Gunnison Board of County Commissioners public meeting recap

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From the Crested Butte News (Seth Mensing):

The [Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign] hopes to set aside about 89,000 acres of public land in Gunnison County as designated wilderness. Five of the seven areas being considered would be additions onto established wilderness areas, and two remaining parcels would stand alone. One of the proposed areas, Whetstone, is right outside of Crested Butte and the most contentious part of the proposal for local hikers, bikers and snowmobilers.

Before the commissioners consider a request to draft a letter in support of the proposal, they wanted to hear from all sides of the debate, and they got their wish. People from all sides of the issue packed the commissioner’s meeting room and filled a two-hour timeslot with many disparate points of view…

Right now, nearly 22.6 percent, or 370,000 acres, of Gunnison County’s total 1,618,000 acres of public land is designated as wilderness. The Hidden Gems proposal would increase that by 5.5 percent. The additional wilderness areas being proposed would be added in Gallo Hill, McClure Pass and Treasure Mountain, along with Powderhorn and West Elk additions. The two largest portions of the proposal are more than 54,000 acres in Clear Fork and almost 17,000 acres on Whetstone.

More Hidden Gems coverage here.

Hermosa Creek watershed working group recommends protection for all 155,000 acres in the watershed

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The workgroup steering committee formed in 2007 to involve anyone interested in protecting natural resources while allowing water-consuming development to continue. The committee membership includes water-use planners, environmentalists and government and tribal representatives. Hermosa Creek is the first of five similar studies to be conducted with the same goal in mind. “Participants decided that the Hermosa Creek watershed is a special pla ce and said they want to work together to protect outstanding water quality,” Marsha Porter-Norton, who coordinated 21 months of workgroup meetings, said Wednesday. “They rallied around a common goal to find solutions to satisfy as many interests as possible.”

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: ‘Classic El Niño’

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From The Durango Telegraph (Will Sands):

As Durangoans know, El Niño can be a fickle character. The phenomenon characterized by a warming in the equatorial Pacific Ocean does influence weather patterns in the Southwest United States. However, El Niño does not always show up and bless the Four Corners with abundant moisture. That said, the winter of 2009-10 is turning out to be a benchmark year for El Niño, according to Klaus Wolter, an atmospheric scientist with the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last week’s storm – which pounded Durango for five days and brought more than 3 feet of snow to downtown – was typical of the weather phenomenon.

“El Niño tends to favor the southwest part of our state with additional moisture,” Wolter said. “Not every El Niño delivers, but last week’s storm was classic El Niño.”

From the Crested Butte News (Mike Horn):

As of January 25, the snow-water equivalent totals for the Gunnison River Basin were at 97 percent of average, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Gunnison Basin stretches over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado, extending from the Continental Divide to the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers near Grand Junction. The 97 percent total puts Gunnison ahead of most basins in the state, with the exception of the Upper Rio Grande (108 percent) and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins (104 percent). Those numbers sound pretty good, considering the seemingly dry December and early January that preceded last week’s storms. According to Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, “We got a great shot in the arm with these recent storms. As of one week ago, we were at 76 percent of normal. We went from 76 percent to 97 percent in one week.”

Kugel also said water storage levels are doing well, with Blue Mesa at 68 percent of capacity, which is on target for this time of year. “Blue Mesa hits peak storage in June or July, and we try to get as close to full as possible by that time,” Kugel added. He noted it’s tough to forecast future water availability for the Gunnison Basin this early in the winter season.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

As of Friday morning, the South Platte River Basin, which includes the Poudre River, had a snowpack 13 percent below normal. Other parts of Northern Colorado were the same: The North Platte Basin was 15 percent below normal, the Colorado River Basin 20 percent below normal and the Yampa River Basin 18 percent below normal.

Pagosa Springs to host meeting to show off plans for two new whitewater features in town

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From the Pagosa Daily Post (Tom Carosello):

The meeting will be hosted by Riverbend Engineering and the Town of Pagosa Springs, and will be held in the south conference room of the Ross Aragόn Community Center Thursday, January 28 at 5:30pm. Construction of at least one of the proposed features is tentatively slated for this spring, with the possibility of an additional feature being constructed in the fall.

More whitewater coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress’ Wayne Aspinall Water Leader of the Year Award goes to Alan Hamel

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, received the Wayne Aspinall Water Leader of the Year award at the close of the 52nd annual Colorado Water Congress. “I’m very humbled to stand here among this group of water leaders,” Hamel said as he stood on the dais with past Aspinall winners. “This was a very good secret. A total shock.”

SB 10-052: Alter Designated Groundwater Basin Area

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From The Holyoke Enterprise (Marianne Goodland):

SB 52 is sponsored by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray and Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison. Brophy said this week SB 52 is designed to provide assurance for people who own large capacity ground water wells those wells cannot be pulled out of the designated basin area. Under SB 52, the Ground Water Commission, which manages the eight designated basins along the eastern plains and the Front Range, could revise the basin’s boundaries to remove previously included areas only if the area does not include wells that have had final permits issued.

Brophy said in 40 years since the boundaries were designated, no one has challenged either the maps or the engineering. Without changes in the law, “the risk is a [surface] water user would sue and pull your well out and shut it down.” If SB 52 is signed into law, “you will know the wells are safe, and the banks who lend you money for the wells will know they are safe,” Brophy said.

