Ask The Towers

By Greg Hobbs

Why did the builders build you?

Because the bees led us to the water pockets
And raven played lookout over farmsteads,

See here!  See here! He cried out loud,
Climb down!  Climb down!

Taste the rain a cavern ceiling drips
with lightning from the sky

You can paint upon a water jar.

Every morning, every evening
Sleeping Man is with you,

In the slant the seasons make
and the Ancestors,

When it’s time to plant
and time to harvest.

(in Celebration of the Wright Paleohydrologic Survey Hovenweep National Monument 9/ 27-29/ 2015)

square tower

Square Tower. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Beeline to farmsteads

Beeline to farmsteads. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Water Pocket Rimrock above check dam

Water Pocket Rimrock above check dam. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Raven on Hovenweep Castle

Raven on Hovenweep Castle. Credit: Kyle Wright

Seep line spring

Seep line spring. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Sleeping Ute Mountain to the east of Square Tower Unit

Sleeping Ute Mountain to the east of Square Tower Unit. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Blood Moon Harvest Moon Eclipse Moon over Hovenweep

Blood Moon Harvest Moon Eclipse Moon over Hovenweep. Credit: Kyle Wright

Solstice Panel, Holly Unit

Solstice Panel, Holly Unit. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Julia measuring water droplets

Julia measuring water droplets. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Imagine a water jar

Imagine a water jar. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Square Tower Cistern

Square Tower Cistern. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Kristin Kuckelman

Kristin Kuckelman. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Ken Wright

Ken Wright. Credit: Greg Hobbs

Jurist in Residence

Jurist in Residence. Credit: Kyle Wright

The Wright Paleohydrologic Institute Survey Crew Hovenweep September 2015

The Wright Paleohydrologic Institute Survey Crew Hovenweep September 2015. Credit: Gary Witt


Filed under Water Supply

In Celebration of Justice Greg Hobbs’ Retirement

Justice Hobbs with wife Bobbie receives a photo from Rio de la Vista. Credit: Rio de la Vista

Justice Hobbs with wife Bobbie receives a photo from Rio de la Vista to celebrate his retirement. Credit: Rio de la Vista

Last Thursday September 10, 2015 the Colorado Foundation for Water Education along with our family of water professionals and legal experts in the San Luis Valley got together for a reception to celebrate Justice Hobbs’ retirement from the Colorado Supreme Court. Among other beautiful speeches, plaques, photos… and of course poems, The Colorado River District drafted resolutions in appreciation of Justice Hobbs, while CFWE staff presented a tribute poem to Greg Hobbs—find both here.

From the Colorado River District:

New CRD  logo hi-resWhereas, For 19 years he faithfully served,
The Honorable Gregory Hobbs full praise does deserve.

Whereas, Dispensing Solomon’s wisdom the occasional baby to split,
As founding director of the Foundation for Water Education he did sit.

Whereas, He too ably served the Northern District oft times to the River District’s dismay,
Even then it is time for our respect to pay.
As he devoted untold hours to legal execution,
And showed extraordinary leadership through genial elocution.

Whereas, It wasn’t enough for him to give generously of his time,
He also gifted his priceless map collection and occasionally his rhyme.

Whereas, poetry and bolo ties often set him apart,
He will truly be remembered for his wisdom and kindess of heart.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by unanimous acclaim
that we extend our appreciation for that is our aim
of this embarrassing poem. The writing of which was not time well spent.

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, Honorable Greg Hobbs, that you have a peaceful and rewarding retirement.

Gregg Ten Eyck, CFWE's Board President, presents Justice Hobbs with a proclamation from the Colorado River District.

Gregg Ten Eyck, CFWE’s Board President, presents Justice Hobbs with a proclamation from the Colorado River District. Credit: Rio de la Vista

And from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Logo_tagline_ColorCharging through the Foundation’s door
Weekly visits by an original Director
“I need a box for my next event!”
He chuckles with pride, “our best issue yet.”

CFWE's Kristin Maharg gives Greg a poem from staff.

CFWE’s Kristin Maharg gives Greg a poem from staff. Credit: Rio de la Vista

You’re our greatest supporter and here’s the proof,
Citizen’s Guide sales are through the roof!
“But how is your family and where have you been?”
Not only cheerleader, Greg is also our friend.

