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Last weekend I went hiking on Rocky Mountain National Park, on my way to a conference in Oklahoma City. My goal was to hike 35 miles in 2.5 days prior to the conference. Friday afternoon was a solid 7 miles, but not a difficult hike. Saturday was more interesting. I hit 10 lakes in under 10 hours, plus 4 water falls. And still saw 7 deer and a bunch of Elk. And trout. And birds. So here are the 10 lakes in order:

Bear Lake

IMG_7751 Bear Lake

Mills Lake

IMG_7773 Mills Lake

Jewel Lake

IMG_7803 Jewll lake

The Loch

IMG_7813 The Loch

Lake of Glass

IMG_3162 Lake of Glass

Sky Pond (after climbing up rocks – highest lake)

IMG_3165 Sky Pond

Lake Haiyaha

IMG_3188 Lake haiyaha

Dream Lake

IMG_3198 Dream Lake

Emerald Lake ( sorry sun was directly ahead so this is washed out a little

IMG_3203 Emerald lake

Nymph Lake

IMG_3214 Nymph Lake

Arrived back at Bear Lake at the end of the trek. I luckily got a parking spot as the lot was basically full at 830 am due to the unseasonal weather.   It was over 80 degrees – which is warmer than the temperatures this past July when we went out. Unseasonable warm weather brought out people by the thousands to enjoy the opportunity to hike this late. And the last two years I was hiking in snow on Sept 22 and Oct 4.

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In the vein of more growth is always better mentality, the following struck me as I was in Colorado last month.  Front Range politics are a big deal in Colorado because virtually all the people in the state live within 60 miles of Denver.  The following table outlines the populations of the Front Range counties and their growth trends over the past three years.  Big growth.  So the local politicians are happy.  Growth is good.

The Front Range Urban Corridor
County 2012 Estimate 2010 Census Change
Larimer County 310,487 299,630 +3.62%
Weld County 263,691 252,825 +4.30%
Boulder County 305,318 294,567 +3.65%
City and County of Denver 634,265 600,158 +5.68%
Arapahoe County 595,546 572,003 +4.12%
Jefferson County 545,358 534,543 +2.02%
Adams County 459,598 441,603 +4.07%
Douglas County 298,215 285,465 +4.47%
City and County of Broomfield 58,298 55,889 +4.31%
Elbert County 23,383 23,086 +1.29%
Park County 16,029 16,206 −1.09%
Clear Creek County 9,026 9,088 −0.68%
Gilpin County 5,491 5,441 +0.92%
El Paso County 644,964 622,263 +3.65%
Teller County 23,389 23,350 +0.17%

Then I read an article by Bruce Finley of the The Denver Post entitled “Colorado shies from big fix as proliferating people seek more water.’  The concept is to continue the state’s tradition of moving water from the wetter west side of the Rockies to the drier east side.  The current fix is to build a huge reservoir by Dinosaur National Monument (in the middle of the west Colorado desert), then divert 97 billion gallons a year from the Yampa River through a 250-mile pipeline across the Continental Divide to the Front Range to defray Colorado’s projected 2050 water shortfall of 163 billion gallons.  The Yampa Pumpback would be the 31st cross divide diversion Colorado has built since the 1930s.

colorado water

Now the plan has hit a snag, whereby the EIS for the project indicates to meet needs, it would be the Front Range that bears the risks of not enough water in dry years as a part of negotiations for water entitlements under the interstate treaty that divvies the Colorado River.  Once that is resolved, the project would cost billions and take years to construct.  Ok, the Front Range is water limited. And we all know it.  The problem is people like Northern Water manager Eric Wilkinson who the article quotes as saying. “With the number of people coming here, we’re going to have to look at all alternatives. Conservation isn’t the silver bullet; it’s also going to take additional infrastructure…. These people need water, and they’re willing to pay for that water.”  In other words, we need more growth!  So in the meantime, development competes with agriculture or replaces agriculture on the semi-arid high plains.  The article suggests that cities and industries seeking more water would absorb hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land water rights if unable to divert more across mountains, something the governor is a little concerned about.  They would just buy them out.  So less agriculture when we probably will need that land later.

