From the Denver Post (Charlie Meyers): “Soon it will be seven years since fires ravaged the South Platte River basin in the vicinity of Cheesman Reservoir, less than a flicker in geologic time, but a small eternity for enthusiasts waiting for the river’s recovery.
“Strong 2008 flows from a heavy snowpack moved a considerable amount of the sediment washed down from steep, fire-scorched slopes. This scouring action proved particularly effective in the lower reaches of Cheesman Canyon and in the extended runs downstream through the hamlet of Deckers.”
From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon): “Officials are shooting for an April 20 starting date for the long-awaited cleanup of the Moab, Utah, mill-tailings pile. U.S. Energy Department officials last week opened a 3,800-foot section of rail track they will use as a staging area for shipments of mill tailings from the pile to a disposal site to the north, near Crescent Junction. A gantry crane capable of lifting 50 tons will pluck tailings-laden containers from trucks and place them on railroad cars on a ledge above the pile, which sits near the entrance to Arches National Park.”
From the Denver Post (Mark Jaffe): “In the final ruling in the long-running case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Kansas’ argument its consultants should be paid $9.2 million by Colorado. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers argued before the court in December that his state should be on the hook only for the $40-a-day fee set by federal court rules. The court agreed. So Colorado owes Kansas precisely $199,577.19.”
Appearing before the high court in November, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers argued that his state should not have to pay $9 million in expert witness fess that Kansas says Colorado taxpayers ought to pay since it was the prevailing party in a protracted water rights case. “The Supreme Court’s decision today marks a bright note for Colorado in this long-running water dispute,” Suthers said on a statement. “We are glad to see the Supreme Court sided with our position on the matter of expert witness fees and, as a result, saved Colorado taxpayers more than $9 million.” When Suthers and Kansas Attorney General Steve Six appeared last year before the U.S. Supreme Court it was 23 years after the original lawsuit was filed over flows in the Arkansas River…
“We see no good reason why the rule regarding the recovery of expert witness fees should differ markedly depending on whether a case is originally brought in a district court or in this court,” Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the high court. “Many cases brought in a district court are not less complex than those brought originally in this court.”
The town of Hayden is working through the water court process and plans to file in opposition to Shell’s December 30, 2008 filing for water on the Yampa River. Here’s a report from Blythe Terrell writing for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. From the article:
Resident Donna Hellyer asked the Town Board of Trustees last week to voice opposition to Shell, which wants to take 375 cubic feet per second of water during high flow periods. Hayden missed a deadline to file a statement of opposition, said Geoff Blakeslee, vice chairman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Hayden trustees on Thursday asked town staff members to explore legal and other options. “The next level is make people understand we’re not in support of it,” Town Manager Russ Martin said Monday…
Meanwhile, Mark Jaffee has an background article — with a bit of speculation about the future of the Shell filing — running in the Denver Post. From the article:
A bid by the Shell Exploration and Production Co. for a 15 billion- gallon water right has sparked opposition letters from 25 federal, state and local agencies, along with businesses and environmental groups. The battle runs from Parker, which is seeking more water amid Front Range suburbs, to Dinosaur National Monument, where National Park Service officials worry that Shell’s plan to divert water for oil-shale development may hurt the park. Other objections filed with the Steamboat Springs water court came from a coal company, a power company, an agricultural ditch company and Cross Mountain Ranch, a hunting resort…
“There is a big target on the Yampa. Everyone is looking to tap into it,” said Glenn Porzak, a water lawyer for the city of Steamboat Springs. Water-rights applications usually generate no more than seven protest letters, Porzak said. The biggest case he was ever involved in had about 19. “This Yampa case is big,” he said…
Many of the groups filing opposition letters are just seeking more information — such as the one from the Colorado State Engineer. “We want to make sure that the water right isn’t speculative, that it will be put to a beneficial use and that Shell can and will develop the required infrastructure,” Assistant State Engineer Kevin Rein said. “There isn’t enough information in the application to do that.”[…]
Moffat County filed a letter because the proposed reservoir would bury a county road. “We just want to be part of the process to protect our citizens,” said Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray, who criticized the many letters from groups outside the river basin with no direct standing. “We hope the water court weeds out opposers who don’t have standing and who would not be harmed.”
