Energy policy — nuclear: Representative Markey and Senator Bennet ask the EPA to shine a bright light on the approval process for Powertech’s injection well

A picture named uraniuminsituleaching.jpg

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Powertech must obtain, and has applied for, a permit from the EPA allowing it to drill an injection well for solution mining, also known as a “Class III” well. The company has also applied to the EPA for a per-mit for a water injection well – a “Class V” well – at the Centennial Project site. The agency is allowing the public to comment on a draft permit for the well through Dec. 24. “We would respectfully urge you to take every precaution to safeguard the quality of our water,” Bennet and Markey wrote in their letter.

Meanwhile, the mine’s potential impact on water quality in the region will be discussed at a hearing Thursday at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Denver. The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety is writing rules governing in situ leach min-ing under a law passed in 2008 requiring companies operating such mines to minimize their impact on water quality.

More coverage from The Greeley Tribune.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Interbasin Compact Committee meeting December 2

A picture named ibccroundtable.jpg

Here’s the release from the Department of Natural Resources (Theo Stein):

Water planners and stakeholders will convene to discuss ways to mix and match multiple strategies for meeting Colorado’s future water supply needs at the 25th meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee, to be held this Wednesday in Denver.

The focus of the meeting will be the introduction of an analytical tool to help the nine river basin roundtables identify the right mix of conservation, new supply development, agricultural transfers, and other strategies to help them meet their future water needs. The Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) is a 27-member committee established to facilitate dialogue between basins and to address statewide water issues.

The IBCC is organized around nine basin roundtables covering the South Platte, the Denver- Metro area, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande, the Gunnison, the Colorado, the Yampa-White, the Southwest and the North Platte. These roundtables are the primary forums for on-going discussions related to needs within each basin and the basins’ interactions with each other.

Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Time: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Location: Sheraton Denver West Hotel 360 Union Blvd. Lakewood, CO
Room: City Lights

All meetings are open and the public is encouraged to attend.

More IBCC — Basin Roundtable coverage here.

David A. Sampson: ‘Water and energy are inextricably linked…Energy is required to transport and purify water, and water is used in energy production’

A picture named colonyoilshaleproject.jpg

Here’s the release from Arizona State University:

Climate projections for the next 50 to 100 years forecast increasingly frequent severe droughts and heat waves across the American Southwest, sinking available water levels even as rising mercury drives up demand for it.

Declining water supply will affect more than just water flowing from taps and spraying from hoses and sprinklers. It will also strongly impinge on power generation, testing the capacity of sources like Hoover Dam, with its roughly 1.3 million customers in Nevada, Arizona and California, to generate adequate power with less water.

Now, Patricia Gober and David A. Sampson of the Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University are teaming with David J. Sailor of Portland State University on a $65,000 grant to wade into this deep problem.

Their research will focus initially on water and electricity supply and demand in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, and the effects of extreme heat and drought on them.

“Water and energy are inextricably linked,” says Sampson, a DCDC research scientist specializing in simulation and modeling. “Energy is required to transport and purify water, and water is used in energy production.

“Further reductions within the Colorado River Basin threaten not only water supplies but also energy production and tourism, with a potential economic impact amounting to billions of dollars in lost revenues.”

According to Sampson, Lake Powell currently stands at 62 percent capacity and Lake Mead, which provides the water that drives the Hoover Dam’s hydroelectric plants, is currently at 43 percent capacity and could drop as low as 40 percent.

Such levels raise questions about how providers will supply safe, affordable water to the 27 million residents relying on the Colorado River supply, especially in light of continued development and population growth.

The researchers will attack the complex problem from a number of angles.

The energy research will assess the current sensitivity of electricity supply and demand to weather fluctuations, while also projecting future scenarios of population demographics and climate. Researchers will also develop models that predict and gauge the vulnerability of the electricity generation infrastructure to changes in climate and population.

With respect to water, the researchers will use WaterSim (http://watersim.asu.edu/), DCDC’ s systems dynamics model and decision tool, to investigate how changing climate conditions will affect runoff, which provides the lion’s share of surface water used to supply Phoenix. Adapting WaterSim to a more localized scale, they will also perform a sensitivity analysis of climate change versus future population growth, to determine their relative impacts on water shortages, while also analyzing vulnerability at the water-provider level.

