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Federal Water Tap, October 26: Report: Gold King Mine Spill A Result of Technical Errors and Mistaken Priorities

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The Rundown

The Gold King mine spill was a series of common blunders. The Bureau of Reclamation reports on water availability in the Santa Fe River Basin. The Army Corps makes accessing water data easier. The South Carolina floods broke records. The U.S. Geological Survey tracks nitrate pollution in Washington state.

“The incident at Gold King Mine is somewhat emblematic of the current state of practice in abandoned mine remediation. The current state of practice appears to focus attention on the environmental issues. Abandoned mine guidelines and manuals provide detailed guidance on environmental sampling, waste characterization, and water treatment, with little appreciation for the engineering complexity of some abandoned mine projects that often require, but do not receive, a significant level of expertise.” — Bureau of Reclamation review of the Gold King mine spill that occurred August 5, 2015, in southwest Colorado.

By the Numbers

17: Stream gauge records broken in South Carolina during the October floods. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Reports and Studies

Santa Fe Basin Study
New Mexico’s capital city, assuming there is no change in water-consuming practices, faces an average gap between supply and demand of 30 percent by 2055, according to a Bureau of Reclamation analysis. That figure is based on historic conditions. The gap rises to 65 percent when hotter, drier conditions are taken into account.

“If no adaptation actions are taken to offset the growing gap between supply and demand in the Santa Fe Basin, deficits discussed above would severely impact the ability to deliver enough water to meet demands, leading to grave regional economic impacts,” the study states. “Additionally, water-based recreation and flow and water dependent ecological resiliency are likely to be impacted by decreased flow in the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe River, especially in summer months.”

But all is not hopeless. The purpose of these basin studies is also to identify adaptation strategies. Among those considered in the Santa Fe study: conservation, reuse of treated wastewater, and purchase of additional water rights from outside the basin.

Gold King Mine Report
The mine spill that turned the Animas River the color of Gatorade was the result of a series of mistakes going back decades, according to a technical evaluation by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The conditions that led to the Gold King blowout are “surprisingly prevalent,” the report states. There are guidelines for opening old mines but few requirements to ensure technical competence. In the case of Gold King, the mine portal was improperly closed in 2009 and groundwater conditions in the mine were not well understood when it was reopened for cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report was reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Nitrate Tracking Tool
The U.S. Geological Survey used computer models to trace backward the flow of nitrate-contaminated groundwater in the Yakima Valley of Washington, a farming and dairy center. The modeling will help pinpoint sources of nitrate pollution.

Researchers sampled wells in 121 locations that exceeded federal standards for nitrate, which, in infants, interferes with the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Looking at groundwater flow in reverse, they were able to roughly identify surface areas in which the groundwater originated.

Local farm politics, however, obstructed funding for computer modeling that would have examined the flow of nitrates into groundwater. Fear of lawsuits against individual farms prevented that study, the Yakima Herald reports.

News Briefs

Army Corps Water Data
Precipitation, storage, reservoir releases: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has collected major water data for its locks and dams and placed it in an easy-to-use, graphics-heavy website.

Chesapeake Bay Science
The U.S. Geological Survey will focus on four core science areas in the Chesapeake Bay over the next decade, according to a new research strategy. The four are:

  • Habitat conservation and restoration
  • Water quality
  • Climate change and land use change on ecosystems
  • Management to achieve multiple benefits

On the Radar

Congressional Republicans Say: Store El Nino Rains
Fourteen members of the California congressional delegation wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and Governor Jerry Brown.

The representatives want to know the state and federal plans for capturing El Nino rainfall this winter.

“As California faces a persistent, catastrophic drought, we write today to request that you direct federal and state agencies and departments to take all necessary steps to prepare to capture, store, and move water to northern, central, and southern California in the event that El Nino-related precipitation materializes this winter,” the letter states.

Sacramento River Flood Management
The Army Corps will begin an environmental review of the flood-management structures around Sacramento. The goal: revive ecosystems while reducing flood risks. Comments of the scope of the review should be emailed to daniel.f.artho@usace.army.mil by November 23.

Mining and Streams
On October 27, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to discuss regulatory changes to protect streams from mining waste. The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement proposed in July new rules that require stricter pollution monitoring but do not impose mandatory setback distances from rivers.

Big Data for Ag
On October 28, the House Agriculture Committee will discuss big data — the steady stream of information from satellites, sensors, and soil probes. Boosters applaud the potential to increase farm productivity and cut water consumption, while some worry about data privacy.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

The post Federal Water Tap, October 26: Report: Gold King Mine Spill A Result of Technical Errors and Mistaken Priorities appeared first on Circle of Blue WaterNews.