Michael Shimmin, a Boulder water rights attorney who represents water management districts within one of the basin areas and the ground water commission, testified Thursday there are more than 7,000 high capacity wells in the eight basins. They provide irrigation for agricultural uses and serve industrial or municipal uses. Ground water is the only water source available and there is no meaningful connection to surface water, Shimmin said…

The need for SB 52 is based on whether the decision to create these designated basins was ever final. Shimmin said in 2006 the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted state law to say they were never final—the commission could always come back and either add to or subtract from the boundaries. That case, Gallegos v. Colorado Ground Water Commission, is currently awaiting a final outcome in court. The bill exempts any lawsuit that was in place as of Jan. 1, 2010 and would exempt the Gallegos case, according to Shimmin. A second lawsuit on the issue, involving the Republican River in Yuma County, was brought by surface water users. That case was settled out of court last year when the Yuma County Water Authority spent $20 million to buy the surface water rights. Roben Wiley, a Yuma County farmer and chair of the Yuma County Water Authority, said a small group of surface water owners petitioned the commission to redraw the boundaries and curtail high capacity wells that were within 20 miles of the north fork of the Republican River. This would have affected more than 1,300 wells, Wiley said.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill cleanup update

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

A contractor is on site laying the first layer of final cover on the secondary impoundment, which was dried out over the last year. “They’re making a lot of good progress,” [Cotter Mill Manager John Hamrick] said…

He said once the impoundment dried, the top did not turn out as expected. He described the top level as “Jell-O or pudding.” The company is mixing it with dry soil prior to topping the impoundment with clean soil. The same contractor also will be excavating soil from under historic ore pads that may have pathways for contaminates to groundwater.

Also this year, Cotter is working on taking down the CCD tanks. The company had hoped to be further along in the CCD tank removal process, but discovered asbestos in the metal bands that delayed the process.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill coverage here and here.

Energy policy — geothermal: BLM withdraws parcel near Buena Vista from its February sale

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My friend Dave is no doubt sleeping easier tonight. Here’s a report from Joe Stone writing for The Mountain Mail. From the article:

The parcel, which straddles Chalk Creek, “will undergo additional environmental review and analysis,” said Greg Shoop, district manager of the bureau’s Front Range District. “We received several substantive comments in writing after our Jan. 14 public information meeting in Buena Vista that caused us to decide to further review the current stipulations on the parcel,” Shoop said.

Senator Gail Schwartz was among those who sent letters asking the bureau to delay the geothermal lease. “As the Colorado State Senator representing Chaffee County, I would like to communicate my concerns regarding what many consider to be a hasty timing of this lease,” she wrote…

The Mt. Princeton parcel would be the first federal geothermal lease offered for sale in Colorado, but the bureau has not set another date for offering the parcel at a future auction. “We want to assure the public that the environmental analysis process was thoroughly followed before the parcel is offered for sale,” Shoop said.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Nebraska ponies up $8.8 million for habitat for the 3 state Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

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From the Kearney Hub (Lori Porter):

More than $8.8 million has been committed so far for land in Dawson and Buffalo counties that will be managed as wildlife habitat under the three-state Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. Program Land Committee member and Central Platte Natural Resources District Biologist Mark Czaplewski gave an update at Thursday’s CPNRD board meeting in Grand Island on progress made toward the first 13-year increment goal to protect 10,000 acres of habitat in the Central Platte Valley. The program’s overall goal is to enhance river flows and protected habitat used by threatened and endangered species — least terns, piping plovers and whooping cranes in the Central Platte — and allow projects in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska with federal permits or funding to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Whooping Cranes were seen dancing in the streets to the music of The Piping Plovers. More endangered species coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress 52nd Annual Convention: Eric Wilkinson — ‘I guess one word strikes me, storage’

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Here’s a recap of the session, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Averages are not a real tool for development,” [Eric Wilkinson, director of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District] said. “These numbers need to be used for planning purposes and for compact compliance discussions. I guess one word strikes me: storage.”

Wilkinson, whose northern district is trying to get approval for building two new reservoirs and firming yield from current import diversions, explained that storage is the best way for Colorado to balance the unknowns of nature. Water users need to be ready for both wet and dry scenarios, Wilkinson said. “If there’s nothing left (of the compact entitlement), a curtailment would hurt us,” he said. “If there’s water to be developed, we’ll push to get water development.”

If enough water is stored in wet years, it is easier to make it through the droughts, he said. “We need to have our eyes wide open,” Wilkinson added. “Colorado owes it to itself to explore all opportunities to use the Colorado River, but we don’t want to get ourselves into a hole.”[…]

The CWCB this week also agreed to enter into a basinwide study with the other six states in the Colorado River Compact (Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming). That study will use the information Colorado has spent the past two years gathering. At the same time, the state will be applying parts of the study to its other water planning efforts from decision support models to floodplain mapping. The study itself will enter another phase that will look at the potential for changing uses or climate conditions, Gimbel said. “We will get more information as we are planning for the future,” Gimbel said. “We also need to look at storage strategically and use it for our advantage.”

More coverage of the availability study from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board Tuesday reviewed Phase I of Colorado River Availability study, and learned there are more questions than answers when it comes to things like climate change, future demand and changed uses of water. The report will be released for public review in February. “The Colorado River is one of the most important sources of water supply for the state,” said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the CWCB. “Colorado needs solid information in order to make smart decisions about future water development.”