The researchers will feed their results into two different scenarios, a business-as-usual policy and one reflecting a groundwater-sustainability approach. These results, in turn, will provide a foundation for future study of implications of climate change and policy scenarios.

“This research is very much in line with the DCDC’s purpose and goals,” says Gober, co-director of DCDC and a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the School of Sustainability. “Figuring out how all the pieces fit together, identifying sensitivities, and making useful predictions and recommendations in the face of climatic uncertainty.”

The National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP), a commission established by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that takes a bipartisan approach to energy policy, balancing science and politics, funds the project. Energy infrastructure adequacy and siting is one of its three current focus areas, along with oil security and climate change.

Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City is one of five National Science Foundation-funded centers nationwide fostering better decision-making under climatic uncertainty. It was founded to apply this principle to water-management decisions in the urbanizing desert of Central Arizona.

Source:
David A. Sampson, dasamps1@mainex1.asu.edu
Decision Center for a Desert City

Contact:
Nick Gerbis, ngerbis@asu.edu
Decision Center for a Desert City

S.1777 and S.796: What do the bills mean for acid mine drainage cleanup efforts?

A picture named big5tunnel.jpg

From the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

…toxic waterways around the state and country — are at the center of a legislative tug of war. So-called Good Samaritan laws seek to lift liability so clean-up work can begin. Those laws, however, are opposed by environmentalists who argue they might erode the strong federal Clean Water Act. The better approach, they say, is to make mining companies pay to properly clean up the messes they have made and are making by revamping the nation’s 1872 Mining Law, which has let the extraction industry off the hook for more than a century…

Proponents of Udall’s Good Samaritan legislation, however, argue that the legislation is not meant to substitute for the new 1872 Mining Law reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by fellow Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a bill that would at last set up severance taxes to pay for cleanups. Good Sam legislation, they argue, is a necessary corollary to Bingaman’s legislation. “You need all the pieces,” said Peter Butler of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Even if you did set up a fund with severance taxes, you’ve got to have someone who is going to use that money, and they’re not willing to use it if they’re going to be liable.”[…]

DRMS Abandoned Mine Program Manager Loretta Pineda said fear of legal liability is real and a major stopping point in clean up projects. Pineda said the state is stymied by fear of incurring the Clean Water Act financial burdens that currently faces any third party that would take it upon itself to drain an abandoned mine. “There are several projects we’d like to work on, but we’re unable to do so because of liability,” said Pineda flatly.

In the Animas River Watershed, the Animas River Stakeholders Group has determined that of the 1,500 historic mine sites contributing cadmium, copper, aluminum, manganese, zinc, lead and iron to the watershed, about 34 waste sites contribute roughly 90 percent of the waste-site pollution, and about 33 draining mines contribute 90 percent of the draining-mine pollution. Bill Simon, a member of the group, explained that the group can address the waste sites without incurring liability, because no water is involved. But work on most of the 33 draining mines — apart from 5 addressed by a mining company and several that are on federal land — await some kind of liability waiver, said Simon. Even if the group had funding, neither the Animas River Stakeholders Group nor any other agency is willing to risk being sued for a problem not of their making, according to Simon.

More S.1777 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.

Summit County: Emerging contaminants

A picture named genderbendingpollution.jpg

From the Summit Daily News (Bob Berwyn):

“This is turning into the next big issue for water treatment plants,” said local water quality expert Lane Wyatt. With new, extra-sensitive monitoring equipment, agencies like the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey have been able to detect trace amounts of various substances — including Viagra and ibuprofen — that may be adversely affecting fish. Scientists also are concerned that a build-up of antibiotics in the environment could eventually lead to a significant impact on a massive scale, with changes to the way naturally occurring bacteria process vast quantities of biomass like dead wood, recycling the material into nutrients. Wyatt said the Colorado Division of Wildlife has been finding hermaphroditic trout in some Colorado rivers. Research in other areas suggests that the chemicals are starting to accumulate in the food chain. Studies from Sweden show that some of the pollutants are starting to show up in breast milk…