Among the other filers and the issues they raise are:
• The federal Bureau of Land Management, which says Shell has not yet applied for rights of way through public land needed for its plan.
• The state Division of Wildlife, which is seeking more information on the potential impact of the water right on recovery plans for endangered fish species in the Yampa and Colorado rivers.
• The Colorado River Conservation District, which wants more detail on the impact of the proposed right on the state’s obligation to interstate water compacts.
The environmental groups filing include the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
FromKJCT8.com: “The Senate gave final approval Monday to House Bill 1174 (pdf), which would excuse the farmers from having to replace water their wells drew before March 15, 1974, from an aquifer that supplies the river…
“The bill is intended to help farmers whose wells were shut down in a water rights dispute in 2006. Greg Hertzke of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District says the bill would benefit the owners of about 100 wells.”
Chris Woodka has an article running in the Pueblo Chieftain catching us up on the emerging drought on the eastern plains. From the article:
Water supply in the next three months could be pivotal going into the summer, said Nolan Doesken, Colorado State University state climatologist. “We’re at the beginning of the most critical time of year (spring) where the water that falls from the sky has a greater effect on the state water supply than any other time of year,” Doesken said in a press release. “We’re at that point where it could go either way.”
The National Drought Monitor, a consensus of some 200 federal and academic scientists, categorizes much of Front Range in a moderate drought. Temperatures across the state in February stood at 4 degrees above average with very little precipitation, which is not unusual, particularly along the Front Range and on the Plains, Doesken said. “March and April need to be wet to get the state safely into the hot summer months ahead,” he said. Forecasts call for above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation from March through May, Doesken added…
Pueblo has had only 0.08 inches of precipitation to date, with warm windy weather for much of the winter. Statewide, snowpack has leveled out to about average levels, with the South Platte River basin lowest at 91 percent of average and the Colorado at 111 percent. The Arkansas River basin was at 107 percent, while the Rio Grande basin was at 104 percent. Most of the snow has fallen at elevations above 9,500 feet…
Out east, farmers are wondering when the next rain will fall. “We’ve had about half an inch, and other than that nothing since mid-October,” said Dale Mauch, who farms on the Fort Lyon near Lamar. “Things are tinder dry. It’s drier than 2002, because this time we have no sub-moisture.” Actually, Mauch sees very little break in the drought that began to grip the Southeastern corner of the state in 2001. Other than the blizzards of early 2007, there has not been enough moisture to recharge the soil profile lost in the drought. “That lasted about six months, but there’s really been nothing since July 2007.”
From the Pueblo Chieftain: “Land Owners United is hosting a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 16 in the Las Animas Elementary school gymnasium at 530 Poplar Ave. Land Owners United has been working with the Stewards of the Range, a property rights group, for several months to develop a strategy to resolve the problems with the conservation easements is Southeastern Colorado. Fred Grant, an attorney with Stewards of the Range, will present his plan for resolving the issues involved with the conservation easement program, including audits by the Internal Revenue Service and Colorado Department of Revenue, and the inability to market tax credits…Call Wright at 719-263-5449 or Don Koehn at 719-336-7240 or e-mail email@example.com for information. “
From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka): “Council delayed an emergency vote last week because three members were absent, and those who were present thought the full council ought to act on the ordinance that would approve signing the agreement. If Pueblo approves the IGA, it would be the last of several groups which are envisioned as participants in the district to sign on. County commissioners from Pueblo and El Paso, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and all of the El Paso County cities in the Fountain Creek watershed, including Colorado Springs, have already signed on.
“Council’s action also would come in advance of a hearing in the state House Ag committee on SB141, the measure creating the district, scheduled for Wednesday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, has already passed the Senate. The district is designed to have direct authority over the Fountain Creek flood plain between Fountain and Pueblo, but would not circumvent any existing land-use authority. It would provide input to decisions throughout the watershed and could charge service fees. It would not be able to levy property taxes without a vote in both counties. The district is the culmination of two years of work by the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, which began meeting in 2006 as a response to escalating conflict between Colorado Springs and Pueblo over frequent sewer spills into Fountain Creek.”