Then off to stir the pot of public discourse
with reverence for the most essential resource.
She’s the “Mother of Rivers,” our headwaters state…
We learn from your vigor and participate
in the evolution of understanding, new attitude…
You’re our Father of Words, steward of truth.

And who else shares emails before the dawn,
attends every meeting without one yawn?
Boldly intellectual and believes in yours, too
yet playful enough to dress in costume!
Staff try to keep up with Greg’s prolific passion,
As you’re truly the Foundation of our water education.


CFWE staff pose with Justice Hobbs.

CFWE staff pose with Justice Hobbs. Credit: Rio de la Vista

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Events, Water Leaders

From Vine to Wine on tour in Palisade, Colorado

By Kelsea Macilroy

Here in Colorado, we all know where the best peaches come from: the Grand Valley. Enjoying some of the most temperate weather in Colorado, the Grand Valley of Western Colorado is one of the few places peaches and grapes can be grown reliably in abundance. For over a century viticulture has been practiced in the Grand Valley and the impressive variety of wines has been growing steadily with 80 percent of Colorado’s grapes grown here. Integral to the growth and continued vitality of both industries are the irrigation companies and management partnerships that deliver Colorado River water to support crop production.

Straight off, I should offer a disclaimer: I love wine and I love peaches. From the moment the announcement of CFWE’s Vine to Wine Tour arrived in my inbox, I knew I needed to attend. What could be better than learning about the various ways Colorado water is managed to bring people together around tasty, delicious things? Not only did this tour combine two of my favorite things, it also explored the intersections between managing water for multiple uses, irrigation efficiency, local agriculture and how they support our wine and orchard industry in Colorado.

Managing Water for Multiple Needs

Dale Ryden with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teaches tour participants about the endangered fish species native to this reach of the Colorado River.

Dale Ryden with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teaches tour participants about the endangered fish species native to this reach of the Colorado River.

Sitting under the outside pavilion at the Wine Country Inn with the sun warm on our backs and the promise of a beautiful day ahead of us, Dale Ryden of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started off educating us about the endangered fish species native to this reach of the Colorado River. Armed with a 6 foot long life-size cutout of a Colorado pikeminnow he was joined by Brent Uilenberg of the Bureau of Reclamation. Together they explained how, due to decreased river flows in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River outside of Palisade, four native fish species—the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker—were identified as endangered. With some historic collaboration among key water interest groups, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has assisted multiple projects designed to improve fish habitat and instream flows through the 15-Mile Reach, all while continuing to support local agricultural production. This includes modernizing the Government Highline Canal to reduce water diversions, installation of fish passages at dams and fish screens at turnouts. Acquisition of floodplain habitat has also been instrumental in providing fish nursery areas.

The Orchard Mesa Check Structure

The Orchard Mesa Check Structure

Guided by Max Schmidt of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Mark Harris of Grand Valley Water Users Association, our next stop was a tour of some of the infrastructure that makes irrigation and fish recovery possible. In a massive coordinated effort among the reservoirs upstream of the 15-Mile Reach—called the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations—flow releases are timed to provide optimal flows for both fish and humans. These coordinated releases and “checks” in irrigation canal systems provide additional support of the Recovery Program and intentionally create surplus from the Historic Users Pool. In operation informally since 1926 and adjudicated in 1996, the Orchard Mesa Check Structure is part of a complex arrangement that dictates when and how the check is operated as well as other contingencies involving the Historic Users Pool in Green Mountain Reservoir. Orchard Mesa Irrigation District consumptively uses only 170 cubic feet per second of water, but withdraws more in order to operate their power plant. In order to most efficiently use water, the check structure diverts water that runs through the power plant to be released upstream of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company diversion, which is senior to the power plant.

Irrigation Efficiency & Local Economy

Over 18,000 people receive water to irrigate around 81,000 acres from one of six irrigation companies or districts in the Grand Valley. Riding through Palisade in our horse drawn carriage, the stark contrast between the lush, fertile valley floor and the dry, high mesas of the area made it clear how heavily the local economy and community depend on water. Perry Cabot and Horst Caspari both work for the Colorado State University Experiment Station in the Grand Valley searching for ways to increase irrigation efficiency and crop production—improvements in these areas mean a more efficient use of water and a better crop for producers.

