Mercury pollution: Many questions some answers

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Here’s a look at mercury pollution in Colorado, from Mark Jaffe writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

The heavy metal, however, isn’t found in fish in all lakes or all species in tainted lakes — a phenomenon in Colorado and in other parts of the country. So scientists are now trying to unravel the mystery of why it pops up in Carter Lake walleye, but not those in Chatfield Reservoir. “We’ve got some very hot fish in some, but not in all our reservoirs,” said Nicole Vieira, a state Division of Wildlife aquatic toxicologist. “If we can figure out what is at work, we might be able to manage the fish stocks to reduce mercury,” she said. At the same time, Colorado has issued regulations requiring mercury air emissions from power plants — a prime source of the pollutant — be cut 90 percent by 2018…

A dusting of mercury is falling into lakes and rivers all across the country — the Environmental Protection Agency estimates more than 112 tons of mercury emissions was generated in 2005. Among the largest sources are power plants, cement kilns, refineries and commercial boilers, according to the EPA. But the inorganic mercury coming out of those smokestacks would just sit on a lake bottom if not for bacteria that turn it into methylmercury — which animals along the food chain can absorb. Every state has issued mercury health advisories on eating fish, according to the EPA. Methylmercury poisoning can impair vision, walking, speech and hearing. Children suffer neurological damage with just a tenth of the exposure it takes to harm adults. A pregnant woman eating tainted fish can also can hurt her baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Women of child-rearing age are also advised to limit consumption of mercury-tainted fish because it takes eight to nine months for the body to purge the toxic. Colorado advisories to limit consumption are triggered when 0.5 parts per million of mercury or more is found in fish tissue. “The more we learn, the more damaging mercury turns out to be to a child’s brain,” said Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council…

“It is a complicated process, and we are trying to break it down,” said Steven Gunderson, director of water quality for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Lake Pueblo, for example, is not far from a steel mill but has no fish advisories, Gunderson said. Brush Hollow Reservoir, 30 miles away in Penrose, has a mercury problem.

In 2004, the state health department and the Division of Wildlife drew up a list of the 120 most-fished bodies of water and began testing their fish. About 112 have now been tested, and 23 have fish with elevated mercury levels — from Totten Reservoir west of Durango to Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins. The “hot” fish species have varied from lake to lake and include walleye, lake trout, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, saugeye and wiper. “These are all predators, top-of-the-food-chain fish, where the mercury gets concentrated,” said Alisa Mast, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Colorado Springs water collection system

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Here’s a primer of sorts on Colorado Springs’ water supply system, from R. Scott Rappold writing for the Colorado Springs Gazette. Click through and read the whole article. Rappold covers much of Colorado Springs’ water supply history. Here’s an excerpt:

To keep up with population growth, Colorado Springs has extended straws in practically every direction, from the high peaks of the Sawatch Mountains to the arid southeastern plains, a water system spread out across hundreds of miles. The Southern Delivery System may be the last straw. The exact route of the $1.1 billion pipeline – from either Pueblo Reservoir or the Arkansas River in Fremont County – is undecided, but it seems likely the Department of Public Utilities will begin construction this year. It will bring 78 million gallons of water a day to a new reservoir east of Colorado Springs, which officials say will provide enough to meet demand here through 2046. It will be the most expensive project Utilities has ever done.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: Water for Glade Reservoir?

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Here’s an update on Aaron Million’s proposed pipeline from the Green River (Flaming Gorge) to Colorado’s Front Range and points south, from JoAn Bjarko writing for the North Forty News. The Corps of Engineers is calling the project the “Regional Wateshed Supply Project.” From the article:

Million is hopeful that the Army Corps will issue a final decision by fall 2011. The Fort Collins scoping meeting will be held April 20 at Fossil Ridge High School, 5400 Ziegler Road, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Other meetings will be held in Green River, Wyo.; Vernal, Utah; Laramie, Wyo.; Denver and Pueblo. The Corps will accept written comments for scoping until May 19.

