Dolores River: ‘It’s a complicated river’ — Amber Kelley

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From The Durango Telegraph (Missy Votel):

If ever there was an enigma wrapped in a riddle, it would be the Dolores River. Not only does the “River of Sorrows” take an abrupt northward about-face on its 250-mile journey to the Colorado River, but the origins of the name itself (“El Rio de Nuestra Senora de las Dolores,” possibly bestowed by a Spanish explorer in the mid 1700s) are shrouded in mystery. However, more than 250 years after the first white settlers laid eyes on it, the Dolores continues to confound those looking to protect the increasingly precious resource. “It’s a complicated river,” said Amber Kelley, a Cortez native who now lives in Dolores and works as the Dolores River Campaign Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. In her role, Kelley helps head up the Dolores River Coalition, a group conservation and recreation organizations that “care about the fate of the Dolores River.” The coalition, in turn, gives input to the Dolores River Dialogue, a broader group made up of stakeholders from farmers to federal agencies. That group formed in 2004 with the goal of balancing ecological conditions of the stretch of river below McPhee Reservoir with water rights, and recreational interests. To make things more complex, that Dolores River Dialogue, or DRD, dovetailed in 2008 to help form the Lower Dolores Management Plan Working Group. Also made up of a broad cross section of interests, the work group is preparing recommendations for an update to the San Juan Public Lands Center’s 1990 Dolores River Management Plan, slated for later this fall. Throw in the Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores Water Conservancy, which oversee operation of McPhee Dam, the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for management of much of the river’s surrounding public lands, as well as a Wilderness Study Area, Wild and Scenic River suitability and increasing pressures from the mining and oil and gas industry, and the scenario has more twists and turns than the meandering river itself.

Nevertheless, there is an overriding theme to it all: protection of the Dolores and its myriad uses. It is this common thread that has been guiding the work group’s attempt to reconcile the different uses with preserving the river, or in some cases, bringing it back to life…

The work group has divided the river into eight distinct sections, but the bulk of concern is over the first five, from the dam to the confluence with the San Miguel River. [Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy] said the four major areas of concern include: the health of the cold-water fishery, including non-native trout; the warm-water fishery, which includes native species such as suckers, chubs and minnows; the riparian zone, which includes eradication of tamarisk and re-establishment of native cottonwoods and willows; as well as the geomorphology, including sediment build up and flow. “The opportunities to do something positive for the river vary from reach to reach,” said Preston. “The original flow from McPhee was designed with the sport fishery in mind, but the objective now has grown much broader.”[…]

the Lower Dolores is also home to the eastwood monkeyflower and the kachina daisy, both found in only a few dozen sites throughout the Four Corners. Aside from the stresses low flows put on the downstream ecology, [Ann Oliver, the South San Juan Mountains Project Director for the Nature Conservancy] sees the biggest threats to the Lower Dolores as invasive species, such as tamarisk and Russian knapweed, and the extractive industry. In addition to past and possible future uranium mining in the area, natural gas drilling could also have impacts. Recently, the Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp. began conducting natural gas exploration in Paradox Valley using Dolores River Project water in the hydraulic frac-ing process.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Natural Resource Conservation Service: ‘Colorado’s Snowpack Melts Quickly’

Photo via Snowflakes Bentley (Wilson A. Bentley)

Here’s a release from the NRCS:

After reaching an above average maximum seasonal accumulation in April, Colorado’s mountain snowpack proceeded to rapidly melt across the state during May. According to data collected through the SNOTEL (SNOwpack TELemetry) network, only remnants of this winter’s snowpack remain in many of the state’s major river basins on June 1. May’s weather was slightly warmer and drier than average which, coupled with numerous layers of dust on the snowpack, has lead to a rapid depletion of the higher elevation snowpack statewide according to the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The statewide snowpack dipped to only 32 percent of average on June 1, after recording 90 percent of average on May 1. The state’s maximum snowpack was reached on April 19th, and was 109 percent of the average maximum snowpack.

With the slightly above average snowpack during April, runoff volumes in the higher elevation streams and rivers are expected to produce near average volumes this year across much of the state. However, the impacts of the earlier than normal meltout can potentially have impacts to some water users. These impacts may be greatest during the mid to late summer demand season as streamflows recede sooner than in a typical year. In addition, those water users who are unable to rely upon upstream reservoir storage will see greater impacts from the early melt, according to Allen Green, State Conservationist, with the NRCS. In most basins across the state, snowmelt is currently ranging from about 2 to 3 weeks earlier than is typically expected for this date.

For most of the state, this summer’s water supplies are expected to be near average. However, there are several areas of the state which failed to receive enough moisture during the winter and spring to assure near average runoff volumes. Those basins include the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins in southwestern Colorado. In addition, a number of other smaller basins across southern Colorado in the Rio Grande and Arkansas basins, as well as the headwaters of the South Platte River, are expected to produce below average runoff volumes this summer. For the most part, these streams are expected to flow with volumes ranging from 70 to 90 percent of average for the remainder of the summer. “For most of the state’s water users, this summer’s water supplies should be adequate, especially for those with access to upstream reservoir storage”, said Green.

Reservoir storage has increased significantly during May as the early snowmelt boosted inflows. Storage has improved to above average levels nearly statewide and is ahead of last year’s totals on this date in all basins. With statewide storage volumes at 116 percent of average, these are the best storage statistics since 1999.