So in that vein, I noted the following at the airport.  One is a nice field of grain. Golden in the summer sun.  Across the street, the golden field is being converted to 300 houses.  You can see the pipe and the equipment.  And my question is – Is this really a good idea?

photo15b

photo15e


In an interesting twist of fate, USEPA caused a spill on the Animas River when a staffer accidently breached a dike holding back a solution of heavy metals at the Gold King mine because the misjudged the pressure behind the dike.  Pressure?  The spill flowed at 500 gpm (0.7 MGD), spilling yellow water spilled into the river.  Downstream, the plume has travelled through parts of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, and will ultimately hit Lake Mead.  Officials, residents, and farmers are outraged.  People were told not to drink the water because the yellow water carried at least 200 times more arsenic and 3,500 times more lead than is considered safe for drinking. The conspiracy theorists are out.  The pictures are otherworldly.

colorado-mine-spillRayna Willhite holds a bottle of water she collected form the Animas River north of Durango Colo., on Thursday, August 6th, 2015. About a million gallons of toxic mine waste emptied out of the Gold King Mine north of Silverton that eventually made it into the Animas River. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald via AP)

0807 colo spill epa-spill-

But they are all missing the point, and the problem.  This is one of hundreds of “legacy disasters” waiting to happen.  We are just surprised when they actually do.  A legacy disaster is one that is predicated on events that have happened in the past, that can impact the future.  In some cases the far past.  There are two big ones that linger over communities all over the west and the southeast – mines and coal.  Now don’t get me wrong, we have used coal and needed metals form mines.  That’s ok.  But the problem is no one has dealt with the effects of mining or coal ash for many years.  And then people are upset.  Why?  We can expect these issues to happen.

One major problem is that both are often located adjacent to or uphill from rivers.  That’s a disaster waiting to happen.  The King Gold mine is just the latest.  We had recent coal ash spills in Kingston, Tennessee (TVA, 2008) and the Dan River in 2014 (Duke Power). The Dan River spill was 30-40,000 tons.  Kingston cleanup has exceeded a billion dollars.  Coal ash is still stored at both places.  Next to rivers.  We had the federal government build ion exchange facilities in Leadville, CO and Idaho Springs, CO to deal with leaking water from mine tailings from the mountains. Examples are in the hundreds.  The photos are of the two coal spills, mine tailings that have been sitting the ground for 140 years in Leadville and one of the stormwater ponds – water is red in Leadville, not yellow.

kingston_coalash POLLUTE-master675 IMG_4803 IMG_6527 (2015_03_08 17_53_48 UTC)

When the disaster does occur, the federal government ends up fixing it, as opposed those responsible who are usually long gone or suddenly bankrupt, so it is no surprise that EPA and other regulatory folks are often very skeptical of mining operations, especially when large amounts of water are involved.  We can predict that a problem will happen, so expensive measures are often required to treat the waste and minimize the potential for damage from spills.  That costs money, but creates jobs.

For those long gone or bankrupt problems, Congress passed the Superfund legislation 40 years ago to provide cleanup funds.  But Congress deleted funding for the program in the early 2000s because they did not want to continue taxing the business community (mines, power plants, etc.).  So EPA uses ARRA funds from 2009.  And funding is down from historical levels, which makes some businesses and local communities happy.  The spectre of Superfund often impacts potential developers and buyers who are concerned about impacts to future residents.  We all remember Love Canals and Erin Brockovich.  Lack of development is “bad.”  They ignore the thousands or jobs and $31 billion in annual economic activity that cleanup creates, but it all about perception.

But squabbling about Superfund ignores the problem.  We continue to stockpile coal ash near rivers and have legacy mine problems.  Instead we should be asking different questions:

WHY are these sites permitted to store ash, tailings, and liquids near water bodies in the first place?  EPA would not be inspecting them if the wastes were not there.

WHY aren’t the current operators of these mines and power plants required to treat and remove the wastes immediately like wastewater operators do?  You cannot have millions of gallons of water, or tons of coal ash appear overnight on a site, which means these potential disasters are allowed to fester for long periods of time.  Coal ash is years.  Mine tailings… well, sometimes hundreds of years.