At this stage, the Corps is preparing an environmental impact statement to analyze the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of the proposed water supply project in Wyoming and Colorado. The project proposes to provide about 250,000 acre-feet per year of new annual firm yield to meet a portion of the projected water supply needs of southeastern Wyoming and the Front Range of Colorado…

Million said he has had recent discussions with major municipalities to purchase water delivered through the pipeline. Agriculture could also benefit, he said. In particular, Million sees the opportunity for the pipeline to deliver water to the proposed Glade Reservoir near the mouth of Poudre Canyon so that no water would be diverted from the Poudre River. “It would be a win for the entire region,” he said. “We could fill the reservoir consistently.”[…]

Water storage is currently anticipated at Lake Hattie Reservoir, located west of Laramie; the proposed Cactus Hill Reservoir site, located northeast of Fort Collins; and the proposed T-Cross Reservoir site, located north of Pueblo. A new regulating reservoir would be located near the Green River end of the pipeline system. Water treatment facilities would be a part of the intake system and water storage reservoirs.

More information about the project is available on the Corps web site at

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

Water suppliers here aren’t banking on the $2 billion to $3 billion pipeline being built. “Physically, it’s feasible. Politically, that is a whole different question,” said Kip Petersen, general manager of Cherokee Metropolitan District…

“I think there are political issues. There are legal issues. There are technical issues to move water that far. Clearly Mr. Million has hurdles to clear,” said Gary Bostrom, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities. Utilities officials did not embrace the idea after meeting with Million in recent years…

“We just think it’s a scam. The water is not there,” said Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Conservation District, a consortium of 15 Western Slope counties.

“It’s going to foreclose other water users,” said Drew Peternell, with Trout Unlimited. The group is also worried how taking the water would impact endangered fish in the Green River…

Million says critics won’t halt the project. And while some question his ability to pull together private funding, he said if the corps issues a favorable record of decision, he’ll get the funding. “Absolutely it’s going to happen. It’s really just an issue of timing at this point. Someone would have to come up with a reason why it’s not realistic. To date we’ve heard nothing,” he said. He likened his effort to Colorado’s early water pioneers, who trudged into the hills to find water for burgeoning settlements. “The difference between what we’re doing versus what they did in the 1890s is we’ve just got a little bigger mule team and sled than they did,” Million said.

But there are a host of regulations and agencies that weren’t in place then, and getting approval for a major water project can be long and difficult. Colorado Springs Utilities’ proposed $1.1 billion Southern Delivery System pipeline is one-tenth of the distance of Million’s plan, and it took five years and a $17 million environmental study to get a record of decision from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold public meetings on the proposed pipeline April 21 at West High School, 951 Elati St., Denver, and April 22 at Risle Middle School, 625 N. Monument Ave. in Pueblo. Both will be 6:30 to 9 p.m.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil shale: The debate over potential water requirements goes on

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The debate over the water requirements for oil shale development would seem to be a waste of time since no one really knows how much water it is going to take or the effects on groundwater. Shell spokesman Tracy Boyd told the Colorado Independent a couple of weeks ago that the company feels that the ratio of water to liquid hydrocarbons will be about 3 to 1. Is that an estimate or a calculation based on Shell’s pilot data? That’s why Secretary Salazar is taking it slow and cautiously with regard to leasing.

Here’s a report from Dennis Webb writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Recent studies have created unnecessary hysteria by overstating likely water use associated with potential oil shale development, an energy company official says. Tracy Boyd, a spokesman for Shell, told a Club 20 audience Saturday at Two Rivers Convention Center that water consumption is a serious issue that requires planning. But he said studies such as one released earlier this year by Western Resource Advocates “do a pretty significant job of heightening anxiety for oil shale development,” rather than help provide rational evaluation and planning…

Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental group, defended the conclusions of his group’s research, saying the amount of water rights acquired by energy companies can’t be ignored. “When we see a huge number of decreed water rights that are out there in the world, it makes us think, ‘Well, gee, we have to plan for that,’ ” Harris said…

Dave Merritt, former chief engineer of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said the study includes in its estimates past district rights that have been abandoned.

