Governor Ritter names Jim Martin to lead the Colorado Department of Natural Resources

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From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

Members of Colorado’s environmental community liked the selection Monday by Gov. Bill Ritter of Jim Martin, head of the Department of Public Health and Environment, to take over for Harris Sherman as executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Martin’s leadership on the state air commission was essential to cutting mercury pollution 90 percent from coal-fired power plants in 2007,” Environment Colorado advocate Matt Garrington said in a statement. “As head of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Martin was key to protecting our drinking water and making sure oil and gas development is done right.”

More Colorado water coverage here.

CWCB: Montrose County instream flow water rights public meeting

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

The Stream and Lake Protection Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board is holding a public meeting to discuss the potential appropriation by the Board of new instream flow water rights in 2010 in Montrose County, and the current status of the Board’s acquisition of the UMETCO water rights.

The following stream segments in Montrose County are being considered for instream flow protection at this time: North Fork Tabeguache Creek, Red Canyon Creek, San Miguel River, and Tabeguache Creek.

Additional streams that are being considered for appropriation in 2010 in Water Division 4 include: Alpine Gulch, Big Dominguez Creek, Blue Creek (Increase), Cebolla Creek, Cochetopa Creek, East Beaver Creek, Little Dominguez Creek, Spring Creek, and Willow Creek.

Detailed information concerning these proposed instream flow water rights can be found at:

The meeting will take place at 7:00 p.m. on November 5, 2009, and will be held in the Norwood Town Hall/Community Room, 1670 Naturita Street, Norwood, Colorado. Questions may be directed to Jeff Baessler at 303-866-3441.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.

USGS: Groundwater withdrawals decline from 2000 to 2005

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Here’s the release from the USGS:

Estimates of water use in the United States indicate that about 410 billion gallons per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn in 2005 for all categories summarized in this report. This total is slightly less than the estimate for 2000, and about 5 percent less than total withdrawals in the peak year of 1980. Freshwater withdrawals in 2005 were 349 Bgal/d, or 85 percent of the total freshwater and saline-water withdrawals. Fresh groundwater withdrawals of 79.6 Bgal/day in 2005 were about 5 percent less than in 2000, and fresh surface-water withdrawals of 270 Bgal/day were about the same as in 2000. Withdrawals for thermoelectric-power generation and irrigation, the two largest uses of water, have stabilized or decreased since 1980. Withdrawals for public-supply and domestic uses have increased steadily since estimates began.

Thermoelectric-power generation water withdrawals were an estimated 201 Bgal/d in 2005, about 3 percent more than in 2000. In 2005, thermoelectric freshwater withdrawals accounted for 41 percent of all freshwater withdrawals. Nearly all of the water withdrawn for thermoelectric power was surface water used for once-through cooling at power plants. Twenty-nine percent of thermoelectric-power withdrawals were saline water from oceans and brackish coastal water bodies.

Withdrawals for irrigation in 2005 were 128 Bgal/d, about 8 percent less than in 2000 and approximately equal to estimates of irrigation water use in 1970. In 2005, irrigation withdrawals accounted for 37 percent of all freshwater withdrawals and 62 percent of all freshwater withdrawals excluding thermoelectric withdrawals. Irrigated acreage increased from 25 million acres in 1950 to 58 million acres in 1980, then remained fairly constant before increasing in 2000 and 2005 to more than 60 million acres. The number of acres irrigated using sprinkler and microirrigation systems has continued to increase and in 2005 accounted for 56 percent of the total irrigated acreage.

Water withdrawals for public supply were 44.2 Bgal/d in 2005, which is 2 percent more than in 2000, although the population increased by more than 5 percent during that time. Public supply accounted for 13 percent of all freshwater withdrawals in 2005 and 21 percent of all freshwater withdrawals excluding thermoelectric withdrawals. The percentage of the U.S. population obtaining drinking water from public suppliers has increased steadily from 62 percent in 1950 to 86 percent in 2005. Most of the population providing their own household water obtained their supplies from groundwater sources.