The assessment, funded by $1 million from the state Legislature in 2007, is the most comprehensive to date on Colorado River supplies. It will be used within nearly every other water planning effort in Colorado. “This study rolls into every hallway at the CWCB,” Gimbel said…

All models show the Colorado River basin will be warmer, with more precipitation in winter and less in summer. Growing seasons will be longer, and runoff earlier, meaning a net gain in agricultural water use and more draw-down on reservoirs, said Ben Harding, a CWCB engineering consultant. “One dry year is not going to do us in. We got through 1977 and 2002,” Harding said. “The sequence of years is important.”[…]

The models are drawn from both historical data from 1950-2005 and extrapolations using tree rings to look at conditions back to 1500. Looking ahead, engineers selected five models out of more than 100 available data sets to project what would happen in 2040 and 2070. Some of the models actually show increases in water availability, but all anticipate that increased demand by agriculture — which uses 85 percent of water — would soak up any gain. The 500-year trend surprisingly indicates that the past 50 years were wetter than average, because of unusual clusters of wet years in the 1980s and 1990s. There were also greater extremes in the types of wet and dry years. Models for the future shuffled both types of years to forecast various scenarios. The difference between 2040 and 2070 would not be as great as originally thought, Harding explained…

It is also unclear whether the assessment opens or closes any doors for transmountain water increases, either through existing projects or new proposals. Nearly 500,000 acre-feet annually comes across the Continental Divide to serve needs in the Arkansas and South Platte river basins. Cities are looking for future supplies. At the same time, water is used on the Western Slope to serve the needs of endangered species, and more could be needed for growth and energy development. “It’s a good first step,” said Eric Kuhn, executive director of the Colorado River Conservation District. “It’s pretty clear that there is probably a limit to what we can do. From the river district’s perspective, our approach will be wait and see.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery scores $1.5 million for new raceways

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Around Coyote Gulch we love a good fish story. From the Delta County Independent:

The funding is provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Boise, Idaho-based McMillen, LLC received the stimulus funds for several projects to include building new fish raceways and converting old ponds into effluent ponds. Adam Mendoza, hatchery project leader, said the project was planned and in the system, but had never been funded because of its high dollar price tag. “When the money was available, they were looking for projects sitting in the system for some time and those were the ones they grabbed first. Since we had most of the paperwork and the red tape of the project accomplished, this was one of the projects picked,” Mendoza said.

Hotchkiss has 32 raceways and six earthen ponds used for raising fish. New raceways will replace the ponds. The six shallow ponds lack permanent lining, which results in water-loss and exposes fish to predators and potential disease. Creating deeper, lined raceways to replace the ponds will mitigate those issues.

Workers will convert the ponds into effluent treatment. These effluent ponds will filter nitrates and phosphates — created by fish waste — to keep them from inundating the river where the hatchery releases water. The facility presently meets Environmental Protection Agency regulation compliance, but may not meet future standards without such a system. Lining these ponds lowers the risk of diseases as they have the potential of entering the facility through the soil and moving through the facility’s system.

Weatherproof structures over the raceways will add additional protection from predators and from the elements. New asphalt roadways on the hatchery will accommodate service vehicle traffic.

Conservation groups are laying the foundation for legislation that will protect streamflow

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From the Summit Daily News (Julie Sutor):

“People really understand the importance of conservation,” said Summit County native Becky Long, who works for Colorado Environmental Coalition, a statewide advocacy group. “Every drop of water you take out of a river is one you’ll never see again. Water is one of our most precious resources, and it needs to be part of the road map as we’re planning for the state’s future growth.”

Among a package of state water conservation bills is a measure to continue Colorado’s existing water-efficiency grant program, which was set to expire in 2012. The program provides financial assistance to communities, water providers and other agencies for water conservation activities and projects.

More conservation coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress 52nd Annual Convention: Governor Ritter lays out 3 pillars to solve Colorado’s ‘Gap’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We face really serious challenges,” Ritter told the group at its 52nd annual convention. “Colorado has gone from an era of overabundance to where most of our streams are over- appropriated.” Cooperation, preservation of agriculture and stretching water supplies are the pillars on which future water policy must be built, Ritter said.

More coverage from The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

“One obvious question really shouts from the rooftops: How do we provide all the people in the state with clean water?” Ritter said at Thursday’s annual convention of the Colorado Water Congress. In the absence of a statewide plan, Front Range cities have been buying up water rights from Eastern Plains farmers. The “buy and dry” practice is the state’s default water plan, Ritter said. Conservative estimates predict Colorado will lose half a million acres of agricultural land by 2030. “I don’t believe that’s an acceptable future for the state of Colorado,” Ritter said…

Eric Wilkinson, an Interbasin Compact Committee member from the South Platte River Basin, said Ritter’s schedule [ed. 6 additional meetings this year] will mean a lot of work, but it will be worth it. The alternative is to keep drying up farms.

Flaming Gorge pipeline update

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Chris Woodka (The Pueblo Chieftain) caught up with Aaron Million yesterday at the Colorado Water Congress’ 52nd Annual Convention. From the article:

“Ag water brought into the ag sector will be priced at what they can afford, and it may be one-tenth or one-twentieth of what the municipalities pay,” Million said Thursday. “I personally know the price structure of agricultural water from running cattle on a 6,000-acre ranch. There are a myriad of ways to help agriculture with this project.”[…]

Many on the list of 15 users seeking up to 300,000 acre-feet were irrigation districts, prompting comments by some who read stories in The Pueblo Chieftain to question how they could afford $15,000 an acre-foot for water.

Environmental groups doubted claims that the project would help the environment. “Front Range communities should first consider simpler, less costly measures to meet our region’s water needs, such as conservation, aquifer recharge and leasing. What’s needed most is comprehensive regional water planning, not pie-in-the-sky schemes,” Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited wrote in a published letter to The Chieftain.

