Northern Integrated Supply Project: Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement planned for summer 2011

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From email from Save the Poudre (Gary Wockner):

On Friday, December 18, Chandler Peter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the permitting process for the Northern Integrated Supply Project and its destructive Glade Reservoir has once again been delayed. In December of 2008, the Army Corps stated that the “Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement” (SDEIS) for NISP/Glade would be released in June of 2010. But on Friday, the Army Corps stated in an email to the Save The Poudre Coalition that the release would be delayed at least another year until the summer of 2011. The Army Corps now also hopes that a “Final Environmental Impact Statement” (FEIS) might then be released in 2012.

“This is a holiday present for the Poudre River,” said Gary Wockner of the Save The Poudre Coalition. “The Poudre now has at least one more year of life, and the Save The Poudre Coalition has another year to grow stronger to save this beautiful river.”

This latest delay is just another in a long and extensive list of delays for this highly controversial and extremely expensive project. With each new version of the Environmental Impact Statement comes more public comment with more scientific, economic, and legal scrutiny. The project is now at least 6 years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget with no end in sight.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

Denver Water: Cheesman Reservoir to be closed Jan 1, 2010 and reopen May 1, 2011

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Cheesman Reservoir will be closed to visitors beginning Jan. 1, 2010, as Denver Water makes essential upgrades to the dam, which was built in 1905. The reservoir is scheduled to reopen May 1, 2011. Upper and lower Gill Trail will remain open to hikers who want to access Cheesman Canyon throughout the closure period.

During the closure, Denver Water will be upgrading the dam’s valve system, which was installed when the dam was built in 1905, and will be installing underwater trash racks to prevent debris from clogging the valves.

“Cheesman is more than 100 years old, and the underwater valves we are replacing were installed in 1905 and the late 1920s,” said Brian Good, director of operations and maintenance. “Upgrading our aging infrastructure is vital to maintaining dam safety, providing a viable water supply and ensuring smooth operations.”

Most of the construction at the site will take place underwater through specialized underwater diving construction techniques.

For more information about Cheesman Reservoir, visit http://www.denverwater.org/Recreation/Cheesman.

More Denver Water coverage here.

Transmountain diversions: Moving water from the rainy side of Colorado

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Here’s a look at some of the history behind transmountain diversions, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Be sure to click though and read the whole thing. Here are some excerpts from the article:

“I expect that these waters in the mountains, instead of being a menace to the people upon the plains, will be their source of strength and their source of wealth,” William Jennings Bryan told an international water conference in Pueblo in 1910. The problem then, as it is now, is that the water just wasn’t there.

A semi-arid region where the average annual rainfall is less than 20 inches was not readily recognized as an agricultural mecca. In most years as it does now, water came in a rush when snow melted in spring, during summer monsoons and in many years would stop late in the growing season, when many crops were ready for harvest. In the worst years, no water came at all. “Nature gave Colorado two valuable resources: an abundance of water and vast tracts of fertile and arable land,” said the late Harold Christy, a CF&I water engineer who helped form the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “She gave us these great assets but did not logically locate them practical use. She left the job of consolidation to the hand of man.” The solution was to move water from one side of the mountains to the other and store it for when it was needed. The state Legislature began looking at ways to do that as early as 1889. The 50-year span from 1920-70 would mark an era of projects designed to fulfill that vision in Eastern Colorado.

At first, moving water across mountains mostly involved digging ditches across mountain passes. The earliest effort still running is the Grand Ditch, completed in the 1890s, in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. Many other ditches were dug by farmers looking for a way to make water available throughout the growing season. As the cities have grown, they have acquired many of those systems after irrigators found them expensive to maintain. Pueblo, for instance, acquired the Ewing, Wurtz and Columbine ditches in Lake County in the early 1950s to cope with water shortages at the time.

Engineers also were already toying with tunnels in the early 1900s. An early large tunnel project devoted solely to water was the Gunnison-Uncompahgre Tunnel completed in 1909, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation to move water from one sub-basin of the Colorado River to another, and later transferred to a local district. Similarly, the Laramie-Poudre Tunnel, completed in 1911, brought water from the North Platte into the South Platte basin in Northern Colorado. Rail tunnels, like the Carlton Tunnel near Leadville that later became the diversion tunnel for the Busk-Ivanhoe system, or Denver’s Moffat Tunnel, were later used as ways to move water.

More transmountain/transbasin coverage here.

How does Colorado water consumption measure up?

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The number of gallons per person used daily in Denver and other South Platte River basin cities decreased 13.6 percent between 2000 and 2008, to 178 gallons from 206 gallons. Water use in Colorado Springs and Arkansas River basin communities decreased during that time by 11.2 percent to 190 gallons, down from 214…

Water use rose to 256 gallons per person in the Colorado River basin, 332 in the Rio Grande, and 236 in the Dolores/San Juan, according to Colorado Water Conservation Board data…

The new Colorado Water Conservation Board data indicate wide variations in consumption statewide. Residents of Pitkin County, home of Aspen, used 1,851 gallons per person each day, the data show, as Elbert County folks used 111 gallons each. Water analysts attributed the decreasing water use in Front Range cities to conservation programs that create financial incentives. Denver Water, for example, pays customers up to $150 to replace a toilet, shower or washing machine with a newer, more efficient model.