Energy policy — oil shale: Anadarko and General Synfuels kick off pilot project near Rock Springs, Wyoming

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From the Casper Star-Tribune:

…it’s going to require new, environmentally friendly technology to make it commercially viable to develop all that oil shale, they say. Some of that technology could come out of an oil shale research and development pilot project slated for Sweetwater County, officials involved in the effort said. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. — under an agreement with General Synfuels International — is launching Wyoming’s first oil shale research program in nearly three decades to determine the economic and environmental feasibility of developing oil shale in southwest Wyoming. General Synfuels, a wholly owned subsidiary of Earth Search Sciences Inc., secured the exploration agreement last month for a small parcel of private land south of Rock Springs, according to Anadarko spokesman Rick Robitaille…

The exploration agreement in Wyoming covers a 160-acre site about 35 miles south of Rock Springs on a Union Pacific Railroad section, said John Christiansen, a spokesman for Anadarko’s mineral programs, in a phone interview from Houston. The agreement will allow General Synfuels to test and develop the company’s patented technology to recover hydrocarbons from oil shale using a process that prioritizes “environmental sensitivity,” said Luis Lugo, CEO of Earth Sciences…

The Wyoming Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups are wary, however, of industry’s motives in oil shale development and how companies might actually use federal lands. WWF Executive Director Walt Gasson said many people hunt and fish on public lands in southwest Wyoming, and those recreational opportunities could be affected by any oil shale development. He said the pilot oil shale research projects could possibly result in hundreds of thousands of acres of vital wildlife habitat for big game and sage grouse being occupied by machinery at the exclusion of all other uses. “I realize we need some energy development, but they’ve already blanketed western Wyoming with roads and wells,” Gasson said. “Are we so desperate that we’ll sacrifice the places we’ve hunted for generations for something as uncertain as oil shale?” Steve Torbit, Rocky Mountain regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, predicted the entire oil shale experiment will be “a colossal waste of water” for the region. He said extracting and producing oil from shale will require tremendous quantities of water that may not be readily available.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Colorado to pony up $4.5 million to Lend Lease

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The editors of the Aurora Sentinel believe that Lend Lease’s project could have been save with some state dough and participation in the Prairie Waters Project. Here’s an editorial. They write:

Two things should have happened. Either the project should never have been allowed to get as far as it did, or the state should have intervened to help produce needed water. Even before Lend Lease was chosen as the developer in 2006, state officials were well aware of the lack of available water for the project. In this part of the state, there are two possible sources of water for development of any significance: Aurora and Colorado Springs. The project is really too far from Colorado Springs to be financially feasible. That leaves Aurora.

Aurora is in the process of building its massive Prairie Waters Project, bringing water from downstream of the South Platte River. Part of that plan calls for a future reservoir in the vicinity of the existing Aurora Reservoir, just north of the defunct Lowry Bombing Range project. The state could easily have ponied up in some fashion to share in the expense of Prairie Waters and the new reservoir, but didn’t. Such a partnership could have provided the sustainable water supply that any significant development on this land will require.

Instead, the state allowed the deal to die and now must pay Lend Lease millions for its trouble. What a waste. State land board officials say the work completed by Lend Lease could be helpful for a future project, but there clearly will never be one without a water deal.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Precipitation: Northeastern Colorado officially out of drought

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Trevor Hughes):

As the year began, state and regional climatologists were worried about the lack of moisture in Colorado, particularly east of the Continental Divide and on the Eastern Plains. Those fears have been eased by consistent rain over the past few weeks, and now the area is officially out of “moderate drought” status according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor published by the National Drought Mitigation Center…

Farmer Troy Seaworth is perfectly happy to see the rain keep falling. In March, the Wellington-area farmer was worrying about the dry soil and lack of rain. He’s feeling more optimistic now. “It’s a lot better — the rains, the timeliness, have been really good,” Seaworth said. Seaworth said his winter wheat is doing well, as are his pinto beans and corn. He estimated the rains have already saved him as much as $3,000 in irrigation water.

Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District: 11 applicants seek to represent Pueblo on board

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Commissioners are scheduled to vote June 15 on the appointment. Council has not yet scheduled a vote. Applicants are: William E. Alt, Greg Bowman, Ronald A. Leyba, John J. Mihelich, Thomas W. Ready, Jane Rhodes, Steven Rodriguez, Jack A. Seilheimer, Lawrence J. Simons, Armando Stanley Vigil and Jim Warren.

Alt is a resident of Fountain Creek and resident of the Turkey Creek Conservation District. Bowman is a Pueblo heart surgeon. Leyba has been employed by the Colorado Department of Corrections for more than 20 years. Mihelich is a retired stormwater inspector for the city of Pueblo. Ready is a local dentist and as former chairman of the Colorado State Parks board, which advocated a state heritage park on Fountain Creek. Rhodes is a Fountain Creek landowner and a member of the Turkey Creek Conservation District. Rodriguez is a Pueblo businessman who chairs the Community Services Block Grant Committee. Seilheimer is a retired biology professor at Colorado State University- Pueblo. Simons is a local attorney. Vigil is an employee at the Bechtel project at Pueblo Chemical Depot. Warren is a local businessman.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Cotter superfund site public meeting Monday

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A public meeting focusing on the Lincoln Park/Cotter Superfund site will be hosted by state and federal health officials from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday. The meeting will be held at the Harrison School, 920 Field Ave. It will be hosted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The meeting will focus on 5-year review results at the Lincoln Park Superfund site, which has been the target of cleanup efforts since 1984.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.