Others questioned the amount of water in some of the requests. “What’s Robert Norris going to do with 20,000 acre-feet of water?” one reader wrote. “Just say we’ll run more mother cows and it will help cool us off in the branding pen,” joked Million, who is close friends with the Norris family and would like to build a reservoir on their El Paso County ranch as part of the project.

On a more serious note, Million said he realizes there is a need for water in El Paso County — one of the listed end users was Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District. However, the El Paso County Water Authority wants more time to study how Million’s project would integrate with other plans. “Frankly, I’m hoping to get more water over the hump into the Arkansas basin,” Million said.

There is some interest in large municipal requests, notably Douglas County’s letter indicating the need for 40,000 acre-feet. The majority of larger requests, however, were from water districts in the South Platte River basin…

Million has always promoted the project as having explicit environmental and agricultural benefits, which he said would be ensured by legal mechanisms like conservation easements. “We can write the contracts so we have command and control,” Million said. “If there’s entities out there whining that we have a benevolent streak, they need to back off. The water would stay in agriculture in perpetuity.”[…]

No pricing structure has been finalized, but Million has agreed to a cost-plus arrangement some municipalities asked for.

Million has applied for appropriation of the water in Wyoming, but could also take water through a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation if the project is approved. The contract would have an added benefit of $27 million to the Upper Colorado River fish recovery program. A model of Green River operations by the Bureau of Reclamation showed that at least 165,000 acre-feet could be taken out at Flaming Gorge without harming habitat downstream, Million said. ”There is existing infrastructure through a huge artificial reservoir that has collapsed the environmental issues,” Million said. “I think if you can utilize that structure to benefit water users in both Wyoming and Colorado, then you should.”

More Flaming Gorge coverage here and here.

Colorado Water Congress 52nd Annual Convention

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Here’s a recap of yesterday’s legislative breakfast, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Water Congress board voted Wednesday to oppose Amendments 60 and 61, and Proposition 101, which already have collected enough signatures to be on November’s ballot, said Chris Treece, vice president. Amendment 60, formerly Initiative 12, would allow people to vote where they own property, allow for citizen petitions to lower taxes and remove the ability for special districts to levy fees or taxes. It would phase out future property tax increases in 10 years. Amendment 61, formerly Initiative 21, forbids state agencies from incurring debt and requires voter approval of all debt for local districts, enterprises and authorities. Proposition 101, formerly Initiative 11, rolls back specific ownership taxes, vehicle fees and income taxes…

Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison, said lawmakers are seeking a long-term fiscal solution, not just quick fixes. The choices now are coming down to water funds vs. school or college funds vs. prison jobs, however. Some proposed revenue fixes, like a state sales tax on electricity for now-exempt industry or agricultural users, could increase costs for irrigated agriculture, she added. At least 15 water bills, including a water projects bill, have been introduced this year. Lawmakers at Thursday’s meeting didn’t spend too much time pounding their chests for support, however.

Pace backed into talking about his water transfer impacts mitigation bill with a touch of humor: “Emotions on the bill go from deeply hating it to just hating it,” Pace quipped. “I talked with many people last summer who said it wasn’t too bad, but then we got into group-think.” Pace defended the bill as a way to allow conservancy districts to work out the problems of water transfers outside a courtroom. It would not block water sales or leases, he said…

Treece also took liberties introducing Curry, whose switch to an independent from a Democrat cost her the chair of the agriculture committee. “She’s missing the caucus of the independent party to be with us this morning,” Treece joked…

“The state budget is a disaster,” Curry said. “We need a sustainable revenue stream for the Division of Water Resources for water commissioners and their other core functions.”

Snowpack news

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From The Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson):

Nolan Doesken told a Colorado Farm Show crowd Wednesday afternoon that current El Niño conditions remain strong enough, even though it has weakened somewhat in the past few months, to produce a wet spring. But summer is another situation altogether different. “Summer precipitation is nightmarish to predict. There is no skillful way to predict that yet,” said Doesken, the state’s climatologist.

Eastern Colorado in particular is coming off one of the wettest years on record, but it’s not likely that will happen again, he said. In 2009, precipitation in Weld County ranged from 12 to 18 inches, while Greeley and Fort Collins had about 50 percent more moisture than the long-term average. And in Burlington, near the Kansas border, there was more than 30 inches, making it the wettest year in the past 121 years for that city. “That only happens once or twice every 100 years, so the odds of that occurring again this year aren’t good,” Doesken said…

Precipitation during the past four months has been up and down, starting with a lot of snow in October, not much in November, a lot more in December and practically nothing in January. But the eastern part of the state is above the long-term average. Southwest Colorado had been experiencing drought conditions until two major storms hit that part of the state, dumping 4 to 6 feet of snow in some areas. Doesken said that area got one-third of its annual winter precipitation in the past week to 10 days.

Energy policy — oil shale: Exxon and others in the hunt for leases

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Bureau of Land Management received two applications in Colorado and one in Utah in its second offering of oil shale research and development leases, agency spokesman Matt Spangler said Monday…

Spangler was unable to provide any additional comment Monday about the new lease applications, including who applied. However, representatives of ExxonMobil and Arizona-based AuraSource Inc. said their companies filed an application…

ExxonMobil unsuccessfully sought a lease during the first round of leasing. The company is trying to develop a process involving running an electrical charge through shale deposits underground to heat and free kerogen that can be brought to the surface via wells. Eric Stoppenhagen, chief financial officer for Arizona-based AuraSource Inc., said it applied for a Utah parcel. AuraSource has been pursuing a surface retort process incorporating technology tested in China.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Lots of support in Nucla for the Piñon Ridge mill

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From The Telluride Watch (Karen James):

…well over 200 people attended a public hearing held by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Nucla last Thursday evening, the majority in support of a radioactive materials license application presently under the agency’s consideration…

Colorado is among 37 “agreement states” to which federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission transfers authority to regulate and license uranium. As a result the CDPHE is in the process of conducting a 12 to14-month comprehensive technical review of the license application. The mill cannot be built without the license approval.

