20th Annual South Platte Forum

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The first session of day one of the 20th Annual South Platte Forum featured water law.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs took the opportunity to look back in time at the history of water legislation and court decisions in the state. “Colorado from the outset has understood that it takes all three branches of government to administer water,” he said.

University of Colorado law professor, David Getches, attempted a look forward in time. Climate change is the great unknown, he said. There is a 6 – 20% chance that the two large Colorado River reservoirs — Lake Powell and Lake Meade — could go dry if drought settles in permanently in the southwest U.S.

He also thinks that there is a chance that a Front Range water authority will form to coordinate water issues and supplies. He posits a goal of 150 gallons per capita per day for the metro area. He also envisions an agreement for the management of the Colorado River based on the 2007 agreement for managing Lake Mead and Lake Powell during serious drought events.

Colorado Water Quality Control Commission administrator, Paul Frohardt’s subject was “Twenty years of water quality policy.” He told the conference water quality law is a relatively recent phenomena. It came into existence in the 1970s with landmark environmental legislation such as the Clean Water Act.

He listed a few challenges that may be ahead for Coloradans. Population growth is foremost. “More people means more waste,” he said. He is an advocate for good samaritan legislation that would exempt certain third parties from liability under the Clean Water Act for efforts to clean up mines.

More Colorado water coverage here.

Clear Creek restoration

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From The Denver Post (Charlie Meyers):

This quasi-urban creek, where many tens of thousands of vehicles speed past daily on an interstate highway, is returning to nature through a restoration project on its upper reaches…

As for Clear Creek, Caraghar’s mission becomes even more personal. “My family drifted here as miners way back when. Now we’ve come to realize what we did. Now we know it was ignorance. If you drew a circle around the four forks of Clear Creek, you’d describe a Superfund site. I feel a lot of responsibility.” He gets release in part from the talks, which some believe call too much attention to the watershed. “I get grief from talking about Clear Creek, but there’s 28 miles to fish. If you’re willing to do some bushwhacking, that distance grows. Most people aren’t willing to walk very far from where they park. I call it the 200-yard margin, and it’s why I spend so much time fishing the upper creek.”

More coverage from The Denver Post (Charlie Meyers):

A Denver resident, [Miles Williams] is a retired Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University who, as subcontractor to Frontier Environmental Services, has taken the lead in what has become a love-in for Clear Creek, one of the most abused, neglected and intriguing streams in the state. First, as a board member of West Denver Trout Unlimited, he served as director of the heralded Golden Mile project that breathed a $250,000 revival into the creek just upstream from the town of Golden. Work was completed last year. Now he has taken the lead in a similar surge of fundraising for what will be the Courtney Riley Cooper Park in Idaho Springs. “I spent nearly 2,000 hours on the Golden Mile project,” he said. “I was so naive and inexperienced. This second time around it took about one-eighth the time. I learned what was important and what was not and where to go for help.”

More Clear Creek watershed coverage here.

CWQCC: ‘Considerations for Advancing External Proposals for Revised Water Quality Classifications and Standards’

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From email from the Colorado Watershed Assembly:

The Water Quality Control Commission is circulating the draft document, “Considerations for Advancing External Proposals for Revised Water Quality Classifications and Standards,” for public comment. Please read ExternalProposalsMemo.pdf for more information. To read the draft document visit DraftExternal Proposals.doc.

More water pollution coverage here.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announces $11 million in water resource projects

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Here’s the release from the USDA (Jennifer Martin):

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded more than $11 million through the National Integrated Water Quality Program (NIWQP) to address critical water resource issues including water quality protection and water conservation.

“Cities, communities and rural areas across the nation depend on a safe and abundant supply of water for drinking and cooking,” Vilsack said. “This research will play a vital role in our understanding of the part water plays in the ecosystem and developing tools and strategies to effectively manage our water resources.”

The NIWQP supports research, education and extension projects and programs that address critical water resource issues in agricultural, rural and urban watersheds. These projects reflect the growing need to combine knowledge from biological and physical sciences with social and economic sciences to address complex water issues. The NIWQP focuses on addressing water issues at the watershed scale. Projects funded by the NIWQP are outcome-oriented, aiming to increase awareness and change behaviors related to water resource management.