Source: Water News

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The Stream, October 26: El Nino Drought Brings Hunger to Ethiopia

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The  Global Rundown

The Global Rundown

A drought in Ethiopia is putting millions of people at risk of hunger, according to aid organizations, while extreme rainfall over the weekend triggered flash floods in Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could have prevented a spill of toxic wastewater from a Colorado mine, a new report found, and earthquakes in Oklahoma linked to fracking wastewater disposal pose a threat to a major oil storage facility. An initiative in Senegal’s capital city tackles sanitation.

“In the most impacted regions we have a significant crisis building. We can see already that (El Nino) is having a detrimental effect on the already vulnerable people.”–Jill Clements, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross in Ethiopia, on growing food and water insecurity in the country due to an El Nino-linked drought. (Reuters)

By the Numbers

By The Numbers

508 millimeters of rain Amount that fell in areas of Texas over the weekend, breaking records and triggering flash floods. The rain was caused in part by the remnants of Hurricane Patricia. CNN

1,000 earthquakes Number that could be recorded in Oklahoma by the end of the year if the current pace continues, posing a threat to a major U.S. oil storage facility in Cushing. Scientists say the increase in earthquakes is likely linked to the underground disposal of fracking wastewater. Bloomberg


Science, Studies, And Reports

Changing groundwater conditions spurred by mining activities were not taken into account by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before it began remediation efforts at Colorado’s Gold King Mine site. The project accidentally released toxic water from the mine into a nearby river in August. A government report about the incident, released October 22, found that the spill was preventable. Reuters

On the Radar

On The Radar

An initiative in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, aims to improve sanitation by installing composting toilets and helping residents dispose of waste stored in septic tanks. The project’s goal is to eventually use the waste to fuel a power plant and create electricity. Reuters

The post The Stream, October 26: El Nino Drought Brings Hunger to Ethiopia appeared first on Circle of Blue WaterNews.

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Is freshwater supply more dependent on good governance than geography?

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ScienceDaily: Scientists have analysed 19 different characteristics critical to water supply management in 119 low per capita income countries and found that vulnerability is pervasive and commonly arises from relatively weak institutional controls. The study, conducted by researchers based at Washington State University (WSU), USA, and Stanford University, USA, sought to identify freshwater supply vulnerabilities using four broad categories; endowment (availability of source water), demand, infrastructure and…
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Scientists urge policymakers plant trees save Britain rivers from climate change

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ScienceDaily: New research has prompted scientists to call on policymakers to plant more trees alongside upland rivers and streams, in an effort to save their habitats from the future harm of climate change.
Published in the international journal Global Change Biology, experts from Cardiff University describe having discovered a previously unknown benefit of trees to the resilience of river ecosystems.
Britain’s 242,334 miles of running waters are among the most sensitive of all habitats to climate change,…
Source: Waterconserve News

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Houston braces for floods as Texas deluged by rain in Patricia’s wake

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Reuters: Heavy rains fueled by the meeting of two storm systems, one the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, pounded southeastern Texas, triggering flash floods and derailing a freight train as the heavy weather descended upon Houston early on Sunday. The National Weather Service predicted 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of rain for coastal areas, including southwest Louisiana, by Monday morning, exacerbated by tides up to five feet (1.5 meter) and wind gusts up to 35 mph. The rain systems were intensified by…
Source: Waterconserve News

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Mayday: Gulf of Maine in Destress

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Portland Press Herald: Sandwiched on a narrow sandbar between Yarmouth’s harbor and the open Gulf of Maine, the fishermen of Yarmouth Bar have long struggled to keep the sea at bay.
Nineteenth-century storms threatened to sweep the whole place away, leaving Yarmouth proper’s harbor more open to the elements, prompting the province to build a granite cribwork across the quarter-mile bar, behind which the hamlet’s fishing fleet docks. Global warming has brought rising seas, a two-story-high rock wall to fight them and…
Source: Waterconserve News

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My Dark California Dream

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New York Times: CALIFORNIA’S over, everything I love about this place is going to hell. Stories from Our Advertisers I knew there was something familiar about this thought from the moment it occurred to me in Yosemite National Park. My sister and I started going to those mountains 40 years ago with our parents, who taught us to see the Sierra Nevada as a never-changing sanctuary in a California increasingly overrun by suburban sprawl. Once we had our own families, we indoctrinated our kids in the same joys: suffering…
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Why monster hurricanes like Patricia are expected on a warmer planet

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Washington Post: First there was Supertyphoon Haiyan – which peaked out at 170-knot or 315 km/h mile-per-hour winds in 2013 as it slammed the Philippines. And now there is Patricia, forecast to soon hit Mexico, with currently estimated maximum sustained wind speeds of 175 knots or more than 324 km/h. It is officially the strongest hurricane ever measured by the U.S. National Hurricane Center, based on both its wind speed (175 knots) and its minimum central pressure (880 millibars). The wind measurement “makes Patricia…
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