According to a presentation by Frank Filas, environmental manager for Energy Fuels, the mill would process 500 tons of ore daily (hopefully expanding to handle 1,000 tons of ore daily at a future point). At 500 tons per day capacity it would produce 770,000 pounds of uranium oxide annually – enough to produce 1,500 megawatts of electricity each year, he said. Additionally, it would produce 2.7 million pounds of vanadium oxide annually for use in steel production. The mill, sited in the Uravan Mineral Belt, would operate seven days a week, 350 days a year, for an operating life of 40 years. It would use 144 gallons of water per minute to process the ore.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Front Range Water Council: Colorado’s Front Range uses 19% of the state’s water and generates 80 – 86% of the economic activity and tax revenue

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It wasn’t always so but nowadays Colorado’s economy is centered on the Front Range. Here’s a report from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

The report, titled “Water and the Colorado Economy,” was commissioned by the Front Range Water Council, made up of the major water suppliers along the Front Range between Fort Collins and Pueblo. The report will be formally presented to the Colorado Water Congress on Thursday, during its annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center…

The draft report indicated that the state might be able to get up to 900,000 acre feet of new water supplies from the Colorado River, and still meet its supply obligations to downstream states. But if climate change impacts are more severe, leading to less water tumbling down from high mountain snow banks, there might not be any extra water in the Colorado River available for the state’s use, according to the draft report.

“The Western Slope, we know the target’s on our back,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. “The Front Range water users, they make a very good point. People have to live somewhere and work somewhere…

The Front Range Water Council’s report cost $62,400 and was divided among the council’s seven members — Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. The study was done by Summit Economics LLC and The Adams Group Inc., headed by Tucker Hart Adams, a former regional economist for U.S. Bank. Both companies are based in Colorado Springs…

For every acre foot of water withdrawn, the Front Range generates $132,000 in sales of goods and services. This is 11 times more than the next most productive region, which is the Central Mountains.

More Colorado water coverage here and here.

Arkansas River: Managing the water resources in winter

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

With a low snowpack — 75 percent of average statewide — and Lake Pueblo filling rapidly, some are questioning why so much water is being moved from the higher location. Bureau of Reclamation and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials say the move is in the best interests of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, however. “We’re not willing to risk curtailing Fry-Ark imports,” said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark Project manager. “The needs of the project come first.”

A low snowpack this early in the season does not mean the project will yield less water later this spring, he added. “We can see an increase in the yield of 30,000 acre-feet in a month,” Vaughan said. “With the operational changes we’ve made on the West Slope, we can increase the yield (over historic levels) 10-15 percent.”

Water users were stirred up last week at a meeting to discuss flows by a draft of a routine letter from the Department of Natural Resources on the Upper Arkansas River flow management program. Under a voluntary agreement, Reclamation now moves water in the Upper Arkansas during the winter months to improve fish habitat. It also props up flows for rafting during summer months. A five-year extension of the 1990 agreement ends this year, and is expected to be renewed. Moving the water also helps balance the reservoirs in order to make room for imports through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake during runoff, primarily in May and June. Along the way, there are several environmental concerns to consider, Vaughan said. The largest, and the reason for creating the program, is to prevent a large slug of water moving down the river at one time. In Lake County, where Turquoise and Twin Lakes are located, there is concern about keeping Turquoise levels high for recreation and flows in Lake Fork Creek, which connects the reservoirs, manageable…

Pueblo Reservoir is nearing its capacity and is about 96 percent full, and filling every day. Right now, it’s storing winter water for downstream irrigators and needs to store even more in order to satisfy needs of ditches like the Bessemer, Catlin and High Line. Ditch companies like the Holbrook, Fort Lyon and Amity have other options and are being encouraged to use them to preserve space in Lake Pueblo, said Division Engineer Steve Witte…

There is also an agreement to leave 100 cubic feet per second (including fish hatchery flows) in the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam. Finally, the level in Lake Pueblo technically could increase further than the conservation level of 256,949 acre-feet. The dam can actually hold almost 350,000 acre-feet, but must reach the lower level by April 15 to allow for the possibility of flooding upstream. Winter water storage ends March 15. Winter water held over from 2009 must be evacuated from the dam by May 1.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas coverage here.

Pueblo: Fountain Creek greenway park in the planning stages

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

[A] project is under way to create a greenway park from the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River to Eighth Street. “The access to the greenway is the biggest thing,” Atencio said. “How do we get people from other parts of town to access the greenway from their neighborhoods?”[…]

The other side of the coin is making Fountain Creek a place people want to be, rather than a public nuisance with signs warning people to stay away from the water. The greenway is adjacent to the urban renewal zone. Shanks, whose planning team has been working on the Fountain Creek Corridor Master Plan for two years, has been hired by the City of Pueblo for planning the greenway park. “There is a momentum now that was not there in the past on Fountain Creek to push to improve, restore and protect Fountain Creek,” Shanks said.