Self-supplied industrial water withdrawals continued to decline in 2005, as they have since their peak in 1970. Self-supplied industrial withdrawals were an estimated 18.2 Bgal/d in 2005, a 30-percent decrease from 1985. An estimated 4.02 Bgal/d were withdrawn for mining in 2005, which is 11 percent less than in 2000, and 18 percent less than in 1990. Withdrawals for mining were only 58 percent freshwater.

Livestock water use was estimated to be 2.14 Bgal/d in 2005, which is the smallest estimate since 1975, possibly due to the use of standardized coefficients for estimation of animal water needs. Water use for aquaculture was an estimated 8.78 Bgal/d in 2005, nearly four times the amount estimated in 1985. Part of this increase is due to the inclusion of more facilities in the estimates in 2005, and the use of standardized coefficients for estimating aquaculture use from other data.

Fresh surface water was the source for a majority of the public-supply, irrigation, aquaculture, thermoelectric, and industrial withdrawals. Nearly 30 percent of all fresh surface-water withdrawals in 2005 occurred in five States. In California, Idaho, and Colorado, most of the fresh surface-water withdrawals were for irrigation. In Texas and Illinois, most of the fresh surface-water withdrawals were for thermoelectric power generation.

About 67 percent of fresh groundwater withdrawals in 2005 were for irrigation, and 18 percent were for public supply. More than half of fresh groundwater withdrawals in the United States in 2005 occurred in six States. In California, Texas, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Idaho, most of the fresh groundwater withdrawals were for irrigation. In Florida, 52 percent of all fresh groundwater withdrawals were for public supply, and 34 percent were for irrigation.

More groundwater coverage here and here.

New energy efficient desalination technology drives costs down

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From the Economist:

Ben Sparrow and Joshua Zoshi met at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, while completing their MBAs. Their company, Saltworks Technologies, has set up a test plant beside the sea in Vancouver and will open for business in November.

Existing desalination plants work in one of two ways. Some distil seawater by heating it up to evaporate part of it. They then condense the vapour—a process that requires electricity. The other plants use reverse osmosis. This employs high-pressure pumps to force the water from brine through a membrane that is impermeable to salt. That, too, needs electricity. Even the best reverse-osmosis plants require 3.7 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy to produce 1,000 litres of drinking water.

Mr Sparrow and Mr Zoshi, by contrast, reckon they can produce that much fresh water with less than 1 kWh of electricity, and no other paid-for source of power is needed. Their process is fuelled by concentration gradients of salinity between different vessels of brine. These different salinities are brought about by evaporation.

The process begins by spraying seawater into a shallow, black-bottomed pond, where it absorbs heat from the atmosphere. The resulting evaporation increases the concentration of salt in the water from its natural level of 3.5% to as much as 20%. Low-pressure pumps are then used to pipe this concentrated seawater, along with three other streams of untreated seawater, into the desalting unit. As the diagram explains, what Mr Sparrow and Mr Zoshi create by doing this is a type of electrical circuit. Instead of electrons carrying the current, though, it is carried by electrically charged atoms called ions.

Salt is made of two ions: positively charged sodium and negatively charged chloride. These flow in opposite directions around the circuit. Each of the four streams of water is connected to two neighbours by what are known as ion bridges. These are pathways made of polystyrene that has been treated so it will allow the passage of only one sort of ion—either sodium or chloride. Sodium and chloride ions pass out of the concentrated solution to the neighbouring weak ones by diffusion though these bridges (any chemical will diffuse from a high to a low concentration in this way). The trick is that as they do so, they make the low-concentration streams of water electrically charged. The one that is positive, because it has too much sodium, thus draws chloride ions from the stream that is to be purified. Meanwhile, the negative, chloride-rich stream draws in sodium ions. The result is that the fourth stream is stripped of its ions and emerges pure and fresh.

Here’s the release from Saltworks Technologies.

More water treatment coverage here.