Funded projects in Fiscal Year 2009 include a project that evaluates the impacts of bioenergy development on water resources, four projects that develop tools to improve the effectiveness of conservation practices to achieve water quality goals by targeting critical areas and key individuals that offer the greatest opportunity to improve water quality, and efforts to develop a framework to revamp youth education about water issues. The current focus on education is part of a 2-year effort to launch a Coordinated Agricultural Project to create an innovative, holistic educational environment to transform youth consciousness about water and water issues.

Fiscal Year 2009 NIWQP national and watershed scale grants were awarded to:

– Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., $615,000, A Multi-Criteria Decision Tool for the Assessment and Planning of Watershed Management Practices [ed. emphasis mine]

– University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $385,000, Support of NIWQP Research, Education and Extension Outreach through Geospatial Technology Training

– University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., $660,000, Reducing Nitrate Losses in Tile-Drained Agricultural Watersheds: Integration of Biophysical and Social Sciences with Extension and Education

– Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $300,000, Impact of Bio-feedstock Production on Hydrology/Water Quality in Midwest and Southeast United States

-Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., $114,000, Environmental Leadership Interdisciplinary Curriculum to Address Water Resources

-University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb., $544,500, Improving and Conserving Water Resources through Stormwater Management Education for Community Decisionmakers of Today and Tomorrow

-North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., $228,000, Robeson Creek Water Quality Outreach Initiative

-Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa., $240,000, Innovation in Youth Water Education in Pennsylvania Priority Watersheds

-University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., $652,000, Enhancing Water Quality in Oostanuala Watershed: An Integrated Approach Toward Understanding Adoption and Efficacy of Best Management Practices

-Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $566,610, Protecting Water Resources by Engaging Stakeholders in Targeted Implementation of Filter Strips

-University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $143,000, Mapping the Future: Youth-Water Programming for the 21st Century

-University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $649,000, Tools for Integrating Land-user Management Decisions with Watershed Processes to Achieve Water Quality Goals

In 2009, NIFA also funded a project in support of USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). The CEAP project was part of an initiative to evaluate the effects of grazing practices on watershed health. The FY 2009 CEAP grazing land project was awarded to:

-South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D., $645,788, Conservation Practices Assessment of the Lower Bad River Basin

The 2009 awards also include regional water resource projects that continue funding for a national network of outcome-focused projects addressing state and local water resource issues. The FY 2009 NIWQP regional water resource grants were awarded to:

-University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., $550,000, Southwest States and Pacific Islands (Region 9) Water Resources Program

-Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., $667,000, Coordinated Regional Water Resources Programming for the Northern Plains and Mountains Region [ed. emphasis mine]

-Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, $575,000, Heartland Regional Water Coordination Initiative

-University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, $595,000, Coordination, Development and Delivery of Water Resource Programs in the Pacific Northwest

-University of Maryland, College Park, Md., $600,000, Mid-Atlantic Water Program

-University of Rhode Island, Kingston, R.I., $1,090,000, The Northeast States and Caribbean Islands Regional Water Resource Program

-Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $1,270,000, The Southern Region Water Resource Project

-University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $610,000, Continuing Support for the Great Lakes Region: A Regional Water Resource Project for North Central States in USEPA Region 5

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov.

More infrastructure coverage here.

State Representative Sal Pace plans to introduce legislation to reduce impacts of out of basin water transfers

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pace described his legislation as a carrot-and-stick approach that allows those who are transferring water to reach agreements with conservancy districts prior to going to water court in transfers between water divisions only. If no agreements can be reached, the legislation would give judges more latitude in attaching mitigation requirements to transfers. “The ultimate goal is to build a statute that leaves rural communities in existence long after we’ve gone and the water has been moved,” Pace said…

The legislation would not spell out mitigation, but would use language already existing in the 1937 law that established conservancy districts in Colorado, Pace explained. In the Aurora purchase of most of the Rocky Ford Ditch, for instance, contributions were made to the local school district to help offset the economic impacts. An area on the Upper Arkansas River or the West Slope might want compensatory storage to make up for reduced flows, Pace said.

More transmountain/transbasin diversion coverage here.