During the tour, we had the privilege of visiting two farms. With peach harvest season just getting started, the Talbott Farms processing plant was humming with activity. Here, Bruce Talbott shared with us the importance of agriculture for the local economy as well as the large amount of peaches that go to waste because they are considered “imperfect.” Up to 40 percent of food grown in the United States never gets eaten. Much of that is due to marketplace demands that require food to be a certain size or weight and a particular appearance. The peaches that are culled never see the market, and Talbott Farms takes a hit as they still invested water, land, and time to those peaches. Fortunately, many of the tour participants were able to help prevent a few peaches from going to waste.

Red Fox Vineyard

Red Fox Vineyard

The day concluded with a stop at Red Fox Cellars, a family owned vineyard with a tasting room, where Scott and Sherrie Hamilton guided us through a selection of their delicious wines. Part of what makes Colorado wine unique is its terrior—the environmental effects of the place where it is produced. The way the sun shines on the valley; the quality and quantity of water applied to the plants; the particular composition of the soil; and the fact that Colorado wines are grown at the highest elevations in North America. All of these things come together to shape the particular taste of the wine.

After learning about all the passion and effort expended to support agricultural operations, endangered species habitat, and improvements in crop production and irrigation efficiency all I wanted was a glass of wine—I highly recommend Red Fox Cellars Bourbon Barrel Merlot. Here’s to Colorado water and all the people who work hard to meet the many demands for it. Cheers!

Kelsea is a PhD student studying Natural Resource and Environmental Sociology at Colorado State University where she prefers to read and write while sampling one of Colorado’s many delightful foods or beverages. She is currently working with the Colorado Water Institute on a project that engages with agricultural water use and the opportunities and barriers for conservation in the Colorado River Basin. Growing up in southern Arizona, attending Gordon College in Massachusetts where she studied history, and living in Alamosa for six years, gave Kelsea an interest in the ways water has been historically managed and how that has shaped its use today. In her free time Kelsea enjoys exploring parts of Colorado new to her with her husband and cross-eyed dog. She also really likes peaches.

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Filed under Agriculture, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Colorado River, Environment, Instream Flow, Water Supply

A New Way of Doing Water Business: The Rio Grande Cooperative Project

By Christi Bode

So common and so fierce is the push-and-pull over water rights, it is the way residents define their communities and their relationship to the rest of the West. There have always been winners and losers; now that water scarcity is the new reality, collaboration is key in finding innovative ways to conduct water business that benefits all. Water for wildlife, for agriculture, for municipalities is too important to lose.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, a major water rights holder in the San Luis Valley, and the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, owning the Rio Grande Reservoir, determined that their water could be shared more effectively for mutual benefit. Moving water around effectively in the upper Rio Grande has always been a complex exercise, especially during critical low-flow periods combined with dam safety issues. The Rio Grande Cooperative Project has been pivotal in repairing, restoring and sustaining the basin in a time where water storage is more critical than ever. This private-public partnership shows a spirit of flexibility and shared sacrifice. With the support of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the General Assembly, these coordinated efforts are possible through the repair of two critical reservoirs that optimizes the yield of basin water resources. It is creating secure storage and timely releases of water, which is essential to meeting diverse water right holdings in the basin as well as fulfilling compact obligations.

These stories reflect a rising tide of collaborative efforts in communities all over Colorado, as it takes big ideas to sustain us into the future. Here, their story is illustrated with the intent to inspire more meaningful and united action.


Rio Grande Cooperative Project from Christi Bode on Vimeo.


Christi Bode, photo credit: Dave Neligh Photography

Christi Bode, Denver-based film producer and photographer, finds her favorite stories in the some of the most unsuspecting places. From editorial assignments involving unicyclists on Independence Pass to documentary work in the headwaters of the Rio Grande, Bode is inspired by how people are shaped by their surrounding environment. Part documentarian, part producer – a contrast that lends her work a sharp point of view with an approachable feel full of context and story.

Christi always enjoys a good drive to the Middle of Nowhere that tends to evolve into Absolutely Somewhere. IG: @christi_b

Read more about the Rio Grande Cooperative Project as well as other efforts and issues in the basin in the Headwaters magazine issue, Valley with a View. And find Christi’s previous blog posts:

From Runoff to Peak Flows: The Rio Grande
Then There’s the Water: The Rio Grande Basin

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Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Instream Flow, Water Supply

Colorado River District Annual Seminar: Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California?

