Monday, January 30, 2017

Pipeline protest draws hundreds in opposition to one of Trump's latest orders

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 6:38 PM

  • Nat Stein

About 300 people gathered outside City Hall on Sunday to protest President Trump’s executive order to revive the stalled Keystone XL and Dakota Access (DAPL) pipelines.

His action wasn’t some final stamp of approval for DAPL, the hard-fought oil pipeline that, if built, would threaten the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s drinking water in violation of generations-old treaties. Rather, the document instructs the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for permitting the project, to “review and approve [remaining pipeline sections] in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law.”

  • Nat Stein

But, the action certainly signals what observers have long assumed: that the Trump administration will be dogged where the Obama administration was sheepish in its approach to fossil fuel infrastructure projects. So this executive order comes as no surprise, especially given President Trump’s own private investment in DAPL, disregard toward climate science and overall disdain for anyone who dares challenge state-guarded corporate power.

Some such people heeded a call from Unite Colorado Springs to come hear speakers from various environmental and activist groups before setting off on a short march through downtown to show local opposition to the pipeline order.

  • Nat Stein

“We are not going to let Trump steal these victories without a fight!” former state representative
Dennis Apuan of the Colorado Springs Council for Justice declared, referring to hard-won progress on energy policy and land conservation over the last eight years.

  • Nat Stein
Protesters carried a diverse array of messages about respecting indigenous rights, protecting the environment and resisting the new administration. Without a parade permit, marchers kept to the sidewalks, chanting slogans like, “Resist, rise up, keep the pipeline down!” and “the people, united, will never be divided!”

The Army is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) relating to Dakota Access LLC’s request for an easement to build the pipeline under a contested section of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. You can send your opinions to Mr. Gib Owen, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, 108 Army Pentagon, Washington, DC 20310-0108 or email them to gib.a.owen.civ@mail.mil until public comment closes on February 20.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Trump signs orders to resume Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline construction

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 2:07 PM

  • Shutterstock
Environmental and Native American rights supporters were both dealt blows today with the announcement that Donald Trump has signed executive orders to resume construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines.  

The move comes at an especially critical time in the case of the Dakota Access pipeline, where Standing Rock protests culminated in the Army Corps of Engineers calling a halt to pipeline construction, pending an environmental impact review of risks posed to the nearby Sioux Reservation's water supply.

While the new president's reversal of Obama administration policies is not surprising, what happens next is not entirely clear. This excerpt from a December Sierra Club FAQ sheds some light on a few of the possibilities:
Can the incoming administration reverse the Corps’ decision?

The incoming administration may very well try to reverse the EIS decision, but that may not be a simple feat. Agency decisions must be based on sound reasoning and well-supported by the facts. The Corps decided that an EIS is warranted after months of careful consideration. It set forth the legal basis and reasoning for the decision in a memorandum from Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, and the decision to prepare an EIS is fully supported by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its implementing regulations.
If a Trump administration were to reverse course on a decision like this, it too would have to be accompanied by sound reasoning that makes a rational connection between the facts found and the decision made. Any hasty or arbitrary decision would be legally vulnerable and subject to further litigation. Of course, that’s not to say the incoming administration won’t rush a decision.
Another scenario would be for Congress to approve the final easement and deem it compliant with all environmental laws, either through an appropriations rider, a stand-alone bill, or some other mechanism that garners enough support from the House and Senate.
For further information on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the controversies surrounding it, see the following Indy feature stories:

Occupy America: Activism before and after Standing Rock

Water Warriors: Indigenous locals travel to Standing Rock to join pipeline resistance

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Friday, January 20, 2017

New citizen watchdog group to push for answers and action on water contamination

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 11:54 AM

An early meeting of the FVCWC gave opportunity to share experiences with contaminated drinking water. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • An early meeting of the FVCWC gave opportunity to share experiences with contaminated drinking water.

You're not the only one pissed to find out that your water was poisoned for years. You’re not the only one who’s frustrated at weak answers and thin information. You’re not the only one who’s anxious about your family’s health over the long-run. 

That's the message of the newly-formed Fountain Valley Clean Water Committee wants to send residents affected by water contamination in Security, Widefield and Fountain. The committee hopes to unite over their shared concerns and thirst for solutions.

Co-organized by former El Paso County Commissioner candidate, local café owner and community activist Liz Rosenbaum and Venetucci Farm co-manager Susan Gordon, this nascent citizen watchdog group will hold its first meeting on  Jan. 24 at the Fountain Library, located at 230 S. Main Street. The goal, they say, is to bring neighbors together to share information and develop goals and a plan of action.

As we’ve reported over the last half year, nearly 80,000 people discovered their drinking water contains high levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) back in May. Multiple class-action lawsuits were filed in September, but will take years to resolve. Residents of the communities, located to the south of Colorado Springs, are demanding the state pay for blood testing, but to no avail. Water districts turned off their groundwater wells and are now scrambling to get their systems pumping clean water by the time summer rolls around, but water rates are almost sure to rise.

The areas represent the largest affected community in the whole country and, until recently, were one of the few without a community organization actively pursuing remedies.

Visit the event page for more information about the meeting and the group’s page to stay in the loop going forward. Email Liz Rosenbaum at 2lizrosenbaum@gmail.com to get involved.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Coal kills, demonstrators say

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 2:12 PM

Santa Claus was to speak today at the Utilities Board meeting about the negatives of burning coal in the city's power plans. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Santa Claus was to speak today at the Utilities Board meeting about the negatives of burning coal in the city's power plans.