South Fork Arkansas River/Fooses Creek restoration update

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From The Mountain Mail (Audrey Gilpin):

Habitat restoration was completed in August at Fooses Creek and the South Fork of the Arkansas River, which feed two antique hydroelectric plants operated by Xcel Energy. During a tour of the restored sites last week, U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist Phillip Gaines said the project began after studies found the sites east of Garfield and below Maysville had insufficient fishery habitat. Constructed in 1906, the plants are capable of producing 1.4 megawatts of electricity, which flows to the service grid. Gaines said, “Historically, Xcel de-watered this area.”[…]

Collegiate Peaks Anglers and Cheyenne Mountain chapters of Trout Unlimited donated $5,000, Xcel Energy contributed $50,000 and the Colorado Division of Wildlife made in-kind donations to the project.

With the Trout Unlimited donation, the forest service hired Peter Gallager with Fin-Up Habitat Consultants of Manitou Springs. In nine days, 116 sites along a mile and a quarter of river were restored, Gaines said. “Within an hour of creating pools about three feet deep and dipping out sections of river, we saw fish. In three to four years, we hope to see more and bigger fish.” Gaines and other forest service personnel, Gallager and employees of Hartland Construction of Colorado Springs rearranged and added rocks to the river, moved aspen to attract beaver, created ponds and defined camp sites with rock.

More restoration coverage here.

Energy policy — oil shale: Secretary of Interior Salazar requests probe of 11th hour oil shale leases

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From the Houston Chronicle (Jennifer A. Dlouhy):

Salazar, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, said there were “serious questions” surrounding the abrupt changes made to six oil shale research, demonstration and development leases on Jan. 15, five days before former President George W. Bush left office. The changes governed the terms of any future commercial oil shale production on six leased tracts of federal land. Salazar said the questionable changes included the locking in of a potentially “lucrative” 5 percent royalty rate that energy companies pay to the federal government. That rate is well below the double-digit percentage commanded on other public lands. Salazar formally asked Mary Kendall, the Interior Department’s inspector general, to launch an investigation.

The six existing leases that Salazar wants scrutinized include three held by Shell Oil Co. that are already being reviewed as part of a Justice Department probe of former Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Investigators are examining whether Norton illegally steered the oil shale leases to Shell while negotiating with the company for her current job there.

The secretary made his call for a probe public even as he moved to open up new public lands in the West for new oil shale development. Companies will have 60 days to apply for the second round of oil shale research, development and demonstration projects on new tracts in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. These projects will be limited initially to 160 acres. If energy companies prove they can commercially produce shale oil from the lands, the leases could eventually be expanded to 660 acres — a fraction of the 5,120 acres that would be allowed for commercial production under the initial six contracts.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

But the process remains highly speculative, and environmentalists who have legally challenged the Bush rules say the current technology requires far too much water for arid western lands to support, too much electricity that would further exacerbate global warming and that the process degrades sensitive Rocky Mountain landscapes with adverse impacts on wildlife and tourism. “We want to avoid the booms and busts of the past,” said Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado, referring to a devastating oil shale bust on the Western Slope in the 1980s. “We want to ensure the potential development is done in a way that is environmentally appropriate, and we want to assure that the American taxpayers get a fair return for the potential development of America’s public lands.” The Bush rules called for a royalty rate starting at 5 percent to be paid by oil and gas companies to the federal government for the use of public lands. Critics claim that rate is far too low. “There is a question about how those royalty rates could actually be set when these very important fundamental questions [about technology, water and power] have not been answered,” Salazar said, adding the 11th-hour process was done without public scrutiny and was too favorable to a handful of companies currently holding leases.

From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

The opposition has politicized the debate, Jeremy Boak, head of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines, told the AP. Boak said Salazar’s decision to limit new RD&D leases and more closely monitor their progress will inhibit research. “I feel like the arguments are highly political arguments, not technical ones,” Boak said.

But Gov. Bill Ritter Tuesday issued a statement supporting Salazar’s new rules for the next round of RD&D leases, as well as his decision to pursue an Interior Department investigation of amendments made to previous leases during the waning days of the Bush administration.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Pueblo Board of Water Works to raise water rates?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is looking at a 5 percent increase in water rates in its 2010 budget, and Tuesday set dates for a workshop and public hearing. The increase in the $32.5 million budget includes a 3.2 percent increase approved in August in relation to the $23.37 million bond issue for purchase of shares of the Bessemer Ditch. The increase is about half of projections as high as 10 percent which were foreseen last summer. A workshop will be at noon Nov. 5, and the public hearing at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 at the water board offices, 319 W. Fourth St.

More PBOWW coverage here and here.