Harris acknowledged the report contains some errors but said the river district still has a lot of water rights that haven’t been abandoned. While the water rights could be used for other reasons, it’s reasonable to expect energy companies would be interested in them if full-scale oil shale development occurred, he said.

From the Durango Herald (Garrett Andrews):

Craig Cooper carries a small piece of sedimentary rock in his bag next to his MacBook Pro when he travels on speaking engagements. Friday it was the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 27th annual Water Seminar, where the Idaho National Laboratory energy specialist held up the innocuous chunk of oil shale and told the audience it’s time to think hard about developing the fossil fuel wisely because, he said, development will happen one way or another. As a scientist focused on energy production, Cooper is passionate in his objectivity. He works at the intersection of water and carbon management, leading research in oil shale development, working both with environmental groups and multinational oil corporations. But for all his enthusiasm, his message is simple:”Policymakers need answers to questions. “The bottom line is that there’s a lot of energy here and people are going to come and get it and that’s going to create problems,” he said.

With this conclusion foregone, Cooper said he works to create transparency in energy development. Some of his ideas sound disconsonant to environmental groups, which he said are often right to criticize certain methods of oil-shale extraction but should know that the function of business is not to perform virtuous, costly acts for free.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

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From the Aspen Times: “According to data from the latest snowpack measurements, the state’s snowpack decreased in terms of percent of average in all basins of the state last month. The decreases were enough to lower snowpack percentages to below average totals for this date across most of the state, with the only exception being the northwestern portion of Colorado. The statewide snowpack decreased to 96 percent of average on April 1, said the National Resources Conservation Service, which conducted the snowpack measurements…While summer runoff may be below average for much of the state this summer, reservoir storage remains just slightly above average statewide. All basins are toring at least near average volumes for this time of year, with the exception of the Rio Grande basin.”

From the Telluride Daily Planet (Reilly Capps):

In the southwestern part of the state, however, the snowpack, in terms of water content, is 86 percent of average. Statewide, the snowpack was 96 percent of average. The numbers come from the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and measured the snow as of April 1. The numbers continue a trend of dryer winters. In 10 of the last 12 years in Colorado, the service has measured below average snowpack readings on April 1. Colorado, even the dry southwest part, still has lots of water in its reservoirs. The reservoirs in our area are above average storage, sitting at 107 percent of average, thanks to last year’s snow…

Telluride’s rafters and kayakers — a happy group, by and large — saw the bright side. “I think it’s still gonna be awesome,” said Emily Wilbert, a kayaker and rafter who last year worked as a rafting guide in Durango. “Any boating season is a good season. Nothing’s going to compare to last year, but 86 percent of normal is great compared to when we were in a drought.”[…]

“Junior water rights may be curtailed later in the summer if streamflows drop off,” Gillespie said. So, for the sake of farmers, Coloradans have to hope that their late-summer picnics get ruined. “If we get a good monsoon,” Gillespie said, “that could eliminate a lot of the problems that could occur. We could hold out hope for that.”

Greg Evans: Solutions do exist when organizations sit down to talk

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The settlement over managing the streams around Long Draw Reservoir sets the stage for the largest native fish restoration in the United States, according to this comment from the Greg Evans published by the Fort Collins Coloradoan. He writes:

What the judge remanded was absolutely remarkable and a victory for the people of Colorado. He said put the water back in the stream or mitigate – make up for your sins. Winter water flow to La Poudre Pass Creek was impossible because of a dam enlargement, so it forced an historic compromise. The USFS, Trout Unlimited and the Water Conservation District had to sit down and hammer out a compromise to please the judge. Amazingly, that is what they did.

Now, partially funded by the Water Conservancy District and in coordination with the USFS and Rocky Mountain National Park, the largest native fish restoration in the United States will occur in our backyard. The watershed above Long Draw will be repopulated with Greenback Cutthroat Trout. TU volunteers will help. This historic victory proves something. Solutions do exist when organizations sit down to talk. I applaud the courageous individuals who helped it happen: Doc Sheets, Paul Fromme, Dave Piske, Ken Eis and other local heroes who care!

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.