One resident on the news was reported to have said “Something should be done, something should be done to those who are responsible!”  Let’s start with not storing materials on site, next to rivers.  Let’s get the waste off site immediately and disposed of in a safe manner.  Let’s recover the metals.  Let’s start with Gold King mine.  Or Duke Power.  Or TVA.


The Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed recent wildfires in the west. One of the concerns they raised was that increased forest fires are both a climate change and a man-induced issue.  Wildfires on federal land has increased 75% on federally owned land.  Fire impacted areas are larger and impact more development which encroaches on those federal holdings.  We spend over $1 billion in fire fighting on federal lands each year.  But why?

Because many of the forest are in mountainous areas, fire season starts earlier in year with less mountain snowfall.  And that is  most years as snowfall accumulation decrease.  Temperatures are warmer, earlier with shortens the snow season.   Water runs off faster.  Of course the fact that we altered management philosophies to prevent all forest fires didn’t help because some burning is natural each year. As a result there is a huge reserve of unburned land out west.  The beetles did not help either as they left millions of acres of dead trees on mountain sides from Canada to New Mexico. Beetle infestation is clearly climate change driven.

The solutions are more difficult.  Building up next to federal land needs to be restricted.  Regulations in dealing with trees, bushes and underbrush in fire prone areas need to be enacted and enforced. Early spring fires set as control burns need to happen more frequently. But these are all local responses to a global climate problem.  That response is currently lacking.  These are leadership issues.

From a utility perspective, this issue may be significant.  We like those high, clean mountain streams.  But after a forest fire, those streams are often warmer and less clean.  The soot, ash and runoff from now barren land can create significant impacts on water plant, create major treatment alterations, increase costs, and risk contamination.  A friend some years ago suggested that utilities were instruments of social change.  The fact that we have treated water and sewer creates social change.  We need to protect water supplies and therefore we should be a part of the conversation on land use.  That requires some leadership.

 


I can’t wait to hike 4 days in the Rockies over 8000 ft.  I am hoping for cool weather, limited snow and 67 miles.  It will feel good not to strain my eyes looking at a computer screen.  Straining to look at a bull moose or elk or furry coyote will be a welcome change.  We all need these welcome respites.  Our lives are busy.  Pressure builds.  Everyone needs an escape.  I can hike four hours, see no one, hear no one, collect my thoughts, rest my brain, and get some exercise.  Will share the fall photos!!


As those of you who follow this blog know, we periodically touch on climate issues.  Sea level rise is a particularly acute issue here at ground zero – southeast Florida.  But as I have said for some time, this is not an immediate crisis, but a slow steady creep that gives us time to adapt to the changes related to sea level rise.  I am optimistic that while we will spend a lot more money to engineer water management so we will need more engineers, there are solutions that will allow us to thrive here for a long time – probably a lot longer than we have been here, which is just over 100 years.

Our bigger, current challenge is the temporal but catastrophic impact of tropical storm activity that can create immediate consequences that last for years, much as Hurricane Andrew did in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma almost ten years ago.  Of course there have been others, like Donna in 1960 which were worse.  I mention this because the peak of hurricane season in Sept 10 – only two weeks away.  We have been lucky for years now, and of course we are all hoping it remains that way.

But I found another interesting article this weekend hat talked about the states with the most weather losses since 2006 (and in a subsequent blog I will look back further for comparison). is New Jersey.  OK, no huge surprise given the recent experience of Sandy.  But who is number 2?  Or for that matter 2-10?  Would you believe that Florida is not on the list at all.  Neither is California despite the fires.  Or North Carolina another hurricane prone state.

No, according to the Tribune, the states  (in order:after  New Jersey) are: Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Colorado and Arizona.  The most common causes: thunderstorms, heavy rain, flash flood and tornados.  And the impacts range from $24 billion in New Jersey to $3.5 billion in Arizona.  An interesting factoid as we approach the peak of hurricane season.  May Florida stay off the list.

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