The issue is so new that there currently are no water-quality standards to address the new class of contaminants, Wyatt said. Upgrading water treatment plants to remove the chemicals is likely to be expensive. Keeping the pollutants out of the water in the first place could help address the problem…

Wyatt said local waters were tested with the new equipment in recent weeks to get some baseline data on the emerging contaminants. Similarly, local residents had a chance to fill out a mail-in survey on the same topic in the past few weeks in advance of publicizing the prescription drug take-back. EPA officials said they wanted to get an idea of how much the public knows about the subject before launching an education push. “This hasn’t been done in very many places,” said the EPA’s Jean Mackenzie, who is also coordinating an interagency effort to clean up pollution at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine. She said many of the emerging pollutants act as pseudo-estrogen, leading an increased incidence of inter-sex fish. “We need to keep them out of the water because treatment is not set up to take them out,” she said.

More water pollution coverage here.

Windsor: Potable water plan forecasts shortfall

A picture named fountainpavementdrawing.jpg

From the Windsor Beacon (Ashley Keesis-Wood):

The town had commissioned a potable water master plan at the beginning of the year, and [Clear Water Solutions] was chosen to create that document, which is intended to act as a guide in future water acquisition decisions. “The upshot is that build out, with all the water dedication planned on being taken into account, you’ll have a gap of about 8,731 acre-feet of water,” [Steve Nguyen, President of Clear Water Solutions] said.

Currently, the town relies on the Colorado Big Thompson (CBT) project for all its water needs. “Because of caps put into place on CBT to allow smaller communities to purchase water rights in CBT, you are not able to purchase any more CBT rights on the open market,” Nguyen said. “You can still accept them through dedication as projects are developed.”

The town is one of the participants in the North Integrated Supply Project (NISP), and Nguyen said that is a good project, which will help diversify the town’s portfolio. But, it won’t be enough. “You’ll need to make sure you have other sources, including the upcoming Windy Gap project or the Water Supply and Storage Company water,” Nguyen said. “We recommend you initiate discussions with those groups.”

More Windsor coverage here and here.

Dick Wolfe: Prior appropriation, ‘the system that works in times of scarcity’

A picture named typicalwaterwell.jpg

From the Twin Falls Times News:

Recognizing early on the effects that groundwater pumping can have on senior surface-water rights, Colorado officials tried a proactive solution, said Dick Wolfe, state engineer and head of the Division of Water Resources since 2007. Junior well users since the early 1970s have generally had to file court-approved “augmentation plans” before they can operate, describing how they will replace the water they use in times of shortage. The system worked — until a severe drought in 2002 pushed it to its limits. The ’80s and ’90s had been among the wettest on record for the South Platte Basin in northeast Colorado, the state’s largest basin in terms of water use. Then the drought hit, Wolfe said, and augmentation plans developed for shortfalls decades before were insufficient to handle the sheer level of need. Stream flow only reached 25 percent of usual. Groundwater pumpers scoured the market for water supplies, competing with cities and other water users who were also reluctant to part with their extra water. Prices skyrocketed: What once cost only $10 to $50 per acre-foot commanded sums as high as $700 per acre-foot, Wolfe recalled. Tension and conflicts rose with the increased competition for costly, limited supplies…

The agency faced the daunting task of examining about 8,200 physical, high-capacity irrigation wells, some of which would have to be completely shut down. Employees started with the wells along the main stem of the South Platte River, creating an inventory of several thousand in the curtailment’s first year and notifying the owners of wells that had to be shut off as they went. Only 5,800 wells were legally able to operate after the first couple years of work. Many of those were still “severely” restricted due to the drought, Wolfe said. Half of the remaining 2,400 wells were records errors and didn’t exist any more. At least 500 to 1,000 belonged to people who had no augmentation plan in place…

The inventories and inspections are still going on seven years later. And though water issues continue to be fought out in court, the basic process Wolfe follows has been upheld by the state Supreme Court. Given the task his agency faced, he feels it’s been handled well — even quickly. And the work has only strengthened his confidence in his state’s approach to water management. Prior appropriation, he said, is “the system that works in times of scarcity.”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.