A small band of protesters gathered outside the Plaza of the Rockies building today before the City Council met as Colorado Springs Utilities Board.

They carried signs saying:
• "We are better than this"
• "Heavy metals, breathe deep"
• "Coal kills"
• "Bad air hurts our lungs"
• and "Come clean, CSU"

They were protesting emissions from the downtown Drake Power Plant, which some argue don't meet air quality standards. CSU officials say that's not true.

Sam Masias, a long-time supporter of solar power who was dressed like Kris Kringle, said he planned to speak at the 1 p.m. Utilities Board meeting at which time he would give the Council a solar-powered Santa Claus and CEO Jerry Forte a bag of fake coal. It wasn't real coal, he said, "Because we're afraid he'll burn it."

Here's the group's call to action:
Please make your voices hear to City Council / the Utilities Board members to let them know you care about government transparency and our energy future!

Use your 3 minutes of public comment allotted to each of us to let them know that withholding air quality reports (that we, ratepayers paid for), and punishing the person who has been trying to seek public access to that information IS NOT OK! Let them know that:

We need full government transparency about our energy and air quality information.
They should not punish citizens who are simply trying to ensure access to air quality information.
We want more clean energy in our utility's portfolio, we don't want resources spent to ensure coal and fossil fuel energy sources continue to fuel our city when less polluting alternatives are available NOW! Our rates should be used for cleaner energy that will not poison our community, as the downtown Martin Drake Plant does!
To learn more, and if you haven't signed already, please see the Petition about this travesty of justice and abuse of government power.

Call Amy Gray with questions or for more details at 719-650-0259.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Utilities set to meet new clean-air standards, official says

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 5:12 PM

Drake Power Plant downtown will lose the use of one of its three units by year's end. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Drake Power Plant downtown will lose the use of one of its three units by year's end.
There's been a lot of allegations tossed around regarding Colorado Springs Utilities' coal-fired power plants and whether they meet federal emissions standards. We won't go into all that in detail, but did think it timely to ask whether the Drake and Nixon power plants will meet clean air requirements when new regulations kick in on Jan. 1.

That's been the impetus behind CSU spending roughly $170 million on new technology invented by local physics wizard Dave Neumann via his Neumann Systems Group.

Here's an explanation on the status of that technology applied to Drake downtown, CSU's compliance and its other project involving adding scrubbers through a different company at Nixon, a plant located 10 miles south of the city.

Amy Trinidad from CSU writes:
There are two new sulfur dioxide mandates that impact our power plants in 2017. The first is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards and the second is the Regional Haze Rule.

In accordance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the state of Colorado must demonstrate that areas around power plants meet sulfur dioxide air quality standards. At each the Drake and Clear Spring Ranch campus (where Nixon Power Plant is located), the state has chosen to demonstrate that air quality standards are met through an emission limit (1,995 tons per year at each site) that becomes effective Jan. 1, 2017.

In order to meet this limit at the Drake Power Plant, we committed to ending operations of Unit 5 by the end of 2016 and partial operation of the scrubbers during 2017. As for Nixon, our projected SO2 emissions at Clear Springs Ranch demonstrate compliance with these new limits. Once scrubbers at Nixon are commissioned in the fall of 2017, projected SO2 emissions will be even further below this limit.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, the more stringent Regional Haze emissions limits take precedence. One of our responsibilities under the Regional Haze Rule is to meet a sulfur dioxide emission limit (0.13 lb/mmbtu for Drake’s Units 6 and 7 and 0.11 lb/mmbtu on Nixon Unit 1, each on a 30-day rolling average). Scrubbers are required on both of our coal-fired power plants to comply with these mandates.

As of Sept. 26, we took full control of the Neumann scrubbers on Units 6 and 7 at the Drake Power Plant. As you can see from the chart, the scrubbers are successfully demonstrating that we can reduce SO2 emissions to levels that will allow us to comply with new permit limits, including the Regional Haze requirements, in 2017. Our workforce has been trained to provide operational and mechanical support for the scrubbers and will be working over the next year to optimize the system.

As I already mentioned, we are also installing scrubbers at the Nixon Power Plant. Construction will wrap up in the spring and we expect to commence system testing in the fall of 2017 in order to meet the year-end deadline.
She further explains, in response to questions, that Unit 5 at Drake does not have the Neumann technology attached and will be decommissioned at year's end.
Neumann: Invented a new approach to emissions control. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Neumann: Invented a new approach to emissions control.
"By decommissioning Unit 5 and operating the scrubbers, we will be able to meet the new NAAQS yearly limits in addition to the 30-day average Regional Haze mandates," she says.

"As for Nixon, the reason we will meet the new NAAQS yearly limits, which start Jan. 1, is because of the installation of the scrubbers in the spring. Most of the SO2 emissions from this facility will occur January through March," she adds. "Then in March the plant goes into an outage (no emissions being produced) to incorporate the scrubbers. Once that is finished around mid-year, we will be testing and running the scrubbers which will decrease our SO2 emissions to ensure we meet this yearly limit."

In other words, the new limit that takes effect on Jan. 1 is measured on a yearly basis, not daily, so that the addition of scrubbers on Nixon later in the 2017 year will still mean CSU will comply. The Regional Haze limit, however, is a 30-day rolling average limit.