While $600,000 has been spent on the corridor project, and another $400,000 is planned in the next two years, the real effect of the effort so far has been to identify $7.8 million in resources to work on Fountain Creek erosion and water quality issues, Shanks said. The planning dollars have come through an intergovernmental agreement among Colorado Springs Utilities, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. More fund-raising efforts have been undertaken by the Fountain Creek Fountain, led by Pueblo native David Struthers, a Denver lawyer. Through Saturday’s meeting, and others like it in months to come, Shanks wants to form a vision for the greenway park in Pueblo that combines safety, creating a gathering place for the community, trails, picnic grounds, wildlife viewing and more.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Uranium Processing Accountability Act cleanup bill to be introduced in the Colorado legislature

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Update: More coverage from the Fox21.com (Christina Salvo):

This new legislation wants to make sure taxpayers are no longer the ones left on the hook for cleaning up toxic messes if a uranium facility goes belly up…the bill would also require operators to amend their operating license before accepting new sources of “alternate feed” such as radioactive, toxic waste from other industrial or medical operations with recoverable minerals…

Environment Colorado and CCAT with support from the nonprofit law firms Western Mining Action Project and Energy Minerals Law Center brought forward the legislative idea to Rep. Buffie McFadyen in response to Cotter’s announcement last year of plans to reopen in 2014 and the proposal by Energy Fuels for a uranium facility in Montrose County.

More than thirty organizations and businesses in Fremont County and more than fifty organizations and businesses across the state have endorsed the legislation.

Many are pressing for nuclear energy as one tool to help combat the effects of climate change. Here’s a report on legislation designed to make sure that Colorado’s mill operators clean up after operations wind down. It will be introduced in the coming days in the Colorado legislature. From the article:

Members of Environment Colorado, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, as well as elected officials and business community members, gathered here Tuesday to talk about the Uranium Processing Accountability Act bill, sponsored by Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West; Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas and Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins…

The bill interests Fremont County Commissioner Mike Stiehl, who said he believes the state health department doesn’t have the tools to enforce cleanup measures that it should have…

The bill … would require companies like Cotter to send letters to people who own contaminated wells to notify them the wells are contaminated…

The bill also would address licensing of alternative feed use like the contaminated soils from Maywood, N.J. Superfund site, which Cotter Corp. tried to get permission to process in 2002. The bill also would put more scrutiny on the bonding process, which estimates costs of cleanup.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

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While there is no such thing as a typical El Niño year there is one pattern that has been common over the years — dry north and wet south — and it is showing up in the snowpack map (pdf) for today. Click on the thumbnail for the full view.

Colorado Springs: Utilities still working on plan to open the south side of Pikes Peak to recreation

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Update: More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

Monday, the city-owned utility released its long-awaited “concept plan” for public access to the area, which is home to several reservoirs built from 1878 to 1912. A public meeting will be held tonight , and Utilities is taking comments through Feb. 26. Under the proposal, Utilities would not allow camping, ATVs, hunting, rock climbing, fishing in streams or ice-fishing in the south slope watershed…

“This is the conceptual plan. It is not final. This is just what we’re putting out there to get public feedback on,” said Kirsta Scherff-Norris, a Utilities wildlife biologist. The area is mostly pristine, with one road in, and Utilities aims to keep it that way. Under the proposal, Utilities would not allow camping, ATVs, hunting, rock climbing, fishing in streams or ice-fishing in the south slope watershed. The main access would be from a trail head at Mason Reservoir, a half-mile past what is now a locked gate on Forest Service Road 376. The proposal calls for the construction of two trails, a 5.6-mile trail along the west side of Mason Reservoir, to Boehmer Reservoir and back, for foot and equestrian use only, with a parking lot and bathrooms, and a trail from where the national forest trail 667 currently ends to Lake Moraine, for foot, horse and bicycle traffic. The Lake Moraine Trail would also connect with an existing trail that runs to the Cog Railway, but it would not have its own trail head, meaning long approaches would be required to reach the lake. A picnic area would be built at McReynolds Reservoir, and non-motorized boats would be allowed in the reservoir.

From KKTV.com (Lauri Martin):

The area provides 20 percent of the city’s drinking water. Parts of the 9,000 acres, that include several reservoirs, could be open as early as the summer of 2011. “Our biggest concern is balancing what we’re there to do, which is providing drinking water to our customers, as well as provide for recreational opportunities that are appropriate that don’t impact the environment,” says [Kirsta Scherff-Norris with Springs Utilities]…

Springs Utilities says if all goes as planned, they’ll present the final plan to city council by late summer. Council members will have the final say. The big question now is much this will cost and who will pay for it?[…]

Construction could begin in 2011, though officials have not determined how it will be funded. While new trails and expanded uses are possible in the future, for now Utilities is being cautious. “It’s been closed for 100 years and we want to make sure we open it in a responsible way that protects our infrastructure and also the environment,” said Scherff-Norris.

Arkansas River: Contractor turning dirt (well streambed) for Cañon City whitewater park

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Charlotte Burrous):

“The first phase consists of two features,” said Will Colon, WKRP chairman. “One is located between the old Fourth Street bridge that they moved and the new Fourth Street bridge. The other one will be just above the new pedestrian bridge.”[…]

During this phase, the company will place the stones, donated by Siloam Stone and Front Range Aggregate in a pattern along the river bed for kayakers to compete in various contests. “There’s going to be rock features that will be in the channel in the river,” Colon said. “They’ll include beautification of the banks so you can actually come down and sit to watch kayakers. There’s going to be planters and scrubs, donated by Seifert Tree Farm, so it’ll be a rock feature in the middle of the river, which will cause a wave.”