More conservation coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Geovic Mining Corp. and Black Range Minerals biding their time waiting for uranium prices to rise and watching Powertech go through the regulatory hurdles

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in July issued a report describing the environmental impacts of several in situ leach uranium mines in Wyoming and New Mexico. The report doesn’t cover Colorado because the federal agency doesn’t have jurisdiction over uranium here. In Colorado, Utah and a few other states, the state government has authority over uranium. The report found most of the in situ mines’ operations would take at most a small toll on the groundwater, depending on specific geologic conditions unique to each site. The report did find, however, the mines’ impact on deep aquifers could be large depending on site-specific conditions. A 2008 Colorado law, HB 1161, requires companies doing in situ leach mining to clean the mine’s contaminants out of the groundwater once mining is complete and leave the water in the same condition in which it was found. Solution mining has been used in Texas and Wyoming for decades, but many of the mines have been cited by state environment departments for a slate of violations. One of those came as recently as Dec. 8, when the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality cited Cameco Resources for failure to clean a chemical leak, or “excursion,” at its Highland Uranium Project near Glenrock…

“The regulations are more strict now,” said [Bill] Chenoweth, former geologist for the now-defunct U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Grand Junction, adding that mines are able to completely cleanse the groundwater of any contaminants, just as HB 1161 requires. “If they spend enough money in flushing and recycling the water, they can do it,” he said. “It’s all a matter of economics.”[…]

Black Range Minerals and Geovic Mining have their sights set on mostly private land near Keota and Grover in an area that was the site of uranium exploration in the 1980s in Weld County near the Pawnee Buttes. Geovic Mining, a Denver-based company whose primary business is a cobalt mine in Cameroon, is holding its breath waiting for Powertech to move its Centennial Project through the regulatory hurdles imposed by a 2008 state law. The law, HB 1161, requires companies operating an in situ leach uranium mine to ensure no contamination is left in nearby groundwater once the mine shuts down. Geovic also is waiting for the price of uranium – currently about $45 – to increase enough to justify a new mine…

Like Geovic, Australia-based Black Range, which owns property northwest of Keota, is waiting for the right moment to make its next move. “The project’s sitting idle at the moment,” said Ben Vallerine, exploration manager for Black Range. “We haven’t secured the land we need. We’ve got some leases from the federal government, and we have to do a plan of operations to complete that leasing process.” He said Black Range has secured about 35 percent of the land it needs for a uranium mine. Black Range’s land sits near federal land in the Pawnee National Grassland, but U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Bustos said the agency is not analyzing any uranium leasing proposal for the grassland and no leases have been granted. The Forest Service denied leases for in situ leach uranium mining operations on the Pawnee National Grassland near Keota in the 1970s and 1980s “because of concern for rehabilitation of aquifers in the formation containing the uranium,” according to a 1997 Forest Service environmental impact document for the plan that currently governs how the grassland is managed.

Here’s a look at the current state of uranium mining in Colorado along with some history, from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

With the third-largest uranium reserves in the country behind Wyoming and New Mexico, interest in uranium exploration in Colorado in recent years before uranium prices fell has been staggering. “In 2005 and 2006, 10,000 mining claims were filed on federal land in Colorado,” said Vince Matthews, Colorado State University geologist and director of the Colorado Geological Survey. “Then, in 2007 alone, another 10,000 were filed.”

Uranium was first discovered in Colorado in 1871 near Central City in Gilpin County, but the mother lode of hot ore was to be found more than a decade later in western Montrose County. The Uravan mining district, centered on a wedge of canyon country between the Uncompahgre Plateau and the Utah state line, encompasses hundreds of uranium mining claims…

A cycle of boom and bust around Uravan – formed from the names of the elements uranium and vanadium – followed, first with the radium boom of a century ago, then a vanadium boom of the 1930s and ’40s, a uranium boom in the 1940s and another uranium rush during the Cold War…

Congress approved a program in 1972 to cleanup the mill tailings beneath homes across the [Grand Junction], and it soon realized health hazards from radioactive tailings weren’t limited to Mesa County. Another federal program during the next two decades cleaned up uranium mill tailings in Durango, Fruita, Palisade, Gunnison, Naturita and Rifle…

The biggest uranium deposit in the state was found in Jefferson County in the 1940s, where 17 million pounds of the ore ware extracted until the mine there closed in 2000. The Cochetopa mining district near Gunnison produced 1.2 million pounds of uranium, while less than 500,000 pounds were produced from a few mines in Fremont County. A uranium mill still operates in nearby Canon City.

Just west of the Pawnee Buttes in Weld County, Wyoming Minerals Corp. built a uranium project near Grover – 35 miles east of the Centennial Project – in the early 1980s to test technology called solution mining, or in situ leach uranium mining…

There are now more than 90 active uranium prospects and 35 active uranium projects statewide, according to state statistics. Powertech remains in the permitting process for the Centennial Project, and the state will kick off a formal rulemaking to ensure in situ leach mines, such as the one proposed by Powertech, conform to a new state water quality reclamation law in early 2010…

Energy Fuels Resources Corp. recently scored the support of Gov. Bill Ritter in its proposal to open a new uranium mill – the first of its kind in decades in the United States – in Western Colorado’s Paradox Valley, west of Naturita. The mill, opposed by environmental groups, still must receive approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

More nuclear coverage here and here.