Meantime, Leslie Weise, a Monument resident whose son attends school in the Drake area, continues her battle over her contention that CSU is not meeting clean-air standards. Read more about that here:

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

UPDATE: Peterson AFB announces week-old pollution discharge

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 3:23 PM

Peterson Air Force Base's 21st Space Wing reports today that there was a significant discharge of contaminated water on Oct. 12.
  • Peterson Air Force Base's 21st Space Wing reports today that there was a significant discharge of contaminated water on Oct. 12.
Peterson Air Force Base got back to us late yesterday with additional information in response to our questions, as follows:
It's important to note that this discharge was unplanned and even though there are no EPA mandated reporting requirements, as good neighbors and residents of the community, we reported the unplanned discharge to CSU within 24 hours after discovery. Our environmental professionals are working with their counterparts at CSU to explore the notification process moving forward.

To answer your question, the tank is visually inspected quarterly, and
before and after any training at the simulator. The last quarterly
inspection was conducted 29 July, and the last training was held 22 Sept before the discharge was discovered. 
Also, KRCC reports, quoting a Peterson source, that it wouldn't be simple to drain the tank, because that requires opening not one, but two valves as well as activating a lever. Officials are investigating the cause of the discharge.

——-ORIGINAL POST TUESDAY, OCT. 18, 2016, 3:23 P.M.———————-

Peterson Air Force Base says 150,000 gallons of water containing "an elevated level" of perfluorinated compounds were discharged into Colorado Springs Utilities' sewage system, unbeknownst to the base, sometime prior to Oct. 12.

To put that into perspective, that's enough water to fill about a quarter of an Olympic size swimming pool.

The water went through CSU's Las Vegas Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is not equipped to remove those compounds from the water before it's dumped into Fountain Creek. From there it flows to Pueblo where the creek meets the Arkansas River as it flows to Kansas and beyond.

Pueblo Board of Water Works was not notified of the discharged, says CSU spokesman Steve Berry. It's the responsibility of the discharging agency, not CSU, to make notifications, he noted.

"It's kind of hard for us, because it was limited what we can do as a utility," Berry said. "By the time Peterson notified us — they did notify us within the 24-hour requirement — it had already gone through our system and through the Las Vegas treatment plant."

He adds that he's not aware of any treatment plants in the country that remove PFCs, "unless they're using some sophisticated reverse osmosis" process.

CSU received notification from Peterson verbally and in an email on Oct. 13. The base is required to file a report with the state and the EPA, Berry says.

Here's Peterson's release, which is sure to ramp up concern over the PFCs, which already have triggered lawsuits and outrage in the Fountain Valley due to contaminated wells that residents fear will permanently affect the values of their properties, not to mention pose a risk to their health.
An unplanned water discharge from a Peterson fire training area was discovered Oct. 12.

About 150,000 gallons of water being held in a fire training area retention tank was discharged into the Colorado Springs Utilities sewer system sometime in the last week. The tank held water that contained an elevated level of perfluorinated compounds, a residual component of aqueous film forming foam, a firefighting foam historically used at the base for emergency response.

Air Force officials reported the discharge to Colorado Springs Utilities within 24 hours after discovery, and an official report was made within a five-day window, as requested by CSU.

Authorities at Peterson discovered the discharge during a routine tank inspection Oct. 12. The tank is part of a system used to recirculate water to the fire training area.

"We take this type of event seriously, and will work diligently to determine the cause," said Lt. Col. Chad Gemeinhardt, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron commander. "We are committed to upholding environmental stewardship policies and procedures."

An investigation into the incident is ongoing to determine how the discharge occurred and a review is underway to determine if there are gaps in procedures or training.

"Peterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force are committed to protecting the environment and communities in which we call home," said Col. Doug Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander. "We take all environmental concerns seriously, and have opened an investigation to determine the cause of the discharge and to prevent it from happening again."

When PFCs were discovered earlier this year in well water south of the base, the Air Force proactively provided $4.3 million to filter and provide drinking water to affected residents while an investigation of potential source areas is conducted. Officials are confident these ongoing mitigation strategies are sufficient to address any potential contamination from the discharge.

We've contacted Peterson and asked when the water was discharged, how often the tank in question is inspected and why Pueblo authorities weren't immediately notified. If and when we hear back, we'll update.

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Colorado State Forest Service: Use more local wood

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 9:26 AM

click image Well, it's certainly one solution to forest fires. - NEIL TURNER
  • Neil Turner
  • Well, it's certainly one solution to forest fires.

Well, this is something you don't see every day: The Colorado State Forest Service urging all of us to kill more trees. 

But with fires burning near Rampart Reservoir and in Custer County, the Forest Service is blaming large-scale wildfires on overgrown forests. 

According to Ryan Lockwood, the Service's Public and Media Relations Coordinator, "[H]aving a robust wood products industry results in healthier forests and reduced wildfire risk." And indeed, it's hard to argue that there are fewer fires where there are fewer — or no — trees. 

Here's the release:

2016 Colorado Wildfires Highlight Need to Use Local Wood

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – October 17, 2016 – The large and destructive wildfires in Colorado this year, from the 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire still burning in beetle-kill timber in northwestern Colorado to the 16,000-acre Hayden Pass Fire southeast of Salida, are in part due to unhealthy forest conditions that made them prone to intense fire behavior. And with this week being National Forest Products Week, the Colorado State Forest Service wants to emphasize how having a robust wood products industry spurs not only widespread forest management, but the healthy forests and reduced wildfire risk that result from them.

“If we could increase the share of locally produced wood products that are purchased by Coloradans, the benefits would accrue not only to family-owned businesses, but to our forests themselves,” said Tim Reader, CSFS utilization and marketing forester.

More than 90 percent of the forest products purchased by Coloradans currently are imported into the state.