The first time it will be used for a public event will be during the Whitewater Festival from June 25-26, which is a two-day event, filled with music, competitions, games and more…

In December, the city received a $200,000 Greater Outdoors Colorado grant to help create the park, including two separate water features. “It is going to not only be a tourist attraction, but it will also be great for the locals and other people on the Front Range,” Colon said in an earlier interview.

More whitewater coverage here.

CWCB: Board meeting recap

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Colorado River probably still has water that could be used for development in Colorado, but how much remains unknown, according to a new study of the river. As many as 900,000 acre-feet of water could be available for development, the study suggests. It also suggests that under a worst-case scenario, there could be no water for development by 2040. The Colorado River Water Availability Study presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Tuesday is the first phase of two phases of study on the river. “We are on the cutting edge, and we are far ahead of the other basin states” in determining how much water is available, said Jennifer Gimble, director of the water conservation board.

The study will be released next month for public comment, which will be used to develop the second phase of the study, Gimble said. The second phase is to address availability of water for municipal, industrial, agricultural, recreational and other needs. The study, which was authorized by the Legislature in 2007, examined 1,100 measuring stations in the Colorado River Basin to predict how climate change would affect individual streams. Five climate-change models were applied to the basin in an effort to predict how much water would be available by 2040.

Meanwhile the CWCB has set aside funds for the next two years for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“We don’t foresee a problem right now,” said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Tuesday. The Conduit was awarded a $60.6 million construction loan by the state Legislature. However, about half of that was suspended last year to cope with budget shortfalls in other areas. The remainder is being rebuilt as other state loan payments are made, Gimbel said…

Gimbel earlier this month asked state lawmakers not to make further cuts in state water construction project funds, saying it would cripple development and create revenue shortfalls in future years…

Under legislation passed last year, the local share is 35 percent, while CWCB loan represents about 20 percent of the total costs. Other funding would come through contributions from communities and revenues from Bureau of Reclamation contracts. Repayment of the CWCB loans would not begin until the project is completed. Last year, Congress allocated $5 million to the conduit, for pre-engineering work and to begin the environmental impact statement. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the project, is seeking $14 million in next year’s budget to continue work on the conduit.

Meanwhile to the north Wyoming has their own study to chew on, according to a report from the Environmental News Service. From the article:

The Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources produced the report, “Assessing the Future of Wyoming’s Water Resources: Adding Climate Change to the Equation,” as a basis for water management strategies. “This report covers what we know and what we wish we knew about Wyoming and the West’s changing climate and the various impacts on water resources,” says Wyoming State Climatologist Steve Gray, the lead author and director of the Water Resources Data System at University of Wyoming…

First, Wyoming is the fifth driest state in the United States. More than 70 percent of the state receives less than 16 inches of precipitation on average each year. Though technically speaking, much of Wyoming does not qualify as true desert, it is a dry state by any measure.

Second, the majority of snowpack in Wyoming is concentrated in a relatively small area that is responsible for the majority of Wyoming’s runoff and surface water supplies. Any events such as changes in climate, vegetation change, fires, or insect outbreaks that impact these mountain watersheds will have major consequences for all of Wyoming’s water users, and for water users far downstream.

Finally, Wyoming is a headwaters state for some of the largest river systems in North America, including the Snake-Columbia, Green-Colorado, Yellowstone-Missouri, and Platte Rivers. This puts Wyoming at a disadvantage when faced with many scenarios for climatic, economic, and demographic change, according to the report.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

HB 10-1006: Fund Water Resources Tier 1 Operational

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Gov. Bill Ritter has asked each state department for 10 percent cuts, and because the state engineer’s office is one of the only parts of the Department of Natural Resources that uses general tax dollars, it will suffer the brunt of the budget crisis. Ritter’s budget calls for 20 fewer positions in the 270-person division next year.

[HB 10-1006: Concerning Increased Funding for the Division of Water
Resources from the Operational Account of the Severance Tax Trust Fund], by Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison, puts the engineer’s office in line for $413,000 from gas and oil taxes. Right now, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has the money to study how gas drilling affects wild animals. By moving the money, the engineer’s office can restore the equivalent of 5.3 jobs, including some water commissioners. The commissioners, more commonly known as ditch riders, police the use of water in the field and make sure senior water-rights owners get their water. “These are really good people doing really tough jobs for really very little pay,” said Jack Byers of the Colorado Water Congress, which supports the bill…

Her bill passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee 8-4 on Tuesday. Representatives who voted “no” were upset the engineer’s office didn’t send anyone to testify about how much money the office needs, and the Division of Wildlife did not answer questions about its use of gas and oil tax money. Several longtime critics of the DOW sit on the committee.

More 2010 Colorado Legislation here.

Vail Valley scores an additional 500 acre-feet of water from Aurora for water-short years

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From the Vail Daily:

“The old east-west model is obsolete. The new model is joint action,” said Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer. “The valley wins, Aurora wins. It’s how Colorado should work in the future.” Two prior agreements with Aurora and Colorado Springs, in 1998 and 2004, gave Eagle County water users the right to 1,000 acre-feet of water from Homestake Reservoir. Homestake Reservoir is jointly owned by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs and is a component of a transmountain diversion project that takes water from the Eagle River basin to Colorado’s eastern slope…

The west slope parties consist of the four original owners of Eagle Park Reservoir — Vail Associates, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Colorado River Water Conservation District, together with Eagle County.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.

