the peak spring runoff. The Animas, Cement Creek, and Mineral Creek were all sampled. There will be another major low-flow sampling event in late September. There will also be some fish habitat surveys in Sept. In July, many of the mine waste sites proposed for Superfund listing will be sampled.
The treatment plant at Gladstone continues to be operated, and EPA is committed to continue its operation at least through November. Some of the geotubes which hold the sludge from treatment have been opened up, and the sludge has been spread out in a lined area to dry. Still no word on where its final resting place will be.
More work is being done on the Gold King to stabilize the entrance. We should hear more about their planned activities at the July meeting.
Update on BLM Activities – No one from BLM attended the meeting. BLM has contracted with USGS to do fish habitat surveys in several locations in the Upper Animas Basin. The primary focus is the Animas above Howardsville, potentially including some tributaries. They also may survey Mineral Creek, including South Mineral. BLM is also assessing the cultural values of the mine sites proposed for the Bonita Peak Superfund site.
Update on Forest Service Activities – No one from the Forest Service attended the meeting. The Forest Service is planning on some remediation activities regarding mine waste on Forest Service land for this summer. The main site is the Bonner Mine although there are others in the Mineral Creek drainage.
ARSG Speaking Activities since Gold King spill – This item was put off for a later meeting.
Real-Time Water Quality Monitoring System – Trevor Denny with the Office of Emergency Management in Durango briefed the group on the real time water quality monitoring that is occurring on the Animas River. There are stations monitoring pH, specific conductance, flow, temperature, and turbidity at CC48 (Cement Creek), A72 (below Silverton) and Durango. There are also some stations in New Mexico. The idea is have early warning if there is some type of water quality or quantity event that could affect people downstream. There are automatic computer alerts sent to the Office of Emergency Management if there are sudden spikes in parameters so that they can evaluate with their partners if it truly represents an issue and what response would be appropriate. (The actual plan was sent out to the ARSG email list recently.)
Peter noted that Cement Creek station was recently showing that pH around 6.0, which is much higher than we’ve seen in the past. Usually it’s around 3.5 – 4.0. A number of people in the group suggested that maybe the continuous pH probe is not being calibrated frequently enough. pH probes are well-known to drift.
8. Testing Treatment Technologies in the Basin – There was a discussion of the legal difficulties in testing new technologies for treating mine discharges. Most tests will have a clean water and waste stream that must be dealt with. When very small tests are conducted, these components can be collected and hauled off to a licensed entity for proper discharge or disposal. For a long test, any discharge will fall under the Clean Water Act (CWA) or CERCLA.
Under CWA, a discharge permit of the treated water will be required. Even for a short term test, at a minimum, it must be shown that the discharge will meet the receiving water body’s water quality standards. The challenge is that how does one demonstrate to the permitting authority (CDPHE) that a technology will meet those standards if it’s only been bench scale tested. Of additional concern is that whoever sponsors the test, whether it is the developer of the technology or the mine property owner or some other entity, could then be considered an operator at the mine site and acquire additional liabilities.
Testing under a CERCLA action is a more promising option, and we have several examples in the upper Animas Basin. In each case the testing has occurred on BLM sites under a BLM CERCLA removal action. Thus far, BLM has not shown a willingness to extend this legal protection to non-BLM sites.
The mines with the most difficult water to treat because they have the highest metal concentrations are the Gold King and the American Tunnel. (The American Tunnel has the highest iron and aluminum concentrations in the basin which are problematic to treat.) This is why ARSG has been so interested in testing technologies in this location. If they work there, they’ll probably be effective anywhere else in the basin. The facilities and treatment (and CERCLA removal action) EPA already has in place in Gladstone make it the best place for testing new technologies.
9. Community Advisory Groups (CAG’s), Technical Advisory Grants (TAG’s) – EPA made a presentation at the Animas River Community Forum meeting in Silverton several weeks ago about different resources EPA can provide communities with Superfund sites. One resource is the Technical Assistance Services for Communities (TASC) where EPA contracts with a private firm to provide technical experts to a community on a variety of different topics. The Town of Silverton and San Juan County are jointly utilizing this program.
EPA can also provide Technical Advisory Grants (TAG’s) up to $50,000 (which is renewable) that a 501(c)(3) can use to hire its own technical experts. Unfortunately, the 501(c)(3) cannot be simply a fiscal agent like ARSG has. The officers of the organization have to represent a wide variety of community interests and cannot be elected governmental officials, part of a national advocacy organization, an academic institution, or a potentially responsible party (PRP). There doesn’t appear to be any non-profits in the watershed that would currently fit these parameters so that likely a new non-profit would have to be created. To complicate the issue, New Mexico has expressed interest in pursuing the TAG. Only be one entity that can receive a TAG grant per Superfund site.
If a new entity were formed, somehow it would need to be determined who gets how many seats on the board with potentially interested parties including Silverton, San Juan Co. (Colo), Durango, La Plata County, the Southern Ute tribe, and possibly San Juan Co. (NM), Farmington, Aztec, the Navajo Nation, Ute Mtn. Ute tribe, and Utah. The effort needed to develop a structure to apply for the grant doesn’t appear to worth the effort. We have been discussing this issue with other water quality organizations in the watershed in Colorado, and they appear to have come to the same conclusion.
The last resource that is available is a Community Advisory Group (CAG). There can be multiple CAG’s per Superfund site, and the group does not have to be a 501(c)(3). EPA can provide support for CAG’s in the form of organizing meetings, helping with agendas and meeting notes, mailing, etc. At this time, ARSG sees no need to develop into a CAG.
10. Upcoming Colo. Water Quality Control Commission hearings. The group discussed possible water quality standards proposals for the next WQCC rulemaking hearing concerning the Animas next June. At one point we had discussed a major proposal since the last major update was in 2001. But given all the data and analysis currently being done by EPA, it makes more sense to wait five years until the next WQCC rulemaking.
However, there some smaller issues we may want to tackle. First, Arrastra Gulch exceeds Table Value Standards (TVS) for cadmium and zinc. It is likely not possible to meet those standards, so we may want to propose some site specific standards. This could impact where money from a settlement involving ASARCO could be utilized.
Second, all the remediation in Mineral Creek has drastically reduced zinc, copper, and cadmium concentrations, although aluminum and iron haven’t changed at all. Much of the iron and aluminum is naturally occurring and enters the creek below the confluence with the Middle Fork. Currently, Mineral Creek above the confluence has no aquatic life classification. Perhaps, it should be classified as cold water aquatic life 2. Hopefully, EPA will collect more information this summer (especially macroinvertebrates) to help make that determination.
Third, several Mineral Creek tributaries (South Mineral Creek, Porphyry Gulch, Mill Creek, Big Horn Creek and Bear Creek) inadvertently have no classifications or standards applied. We should propose classifications and standards for these segments. (This last issue I neglected to mention at this last meeting, but we have discussed it in the past.)
- Possible Agenda Items for Next Meeting:
- Analysis of 2015 Data for the Animas
- Good Samaritan Legislation
- Presentation on using wetlands for metal removal (Jim Gusek)