California drought takes its toll on Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, north of Sacramento, as seen in April 2015. (Photo by Ray Bouknight, Flickr)

California drought takes its toll on Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, north of Sacramento, as seen in April 2015. (Photo by Ray Bouknight, via Flickr)

Two of the most important women in Western water leadership will be addressing the Colorado River District’s popular Annual Water Seminar in Grand Junction, Colo., that takes place Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Two Rivers Convention Center.

Headlining the event are Jennifer Gimbel, the assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior; and Pat Mulroy, senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Brookings Mountain West. Mulroy is also a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington, D.C. She retired in 2014 as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Jennifer Gimbel

Jennifer Gimbel

Gimbel is well known in Colorado for her work as director at the Colorado Water Conservation Board before she moved to federal positions with the Department of the Interior that culminated with her ascendancy to the post that oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado River administration. Mulroy oversaw the Southern Nevada Water Authority for 21 years where she got results as well as headlines in positioning Las Vegas for growth in the face of limited water supply.

Pat Mulroy

Pat Mulroy

The theme of the seminar is “Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California?” The day’s speakers will draw an arc of water supply and policy concern from the Pacific Ocean to Colorado, looking at the basics of climate and weather generated by the Pacific, dire drought in California and what that means to the interior West, the still-on-the-horizon planning to deal with low reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and finally, an analysis of Colorado’s Water Plan, which is still in draft form.

Klaus Wolter, a preeminent analyst of El Niño-La Niña conditions in the Pacific will preview the growing El Niño conditions and what they will mean for snowpack this winter. He is a research scientist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory’s physical sciences division in Boulder and world-renowned in his field.

Also at the seminar, Colorado River District staff will speak to its policy initiative that the new paradigm in Colorado water planning is how to protect existing uses, especially irrigated agriculture in western Colorado, in the face of diminishing supplies and potential demand management necessities. Issues of planning for a new transmountain diversion (TMD) remain a big focal point in Colorado’s Water Plan, but drought and reservoir levels will command the system before a TMD can be honestly contemplated.

Other speakers will address irrigated agriculture’s role in water planning, efficiency and conservation planning, financing and more. Find a detailed agenda and registration form here. The cost of the seminar, which includes lunch, is $30 if pre-registered by Friday, Sept. 4, or $40 at the door. Register at the River District’s website: or call Meredith Spyker at 970-945-8522 to pay by credit card. Video recordings of the presentations will also be posted to the River District’s website following the seminar.

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Filed under Climate and Drought, Colorado River, Water Supply


By Andrew Todd

middle creek

Middle Creek provided a beautiful setting for the 2015 Flyathlon.

On paper, there is nothing exceptional about Middle Creek. It is not Wild or Scenic, nor has it been bestowed with any Gold Medals or Blue Ribbons. No, on paper, Middle Creek is just like the countless other small tributaries that make up Colorado’s headwaters, an arteriole of our vast hydrologic circulatory system. These humble creeks quietly feed the streams that feed the rivers that feed our Colorado way of life. To get to these waters, you have to drive on paved roads until you get to dirt roads until those dirt roads narrow and then run out. Even then, to truly appreciate the complexity of these creeks, you will still have many miles to go, on foot, on trails that may not have been maintained in a while. You will encounter ticks, mosquitoes, stinging nettle, rattlesnakes, moose, bear, downed trees, and sketchy creek crossings. But if you are patient and dedicated, you can catch and release a spectacular relic of Colorado’s natural history, one of our three remaining sub-species of cutthroat trout.

It is the celebration of these unheralded streams, lost trails and majestic native fish that drove me to create the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. As a trail runner and life-long flyfisherman, fusing the two disciplines seemed natural to me, as trail running allows me to explore and fish our remote cutthroat waters more comprehensively.  And then, back at the trailhead, to make it a proper celebration, I add one of the finest uses of Colorado water; our superior craft beer.

run. fish. beer.

Simple as that.

Three years ago, I decided to share this vision with others.  In 2013, fifteen people crawled out of their tents to participate in an “unofficial” Flyathlon race event held around Monarch Lake in Grand County, CO.  In 2014, we made it official, and thirty-five people toed a shoe-drawn line in the dirt at the base of Middle Creek (yes, the one with ticks and rattlesnakes).  And this year, just weeks ago, our sold-out race brought fifty flyathletes from both near (Crestone and Salida) and far (Maine, Wisconsin, and Texas) to the Middle Creek woods near Saguache, CO.