Kristina Hughes, another CSFS forester, is the program administrator for the Colorado Forest Products™ program, which encourages consumers to purchase locally made wood products from one of the state’s many wood-based businesses. She says that by purchasing locally harvested and produced wood products, citizens support the sawmills and other businesses that are improving forest health and protecting communities, property and critical infrastructure from wildfire.

Consumers looking to buy locally produced wood products or businesses interested in joining the Colorado Forest Products™ program can go to www.coloradoforestproducts.org. Coloradoans also can learn more about the way they can contribute to the wood products economy and how the state is supporting these businesses by visiting http://csfs.colostate.edu/cowood

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

It's open season (next season) for farm stands in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 5:25 PM

City Council legalized farm stands in Colorado Springs this week after a near-unanimous vote. The only dissenter was Helen Collins of District 4, who described the ordinance designed to bring the city up to speed with state law as “a waste of time.” Luckily for local food advocates, her opposition didn’t waste much time holding up the otherwise uncontroversial measure aimed at empowering citizens to sell veggies and other homemade food items from their own yards.

Councilor Jill Gaebler brought the ordinance to her colleagues at the recommendation of the Food Policy Advisory Board — a year-old city/county board convened to study local food sovereignty in a region that trucks in close to all the food it eats from out of state. This measure, nearly identical to one Denver passed in 2014, was the board’s top priority because of how simple and rewarding it may be for the community.

The ordinance expands the home occupation permit to include cottage foods — a category defined by a 2012 state law that gave people the right to produce and sell certain non-perishable homemade foods without a commercial license. It includes canned and pickled veggies, jams, jellies, honey, breads, teas and all sorts of other goodies that pretty much won’t get you sick if you’re equipped with eyes, a nose and a brain.

The fine print contains some details that all would-be farm standers should know: get permitted through the planning department for a one time fee of $60; to sell from a farm stand, take the food safety course offered through the El Paso County Health Department; only set up your stand between dawn and dusk from April to November; don’t block traffic; be kind to your neighbors.

Councilor Gaebler heralded the measure as a victory for not only personal liberty and private property rights, but for good old-fashioned, neighbor-to-neighbor community building.

We’ll say cheers with some homegrown tea to that!

Read the full text of the ordinance here:

Editor's note: This story has been updated with corrected permit information.
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Monday, October 10, 2016

Local high school teacher a finalist for $100,000 grant

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 2:23 PM

A couple of years ago here, we examined a then-new (and unconventional) aquaponics operation aimed at getting more local food into area chefs' hands. 

Now, the closed-loop water system model is underway with a new challenge locally — specifically winning Farmers Insurance's Dream Big Teacher Challenge.

Sierra High School teacher Christopher Marro has been announced as one of 15 finalists for a $100,000 grant. Read the full release below to find out how he intends to use the funds should he emerge from community voting victorious:

Farmers Insurance® announced today that Christopher Marro of Sierra High School in Colorado Springs has been named a finalist as part of the company’s Thank America’s Teachers® Dream Big Teacher Challenge®, awarding teachers for their ideas to help create a lasting and positive impact on their classrooms, schools, and communities.
Local Farmers agent Kristyn Cline shared the news with Marro about being one of only 15 finalists in the running for one of six $100,000 Dream Big Teacher Challenge grants from Farmers.
Along with hundreds of other applicants, Marro’s proposal went through a competitive review process. His proposal to build an aquaponics greenhouse was selected to move on to the public voting phase of the Dream Big Teacher Challenge.
In partnership with local Colorado Springs non-profit, Abundant Harvest Aquaponics, Marrow plans to build a 4,000 square foot student-run aquaponics greenhouse. Aquaponics is a closed-looped system of aquaculture by which plants synergistically draw nutrients from fish waste while purifying water for the fish to grow. The aquaponics farm will engage students in chemistry, robotics, environmental science, agricultural economics, marketing, and entrepreneurship as well as provide interactive learning opportunities for special needs students.

“I am so excited to recognize the amazing work of Christopher Marro and share in his excitement of being one step closer to winning a $100,000 grant through Thank America's Teachers," said local Farmers agent Kristyn Cline. “Marro embodies everything we should celebrate in teachers on World Teacher’s Day and I urge the Colorado Springs community, the state of Colorado, and the entire nation to vote to help make Marro’s big dream a reality.”
Finalists’ proposals are currently available for public voting at ThankAmericasTeachers.com. The public can vote for any of the 15 teacher proposals, but a person can only vote once for the same teacher proposal per day. Up to six $100,000 educational grants will then be announced in December to those proposals with the highest vote count across the country.
Through Thank America’s Teachers, Farmers will give away more than $1 million to educators each year and the public will determine who receives the grants. Teachers are invited to submit proposals to win $2,500 and $100,000 grants at ThankAmericasTeachers.com. The public can show appreciation for educators by sending a heartfelt thank you note and voting for teachers’ proposals at ThankAmericasTeachers.com.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

First class-action suits filed on behalf of residents affected by water contamination

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2016 at 2:22 PM

Legal recourse has begun to shape up for residents concerned with their contaminated drinking water in the Fountain, Security, Widefield areas, though justice is still distant.

Late Sunday night, the Denver-based Hannon Law Firm filed two class-action suits in federal court on behalf of residents affected by dangerous levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in the groundwater. One of the complaints seeks medical monitoring; the other, compensation for property damage. Crucially, the civil action pins wrongdoing not on Peterson Air Force Base (the likely source of contamination), but on the chemical manufacturers that supplied the contaminant itself.

