BLM listens, opts for EA study of test drilling

Our community spoke, loudly and in great numbers, and the BLM has listened.

Today, Larry Sandoval, director of BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, notified the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance that BLM will conduct an in-depth analysis of the Rocky Mountain Resources request to drill five test water wells.

BLM will conduct an Environmental Assessment of the drilling plan, rather than grant an immediate Categorical Exclusion (CX) approval.

GSCA and the wider Glenwood Springs community raised serious concerns that the test well holes, which are intended to reveal information about the mountain’s hydrology, could puncture and disrupt the delicate groundwater network of aquifers that feed local hot springs.

In 250 comments sent to BLM in October, the community called on BLM to slow down and study the drilling plan through an Environmental Assessment process. Last week, 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton sent BLM officials a letter underscoring the call for further study.

“We would like to applaud the BLM’s decision to conduct a more thorough review through an Environmental Assessment, rather than the Categorical Exclusion that was being considered,” said Michael Gamba, a GSCA board member and former mayor of Glenwood Springs.

Jeff Peterson, GSCA’s executive director, said, “We appreciate BLM using an Environmental Assessment to make absolutely sure the water feeding the geothermal aquifer is not disturbed.”

BLM spokesman David Boyd noted that while the proposal came from Rocky Mountain Resources, BLM officials sought the test drilling as part of its advance study of the mountain’s hydrology.

“BLM wanted the study to better inform the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and show what the potential impacts of the quarry expansion could be,” Boyd said. The EIS, planned to launch in mid-2020, would analyze the entire quarry expansion proposal.

Boyd said BLM recognizes the concerns raised by the community even for drilling the test wells, and will be using the October public comments to help guide the EA process.

“BLM will do a detailed analysis now of the well-drilling proposal and determine whether to go forward,” Boyd said. He said the EA results would likely be announced in early 2020.

The GSCA understands the value of the hydrology study, said Peterson.

“We want to make sure it’s done without any potential for damage to the underground network of caverns and channels that feeds groundwater from the Flat Tops to the aquifer in the valley,” Peterson said.

Gamba added, “The potentially irreversible damage to the hydrology of the local hot springs aquifers, which could result from drilling of these wells without extensive study and input from our hydrology experts, is simply too great a risk for our community.”

The Glenwood Hot Springs and Iron Mountain Hot Springs hired hydrology experts BBA Water Consultants and West Sage Water Consultants, both of Englewood, to analyze the drilling proposal. Their study was included in comments to BLM in October.

BBA and West Sage cited the potential for drilling to fracture underground water flow paths, to hit pressurized flows and cause surface blowouts, and for bore holes to contaminate groundwater caverns.

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