A group photo from the 2015 Flyathlon at the Middle Creek trailhead.


A fish caught and photographed against a flyathlete’s bib during the 2015 Flyathlon.

Flyathlon race-day rules are fairly simple. Complete the prescribed trail run, catch a fish at any point during the run, take a picture of said fish on your race bib, and do it all as quickly as possible.  The bigger the fish, the more time is taken off at the end of your run (with a special double bonus for catching a native cutthroat trout).  In 2015, of the fifty race participants, all but four hooked, landed, and documented their catch, some for the first time ever.  And back at our tent city, all fifty enjoyed BBQ, local craft beer, and an awards ceremony loaded with prizes from local Colorado companies thanks to Osprey Packs, Scott Fly Rods, Ascent Fly Fishing, and Rolling River Anglers.


Each Flyathlon race is specifically designed to get people excited about recreating in the most beautiful parts of the Western United States, to infuse the stuffy old sport of fly fishing with a youthful spirit, and to raise money for and awareness about critical cold-water conservation issues.  Relying on a crowdfunding model with our 501c3 partner Colorado Trout Unlimited, this past year, our flyathletes raised an incredible $22,200.  At least 50% of this money will be re-invested into projects to maintain and enhance the trails, creeks and fisheries within the range of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, ensuring that our activity is sustainable into the future.  The remaining monies will be used to tackle important coldwater and native fish issues around the Centennial State.

Moving forward into 2016, I hope to take the Flyathlon to the next level.  With my outstanding volunteer planning board, I have created an ambitious agenda with additional events added in several other basins in Colorado, as well as potential out-of-state races.  If you feel like you have what it takes to be a flyathlete, please visit our website to get on our email list.  If your organization would like to partner with or sponsor the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon to enable us increase our impact, please contact me directly at

I look forward to seeing you on a small creek somewhere deep in the Colorado woods.

run. fish. beer.

andrewtoddAndrew Todd is a federal research biologist, studying the impact of a variety of stressors on Colorado’s rivers and streams, including acid rock drainage and climate change. Outside of work, Andrew serves as the current chair of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, sits on the board of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, and is the founder and race director of the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. He holds a bachelors degree in biology from Williams College, and masters and doctoral degrees in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

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Filed under Events, Recreation

Viewpoint: Leveraging EPA’s Orange River to Abate the Threat of Abandoned Mines

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esmé Cadiente |

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esmé Cadiente |

By Mark Gibson

If you recall publicity on the Eagle Mine near Beaver Creek or the Yak Tunnel in Leadville, you could predict that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had a manifest destiny to pollute a hundred miles of streams with toxic sludge—from Cement Creek to Lake Powell.

Before John Elway ever won a Super Bowl, the Denver Post spotlighted the Eagle Mine, reporting how regulators’ plans to plug old mine shafts ran afoul—percolating toxic pools overflowed in 1989, causing Beaver Creek’s snowmaking machines to spray “orange snow.” Four years earlier, miners on a maintenance mission during their annual “Yak tunnel walk”–by accident–dislodged muck in workings from the 1800s, releasing a plume in the Arkansas River sufficient to move EPA to create a 20-square-mile Superfund project surrounding Leadville that continues today.

Charles Curtis, renowned energy leader and former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is purported to often lament “everything leaks.” While Curtis’ context is the nuclear cycle, his leak axiom squares with the state of historic mines.

Depending on who counts, between 160,000 and 480,000 abandoned mines reside in the Rocky Mountains. They pollute 40 percent of the West’s watersheds. Their price tag: $35 billion. Mines sprouted when settlers dug on their way to California’s Gold Rush in 1848. After several mining booms, in 1942 Roosevelt granted $130 per ton to lead producers—twice Depression-era levels—so our allies could hurl bullets at Nazis.

The old miners dug vast reaches, exposing to weather what had been encapsulated by Mother Nature. When water mixes with exposed rock (particularly pyrite) its sulfides oxidize, reducing pH, increasing metals concentrations, and further increasing acidity, brewing acid mine drainage and lots of liabilities.

Consider the Curtis canon, the deluge of abandoned mines, rudimentary chemistry and the realities of environmental enforcement, and you enter a Yossarian modality.

Most mine Superfund sites identified in the 1980s are still not finished, while they subsidize white-collar welfare (science studies and lawyers) rather than on-the-ground fixes. Litigation risks stymie voluntary Good Samaritan efforts—whether by industry or environmentalist.