The contaminant in question is Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) — a suppressant used to extinguish petroleum-based fires that contains the synthetic chemicals now linked to low birth weights, cancer and heart disease.

As was long anticipated, in August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released preliminary findings confirmed that training areas at Peterson where AFFF has been sprayed for decades are “possible sources” of drinking water contamination that warrant further inspection.

But the Air Force apparently has no obligation to abstain from the perfectly legal, commercially available product. As such, spokeswoman Shellie-Anne Espinosa told the Indy that Peterson currently has 2,404 gallons of AFFF in stock, still authorized for emergency use — half of that having been purchased between 2013-2014 (well after the Environmental Protection Agency began heeding flags first raised by scientists about the hazards of PFCs.) The base does have plans to replace the AFFF with something more environmentally benign, she said.

Life goes on for residents on a contaminated private well in Security. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • Life goes on for residents on a contaminated private well in Security.

So these new class-action suits leave Peterson alone. Rather, they name the base’s AFFF suppliers as defendants. 3M, Ansul and National Foam, the complaints allege, “knew or should have known that the inclusion of PFCs in AFFF presented an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment.”

Though the proceedings are sure to turn up more evidence in more detail, the suit does offer some evidence for this claim out-of-the-gate. In the mid-80s, for example, 3M (the original and primary AFFF manufacturer) found through personnel review that the fluorochemicals bioaccumulate. Then in 2000, when the company announced the phase out of two types of PFCs — PFOS and PFOA — private and public information contradicted themselves.

As the lawsuit maintains, an internal memo from the EPA stated that "3M data supplied to EPA indicated that these chemicals are very persistent in the environment, have a strong tendency to accumulate in human and animal tissues and could potentially pose a risk to human health and the environment over the long term... [PFOS] appears to combine Persistence, Bioaccumulation, and Toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree” while 3M’s press release insisted that "our products are safe" while back-patting their "principles of responsible environmental management" as motivating the phaseout.

The defendants have yet to issue a response — either to the court or to the Indy’s request for comment. U.S. District Court 
Judge Philip A. Brimmer has been assigned the case. 
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

UPDATE: Rain barrels now legal. Here's what to know.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 10:31 AM

The Greenway Fund is also getting in on the excitement over legal rain barrels. 

They're facilitating a special sale of Ivy Rain Barrels at around a 40-percent discount ($75 instead of $129), running through Sept. 25 with a pickup date of Oct. 1. 

Here's more info about the Ivy barrels and another rain barrel fact sheet:
Flood (or heavy downpour) preparedness starts with two-by-two (rain barrels). - COURTESY THE GREENWAY FUND
  • Courtesy the Greenway Fund
  • Flood (or heavy downpour) preparedness starts with two-by-two (rain barrels).

——FIRST UPDATE: 4:53 P.M., MONDAY, AUG. 15 ——

The founder of BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment Systems reached out to say that she just established a new barrel pickup site in Colorado Springs, near the Chapel Hills area. 

"Most of our participating barrel suppliers are not retailers - they're food manufacturing warehouses," she explains. "So customers don't actually get an address until after they purchase on our website. Then they get a voucher with complete details about where to claim their barrels, and we ship the rest of the materials to their doorstep."



We legalized weed. Why not rain barrels? 

Long a point of contention, rain barrels finally got a green light recently and officially become legal on Wednesday, Aug. 10. Ahead of that, Conservation Colorado offers the following FAQ for just about all info consumers should want to know:

Where do I get a rain barrel?
You can find all varieties of barrels at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Amazon and other home and garden stores. The company BlueBarrel gives recycled barrels a second life and helps you set them up into a rainwater catchment system. Make sure to grab an online voucher before checking out their stores in Denver, Lafayette, and Louisville.

Who can use rain barrels under this new law?
Anyone who lives in a house or townhouse with fewer than 4 units can use a rain barrel. No permits are necessary. For other narrow exceptions on who can collect rainwater, check out information on the State Engineer’s website.

Now coming to more yards near you. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Now coming to more yards near you.
How many rain barrels can I have?
Each household can have up to two rain barrels with 110 gallons of storage capacity. This is enough to help water your vegetable garden, outdoor plants, or a small lawn.

What can I use the water for?
Rain barrels can capture rainwater from roof downspouts and the water can only be used for outdoor purposes on the property from which the rainwater was captured. So, it can be used to water outdoor plants, lawns, or gardens, to wash your car, etc. For more very useful facts on Colorado’s new law (including concerns about mosquitos and water quality), check out these resources from Colorado State University.

What else do I need to install my rain barrel?
Just a gutter. In order to make the most of your rain barrel, you may want to to create a raised platform for the barrel, such as cinder blocks or a wooden pallet. The higher your platform is, the higher the water pressure coming out of the barrel will be and the easier to get a watering can under the spigot.
Depending on your gutter structure, a flexible gutter extension can be useful, and may need to be secured with screws and sealed with caulk. Don’t forget to measure your gutter and buy a downspout extension that is the right size!

How do I install a rain barrel?
Here’s a nice how-to guide from Tree People: How To Install a Rain Barrel
And here is a collection of videos by Blue Barrel Systems for how to set up their systems. Keep in mind that your barrel needs to be sealable to keep out breeding mosquitos.

What do I need to do to maintain my rain barrel?
CSU has some helpful hints on how to keep out impurities and contaminants. And you’ll want to make sure to winterize it for our cold winters. Once your rain barrel is installed, maintenance is easy. Simply use the water you’ve collected to water your garden and make sure the rain barrel is emptied on a regular basis.