Groups hope to get U.S. Representative Markey to introduce companion to U.S. Senate Clean Water Restoration Act in the U.S. House of Representatives

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Colorado Trout Unlimited and Clean Water Action say they fear pollution could threaten trout habitat and drinking water for cities along the Front Range because some of the region’s water supply originates in streams that may be unregulated because the streams can’t be navigated by boat and are dry some of the year. Some of those streams may be in the Poudre River watershed, the National Wildlife Federation and the Izaak Walton League said in early October. The concern stems from a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting the kinds of streams that can be protected under the Clean Water Act. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only those rivers and streams that affect interstate commerce – streams navigable by boat or are connected to such streams – are protected under the act. Some of those streams that might have lost protection could be polluted by mining and other development. In response to the 2006 decision and another ruling earlier in the decade also limiting the Clean Water Act, a bill was introduced in the Senate in April to restore some of the lost protections. The Clean Water Restoration Act is now in committee in the Senate.

But local groups are hoping Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., will support a House version of the bill. “We’re trying to get back to where we were before the two Supreme Court decisions,” said Melinda Kassen of Trout Unlimited. “It is going to take the word ‘navigable’ from the act. Technically, the only navigable river is (the Colorado River) from Grand Junction to the state line.” Trout Unlimited wants to ensure that wetlands and high mountain streams that are trout spawning grounds but are dry some of the year are protected from pollution under the Clean Water Act, she said, adding that she hopes a bill can be introduced next month.

More Clean Water Restoration Act coverage here and here.

Pueblo West: Looking at options to enable reuse of effluent

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo West indicated it would still submit a site application to the state for a $6.5 million project to discharge sewer flows into a wash two miles above Lake Pueblo near the golf course, even after the Pueblo Area Council of Governments rejected the proposal on an 11-1 vote earlier this month. “We don’t know what’s going to transpire with the lawsuit against the county,” said Steve Harrison, Pueblo West utilities director. “In case we can’t come to some sort of agreement, we are applying for the site application.”

PACOG rejected the proposal because it goes against county regulations on Section 208 of the federal Clean Water Act, adopted in 1993. Pueblo West would pursue the plan because it offers the best solution for future water needs. The 208 regulations are being applied to the metro district selectively and are out of date, Harrison said.

Most of Pueblo West water comes from the Colorado River Basin, which means the community can reuse the non-native flows to extinction. Currently, Pueblo West reuses the water by exchange, sending its treated sewer flows down Wild Horse Dry Creek, and recapturing about 30 percent of them after transit losses. Pueblo West estimates it could recapture 98 percent of flows with a direct exchange into Lake Pueblo.

But other water users like the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Fountain Valley Authority are concerned that nutrient loading from the proposed pumpback could upset the biological balance of the reservoir and create new water quality issues. There is also growing pressure to regulate traces of compounds from pharmaceuticals, detergents and fertilizers that would be more likely to make their way into the water supply. “We have serious concerns for the health of the reservoir, not only in terms of water quality, but taste and odor issues as well,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo water board. “Pueblo Reservoir is also the most-used recreational facility in the state.”[…]

Wild Horse Dry Creek discharges into the Arkansas River about six miles downstream of a river gauge critical to the flow program, and about one mile above the river intake for the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo and Black Hills Energy. It is a significant source of selenium loading, probably because of the geology of the area – water running over shale formations.

Among the alternatives that have surfaced are:

-Building a discharge pipeline to discharge just below Pueblo Dam above the river gauge.

-Building a discharge pipeline to carry effluent to the Wild Horse confluence at the Arkansas River.

-Creating a trade with the Pueblo water board to use Pueblo West effluent to supply the Comanche Power Plant, with the water board providing water to Pueblo West. The water would still get payments from outside water sales.

-Possibly developing a cooperative arrangement among Pueblo West, Colorado Springs and the Pueblo water board to recapture flows downstream.

-Maintaining the status quo, which could leave Pueblo West in the position of having to buy new water rights if its other plans fail or with a pumpback plan in place despite the local objections…

The State Department of Public Health and Environment would have to buck the PACOG recommendation if it approves the site application…

Pueblo County also has notified Pueblo West that it would require a 1041 permit for the pumpback plan, since Pueblo West identified it as a water supply issue, Headley said.

More Pueblo West coverage here.