The rules encourage gold-plated, expensive remediation. Fundamentally, if water doesn’t touch mineralized rock the water isn’t contaminated. Yet this simple science is ignored and grossly engineered schemes like portal plugs result—that require reinforcement with more plugs, that create larger pollution pools, that migrate across labyrinths of old tunnels, that create more seeps, which at some point demand fancy water treatment systems, that fuel consultants and lawyers, who scare industry, who pay to mitigate more liabilities, increasing demand for more over-engineered solutions—a spiral of silliness.

Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)

While EPA’s approach may help water quality, over climatic cycles we see ticking time bombs

emerge like Gold King. (Again, from Curtis: everything leaks.)

This is why source-control methods were perfected at the Idarado mine remediation in the 1980s. At Idarado, industry and the local community and environmental groups all embraced what at the time was termed a “risky, unproven” strategy: reduce metals loadings 50 percent by minimizing contamination at the top of the watershed, thereby supporting aquatic life in the lower drainages. Within the past 20 years, zinc loadings reached the reduction goal on the Telluride side. But in the Ouray/Red Mountains adjacent to the Gold King district (a maze of abandonment), loads fell a disappointing 25 percent. Today, a hike from Telluride up to the Tom Boy ghost town validates all manner of source-control techniques… rock plumbing that prevents most—but not all—water infiltration. Since “dam and treat” projects (promoted by the regulators of the day) were blocked, a Gold King disaster was averted. You don’t hear much today about the Idarado success, and that’s the point: we should demand mine cleanups that last and that we don’t have to revisit.

Idarado’s lessons aren’t lost, but they’ve been downright difficult to replicate. The Animas River Stakeholders Group, the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, Outward Bound and others perform yeoman’s work fixing the high country. The volunteer armies are hamstrung by lack of funding and broken regulators who won’t fend off the excesses of the Clean Water Act and the Superfund. Before political leaders begin to balk at the tar-baby dynamics in this controversy, EPA’s Gold King disaster should be leveraged as a wakeup call.

A bold state move will dull legal thorns like “federal preemption” and “joint and several liability;” a few precedents exist for locally driven remedies to overcome these hurdles without new law. A (small) state-sanctioned, locally controlled panel with procurement, financing, regulatory and property-leasing powers is compulsory. The panel can establish authority shielding it and its contractors from pesky environmental liabilities, and effect sound solutions without Superfund designation. After proving the model, the panel’s jurisdiction should expand.

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)

Suggestions for the panel’s Top 10 priority actions:

▪Cease all ill-conceived EPA actions.

▪Consider reopening all Clean Water Act and CERCLA (Superfund) Agreements impacting the region, as necessary. (Admit the Sunnyside situation is a mistake.)

▪Draft and administer an immediate-term, low-cost, high-impact remediation plan. (Quit studying and start engineering and building. Dispense with remedies that address 10-6 risk and focus on what gets us to 70 percent improvement.)

▪Remove or remediate dams and plugs that foster water build-up and contamination.

▪Undertake water source-control techniques; minimize top-down infiltration.

▪Avoid and minimize the need for active treatment technologies.

▪Measure and publicize objectives and results. (Place real-time monitors near hazards and inside baseline indicator zones, and dispense with high-end laboratory techniques.)

▪ Fund remediation with off-budget, innovative finance methods, perhaps third-party minerals royalties, user fees, or even property leases.

▪Fund third-party remediation initiatives, like the Animas River Stakeholder Group, the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership and their volunteers, including Outward Bound.

▪ Invoke innovative legal shields. (Don’t expect relief from Congress or the EPA.)

After 250 years of mining, it’s time to end the regulatory rigor mortis across the Rockies and get on to rational cleanups no longer obsessed with mitigating every single, theoretical, or Populaire à l’époque legal risk.

ForLinkedIn_ForLinkedIn_Warnke_ MarkGibson20130821-6936

Mark Gibson consults for the environmental and water industries, focusing on government/regulatory affairs and business development. He was previously vice president at the Danaher/Hach Environmental Water Quality Group and Hays, Hays & Wilson. Gibson’s teams have played roles at more than two dozen Superfund sites and as many mine cleanups. He holds an M.S. in Mineral Economics from Colorado School of Mines and a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Maryland.


Filed under Environment, Water Quality