What do I do with my rain barrel during the winter?
In Colorado, it’s not a good idea to leave your barrel set up in the winter, as water inside may freeze and damage the system. Right around the first frost, it’s time to pack it up for the winter. Adjust your gutter downspout so the water will run away from your house. Empty your barrel completely, rinse it, and let it dry. Then, either store it inside a garage or basement, or turn it upside down and leave it outside for the winter, covering it with a tarp if you have one. Make sure the spigot is open and all components are clean. In the spring, you can put it back in place and start harvesting rainwater again.

Will my rain barrel make a difference?
It may not seem like a lot, but in Colorado every drop counts. Using two rain barrels to water your plants could save up to 1,200 gallons a year. It’s also a great way to connect to Colorado’s water supply, as using a rain barrel tunes you into the natural water cycles of our region.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Venetucci Farm suspends sales until water tested

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 1:45 PM


After getting calls and emails over the weekend, the Indy has more information to share about the situation at Venetucci.

First is that Peterson Air Force Base, the primary suspected source of this contamination, has pledged $108,000 to supplying the most affected residents with bottled water until a more permanent treatment plan gets finalized. The select recipients include Venetucci Farm which got its first shipment on Friday. But, the bottled water is enough for the humans — but not the plants or animals — to drink.

Second is that people are pissed.

Brittany McCulloch, who puts in hours at Venetucci in exchange for produce, wrote to the Indy expressing discontent with PPCF’s decision. “To ‘suspend sales and distribution’ of the produce changes not just my dinner plate, but my life,” she said. “We are informed consumers: [farm manager Susan Gordon] has been clear and upfront about the water situation. With this information, we made the choice to continue eating Venetucci produce. Yet now, a few people have taken away our ability to choose for ourselves.”

A farm share member for 7 years, Amanda Gaden shares the sentiment. “We were, as members, fully aware of the situation, and had all the information presented to us as you got it - with the option to cancel our membership,” she wrote to Gordon. “And we didn't, for a whole host of reasons, all made by consenting and conscientious adults.”

And third is that jury’s still out on the beer front.

Bristol Brewing Co. marketing coordinator Steve Oliveri says the brewery will await test results too as it eyes its annual fall harvest of gourds for its highly popular Venetucci Pumpkin Ale.

He says the brewery harvested in the first week of October last year, so there’s plenty of time between now and then to figure out a strategy should the brewery need to replace its pumpkin source. Either way, he says the brewery remains committed to supporting the farm as part of its Community Ales series.

Bristol co-hosted a volunteer weeding session this past Saturday at the farm, which will be followed by more similar events. He says even if the pumpkins can’t be used for consumption, the farm can still grow them to be given away to children for jack-o’-lanterns come October.
The biggest and oldest working farm in the city will have to leave its produce in the dirt to rot for the rest of this growing season due to uncertainty around contamination of the groundwater

A press release from Pikes Peak Community Foundation on Friday afternoon announced that Venetucci Farm won't be selling or distributing anything until results from testing its water, soil and veggies come back. That won't happen for another month or two, hence the precautionary measure, according to PPCF CEO Gary Butterworth. "We wanted to take an abundance of caution," he told the Indy, adding that the nearly 200-acre heritage farm "is still an asset we can utilize in some fashion."


For now, he says, there are no definitive answers for what will happen to the produce, finances or operations of the farm. No employees have been laid off. 

Flags were first raised on the farm back in mid-May when the Environmental Protection Agency lowered advisory levels of perflourinated chemicals, or PFCs — an unregulated toxin linked to low birth weights, cancer and heart disease. Because Venetucci irrigates with private well water drawn directly from the aquifer, its water was then found to contain PFCs above that new, lower threshold for what you may not want to consume. 

It’s unclear, at this point, whether vegetables uptake the contaminant.

But it is clear that the suspension will be a painful blow to everyone who looks to Venetucci for fresh, local food (which they've been reliably providing since 1936.)

Natalie Seales, manager of the Colorado Farm and Art Market where Venetucci has been vending for years, is disappointed that “all this produce is going to waste when it should be feeding the community.” Since July 6, Venetucci made $600 sales under the Double Up Food Bucks Program which lets food stamp recipients double their benefits. And considering the market is a co-op, losing that will hurt not just Venetucci farmers and customers, but all the other vendors too.

“Especially when the stuff at grocery stores is covered in all these chemicals, it’s frustrating to see a farm that’s been in our community for 60 years take a hit like this,” Seales says. 

Farm manager Susan Gordon chose not to comment on this story. 
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Stop the damage, and free ride, from grazing of public lands

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 1:38 PM

Land can naturally recover from grazing. - COURTESY WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT INC.
  • Courtesy Western Watersheds Project Inc.
  • Land can naturally recover from grazing.
Unauthorized grazing is widespread and should be penalized more aggressively, the Government Accountability Office reports in a new report issued last week.

Already a bargain — can we say subsidy? — for ranchers, federal lands leased for grazing bring in a fraction of the cost charged by private land owners for grazing, the report said.

The report comes after several high profile cases of what could be described as squatters using public lands for their herds, including Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy.

Here's a release from the Western Watersheds Project, Inc., which says it's time to curtail the "willful ignorance" by federal agencies who fear enforcement will bring a backlash from people like Bundy.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week detailing the extent to which the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have failed to follow agency regulations in documenting and penalizing unauthorized or trespass livestock grazing on federal public lands. The report, entitled Unauthorized Grazing: Actions Needed to Improve Tracking and Deterrence Efforts, was requested by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee. The request came in response to several high profile cases of trespass grazing and a recognition of the devastating ecological impacts it can have on wildlife habitat.

The report came to several important conclusions. Trespass grazing is pervasive and causes widespread degradation of public lands, agencies do not document it adequately, and the Forest Service trespass fees are too low to be a deterrent.

The report also highlights the extent to which public lands livestock grazing is heavily subsidized by American taxpayers. In 2016, BLM and the Forest Service charged ranchers $2.11 per animal unit month for horses and cattle, and $0.42 for sheep and goats. But, average private grazing land lease rates in western states ranged from $9 to $39.

In a separate press release, Grijalva stated, “We know we’re leasing public land at well below market value. What we don’t know nearly enough about is the extent or impact of unauthorized grazing on public lands. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management need to bring grazing fees in line with the modern economy and take illegal use of public lands more seriously going forward.”

In addition to the agencies' failure to document or penalize trespass grazing, the report states that according to agency personnel, “high-profile cases of intentional unauthorized grazing and related antigovernment protests can affect agency decision making regarding enforcement … (and) that not taking enforcement action on violators is likely to encourage more unauthorized grazing.” The report also states that “lack of support from higher-level managers for strong enforcement action does not incentivize field staff to act on unauthorized grazing and, in some cases, lowers staff morale.”

The report also acknowledges the significant ecological damage that trespass grazing can cause. The report states, “(U)nauthorized grazing may create various effects, such as severely degrading rangelands under certain conditions.” This damage was witnessed firsthand by the GAO investigators. “During our field visits, we observed locations where unauthorized grazing had resulted in severely damaged natural springs, overgrazed meadows, and trampled streambeds.”

“Western Watershed Project (WWP) has been documenting these types of abuse for years. Our reports often fall on deaf ears or are purposefully ignored by agency land managers who refuse to follow the law and punish or even document illegal grazing on public lands,” said Jonathan Ratner, the group's Wyoming Director.

Because the agencies rarely track and report on unauthorized grazing, the GAO concluded that the frequency and extent of unauthorized grazing on agency lands are largely unknown. The report found that rather than report and penalize unauthorized grazing as required by agency regulation, agency personnel are far more likely to handle incidents informally with no subsequent documentation. This leads to both a lack of institutional knowledge and makes identifying and prosecuting serial violators much more difficult.

“Trespass grazing occurs far more often than the agencies are willing to admit. We often find cows grazing inside exclosures, in the wrong pastures, or long after the permitted season of use. In fact, this is more the norm than the exception,” said Josh Osher, WWP's Montana Director.

Even when trespass grazing is reported and the agencies take action, the GAO found that the penalties assessed are often too low to act as a deterrent. This is especially true for the Forest Service where the penalty for trespass grazing may be even less the cost of permitted grazing elsewhere. The report points out that agency field staff stated, “that penalties for unauthorized grazing are rarely or never an effective deterrent ... some told us that there are permittees who view the penalties for unauthorized grazing as a cost of doing business because paying the penalties is cheaper than seeking forage elsewhere.”

A previous GAO report on trespass grazing in 1990 reached similar conclusions, including “when offenders were detected, BLM frequently exacted no penalties and, for the more serious violations, seldom assessed the minimum penalties its own regulations required. As a result, unauthorized grazing was not adequately deterred, which could lead to degradation of public rangelands, among other things.” At that time, GAO made recommendations to the BLM including that all incidents of unauthorized grazing be documented and that compliance inspections be expanded to “provide systematic compliance coverage.” Unfortunately, these recommendations were largely ignored by the agency.

“A culture of willful ignorance is pervasive within the BLM and Forest Service. The agencies rarely inspect grazing allotments and even when violations are found, corrective actions are rarely taken and violators are rarely punished,” said WWP's Idaho Director Ken Cole.

In this latest report, the GAO makes similar recommendations to the agencies about identification, documentation, and deterrence of trespass grazing. While the BLM and Forest Service generally agree with the conclusions of the report and claim they will make changes to agency policy, based on past experience, WWP is not confident that changes will occur or that local field managers will change current practices.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation group with 1,500 members founded in 1993 and has field offices in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Oregon. WWP works to influence and improve public lands management throughout the West with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250 million acres of western public lands, including harm to ecological, biological, cultural, historic, archeological, scenic resources, wilderness values, roadless areas, Wilderness Study Areas and designated Wilderness.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Who soared and who failed on an eco scorecard

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 1:24 PM

Protecting nature didn't fair well with many lawmakers from the Pikes Peak region, according to a new scorecard. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Protecting nature didn't fair well with many lawmakers from the Pikes Peak region, according to a new scorecard.
When it comes to the environment, state legislators from El Paso County aren't very supportive, according to a scorecard put together by Conservation Colorado based on analysis involving other environmental groups.

Sen. Kent Lambert was among those with the lowest scores in the Senate, while Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt brought up the rear in the House.

But several other lawmakers, including Terri Carver, Lois Landgraf, Bill Cadman and Owen Hill, scored badly. All of the above are Republicans.

On the other hand, the region's two Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Pete Lee and Sen. Michael Merrifield, were at the top in looking out for our natural resources.

Here's the release. Click on the link to find complete results.
Conservation Colorado today released its “2016 Colorado Legislative Conservation Scorecard,” an annual look at how every legislator voted on key environmental and energy bills in the state legislative session. The Scorecard includes an interactive map and other digital tools to help Coloradans hold their legislators accountable for their votes on issues involving Colorado’s land, air, water, and people.

“Despite a divided legislature, we had some great wins on conservation this year, from legalizing rain barrels to establishing the nation’s first holiday to celebrate our public lands,” said Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith. “But, not only did we have to fight too hard to pass these commonsense measures, we also faced a series of foolish attacks on our environment that would have put communities and public health in jeopardy.”

Here are top-line results from the Scorecard:

The average score was 57 percent.
11 senators had a score of 100 percent.
The lowest scores were Senators Kevin Grantham, Kent Lambert, and Vicki Marble at 9 percent each.
Senators of color had an average score of 84 percent.
The average score was 63 percent.
31 representatives had a score of 100 percent.
The lowest scores were Representatives Justin Everett, Gordon Klingenschmitt, Clarice Navarro, and James Wilson at 11 percent each.
Representatives of color scored an average of 83 percent.

Maysmith continued: “Our victories this year, as well as overwhelming grassroots support across the state, show that Coloradans are passionate about the environment. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the leadership of the Colorado Senate, which this year gutted funding for clean air protections, tried to roll back our state’s progress in addressing climate change, and attempted to pave the way to sell off America's public lands. That's why Conservation Colorado, our partners, and members will work tirelessly to install pro-conservation leaders in the Senate who will help us advance environmental legislation in 2017.”

In addition to Conservation Colorado, members of the 2016 Colorado Legislative Conservation Scorecard Committee were: Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, American Alpine Club, Environment Colorado, Peak Government Affairs, Rocky Mountain Wild, Sierra Club, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Western Colorado Congress, and The Wilderness Society.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Air Force hopes to fix water contamination problem

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 4:24 PM

Members of Team Pete take the oath as they are reenlisted by Lt. Col. Chris Hammond, U.S. Air Force Thunderbird’s commander and leader, on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., May 31, 2016. The Thunderbirds are in Colorado preparing to take part in a flyover at the United States Air Force Academy graduation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)
  • Members of Team Pete take the oath as they are reenlisted by Lt. Col. Chris Hammond, U.S. Air Force Thunderbird’s commander and leader, on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., May 31, 2016. The Thunderbirds are in Colorado preparing to take part in a flyover at the United States Air Force Academy graduation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)
In the wake of serious contamination problems with the water supply in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas, Peterson Air Force Base has issued a news release outlining efforts to hire a "rapid response" contractor to treat drinking water.

The actions comes after discovery that wells in those areas are contaminated with perfluorochemicals believed to come from the base. Here's the full release:
With the ongoing investigation into perfluorochemicals in the Security, Fountain and Widefield watershed, the Air Force has awarded a $4.3 million rapid response contract as an interim measure to treat drinking water.

"This proactive measure is being taken as a good neighbor approach while the investigation continues," said Lt. Col. Chad Gemeinhardt, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron commander.

The money will be used to evaluate affected potable water systems and develop short-term treatment solutions. The treatment system is expected to be granulated activated carbon filters installed in the affected potable water systems to remove PFCs from drinking water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will meet with El Paso County Health, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Air Force Civil Engineer Center and water district representatives July 6 to determine the best course of action.

Additionally, Peterson Air Force Base officials requested and received an expedited date for further investigation as a possible source of the chemicals. The site investigation contractor will arrive at Peterson July 7, to determine best locations to drill monitoring wells. The wells will determine source and extent of the contamination, if any is found. Drilling will begin in October 2016 and an internal draft report from the contractor is expected in March 2017. Soil samples will also be collected and sampled for PFCs to try and determine the source, according to Air Force Civil Engineer Center officials. The base was originally scheduled for further testing in May 2017, but testing was moved up to October 2016 based on the request.

PFCs are a class of man-made chemicals used in many industrial and consumer products such as nonstick cookware, waterproof fabric and some food packaging. PFCs have been used for many years to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water.

"We take environmental concerns seriously including those that could impact our neighbors and communities," Gemeinhardt said. "We are fully cooperating in the investigation and want to help quickly find and resolve the matter.

"After a preliminary assessment was received in June, we requested follow-up testing be moved to the soonest date possible," he said.

Peterson AFB provides airport firefighting and emergency services to the city of Colorado Springs in exchange for leased property from the city, and are the first responders for any aircraft or medical emergency on airport property.

Peterson AFB used aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, in joint fire training on Peterson AFB, where fire departments from across the region used the training sites to adequately prepare for emergency response actions to provide public safety. The AFFF was used in a legal, responsible manner in full compliance with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines at the time.

An industry-standard fire suppressant used to extinguish flammable liquid fires such as jet fuel fires, the foam was used from 1970 until about 1990 when Peterson fire fighters began training in a lined basin using water to fight a controlled propane-fueled fire, which provides realistic firefighting conditions in an environmentally-safe and controlled manner. Since developing the new lined training area, AFFF has only been used in emergency response situations.

"This is our home too. We have Airmen living all along the Front Range, including the Fountain, Widefield and Security area," Gemeinhardt said, "so this is a very real concern for us."

"We are working with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Airport, and other partners to determine the way ahead on this issue," he said.

In addition to providing the filtration assistance and receiving an accelerated testing schedule, officials here are double checking aircraft hangar fire suppression systems for residual PFCs, and continuing the investigation into past PFC use at Peterson AFB. Fire officials here are also replacing their current stock of AFFF with a newer EPA-compliant synthetic foam.

Various Air Force representatives, including wing leadership, civil and bioenvironmental engineers, will be at the El Paso County Public Health town hall meeting scheduled at 6 p.m. July 7 at the Mesa Ridge High School auditorium, to help answer questions about the investigation.

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