South Platte Basin Roundtable progress report

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From email from the Interbasin Compact Committee:

This is the link to the presentation that was given at the South Platte Roundtable on December 17, 2009.

South Platte Roundtable Progress Update (pdf)

More IBCC — basin roundtable coverage here.

Arkansas River: Contractor turning dirt (well streambed) for Cañon City whitewater park

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Local boaters teamed up in 2007 with the Canon City Chamber of Commerce to start the process of fundraising for the Whitewater Kayak & Recreation Park, dubbed by backers as “WKRP-Canon City.” As a huge excavator drove into the river Monday to start moving material, the ground breaking was a dream come true for organizers which included boaters, recreation, chamber and city leaders. “Work should be done by the end of March,” said Will Colon, chamber board member and WKRP-Canon City organizer. “We can have kayak competitions. People can come here to learn to kayak. Or you can come here just to eat lunch and watch the boats in a beautiful park-like setting.”[…]

The project will be located in the section of the Arkansas River that runs along Centennial Park and Depot Park between a historic pedestrian bridge and the new pedestrian bridge that is part of the Arkansas Riverwalk trail.

Residents will see the huge excavator on tank-like tracks working in the river to move the rock. The excavator was thoroughly cleaned for two days before it started work in the river. It uses environmentally friendly hydraulic fluid in the event of a leak. Currently, the water running by the park is flat and the banks are steep, so the banks will need to be reinforced and stabilized to allow gentle sloping river access. Wading pools will be added for water access for everyone — even children who want to cool off in the summer without fear of deep, swift water. Ramps plus play holes will be added for boaters such as kayakers, canoeists and rafters. The water park will be an ideal place for kayakers to learn the sport and boost their confidence by getting a feel for the water, officials say.

More whitewater coverage here and here.

HB 10-1188

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From the Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

“Most of us are not currently threatened by this,” [Bob Harris — founder of Blazing Adventures] said. “But we could see conflicts maybe coming down the road. We know that if we don’t support those guys now, then it could be us one day.”[…]

[Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA)] campaign for the so-called “River Outfitters Viability Act” pits Colorado’s homegrown river rats against well heeled developers from elsewhere: “The ability to provide commercial river running is under serious threat because out-of-state landowners using their wealth want to prohibit licensed outfitters from providing trips on historically rafted rivers,” their campaign fact sheet states.

Gunnison-based water attorney John Hill scoffed at CROA’s emphasis on out-of-state landowners. “What does it matter if they’re from out of state or not? They still have the same constitutional rights,” Hill said Monday, arguing that the proposed act represents a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which protects private landowners from having their property taken for public use.

Hill further argues that the right to navigate across rivers running through private property — commonly called the “right to float” — is a fallacy. He cites a 31-year-old criminal case decided by the Colorado Supreme Court in which a man was convicted of trespassing for tubing through private land on the Colorado River. The highest court in the state ruled “the public has no right to the use of waters overlying private lands for recreational purposes without the consent of the owner.” “There isn’t any right to float in Colorado,” Hill said. “That’s folklore.”

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Governor Ritter opposes tax amnesty for those that implemented conservation easements with inflated appraisals

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From the Associated Press (Steven K. Paulson) via The Aspen Times:

Ritter’s chief counsel, Trey Rogers, said the disputed credits total $100 million — money the state needs with a $1.5 billion budget deficit. Instead, the administration wants to settle each case individually…

State tax credits under the program jumped from $2.3 million in 2001 to $98 million in 2008, fueled in part by a change in 2003 that allowed the credits to be transferred and sold. A report last year by legislative analysts put total credits from 2000 to 2007 at $274 million. The Colorado Department of Revenue has notified 295 landowners and easement credit buyers that their credits were being disallowed because the easements were overvalued by state-licensed appraisers. It ordered them to pay the credits along with penalties and interest. The Internal Revenue Service reported last year that it had audited people, including buyers of easements, who claimed credits to which they weren’t entitled.

Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, said he plans to introduce a bill to grant amnesty for landowners with disputed credits, which he estimates at $300 million, including penalties and interest. “The state made a deal. It was a bad deal, but we need to honor the deals that we make,” McKinley said…

Nearly 300 landowners who face state action say they based their credit claims on land appraisals by unscrupulous brokers who offered to develop the land, in violation of state law. Landowners who sell credits to investors are stuck with indemnity clauses that require landowners to cover any losses — including demands for back taxes…

The state contends landowners should have known their property values — which the credits are based on — were inflated. John Swartout, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, says he understands the naivete of some landowners. “They were used to farm subsidy programs that sometimes are too good to be true,” Swartout said…

Conservation groups say the dispute could provide ammunition to kill the program. Ritter wants to cut $13 million from the $52 million program over the first half of this year, and another $13 million for the fiscal year that begins in July. “It’s an incredibly effective tool to preserve Colorado’s ranch lands from unnecessary development,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters, a nonprofit advocacy group.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Proposed new wilderness additions butting up against transmountain diversion projects

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The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is watching the proposed wilderness additions closely. Access to current facilities is their worry. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s not easy to get equipment for repairs into the mountain areas right now, even without a wilderness area,” Bob Hamilton, engineering supervisor, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday.

The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign is endorsed by more than 40 Western Slope environmental or recreational groups. It seeks to create new wilderness with 14 new areas and 26 areas adjacent to current recreation areas in the White River and Gunnison National Forests and adjacent Bureau of Land Management lands. The wilderness areas are in Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit counties. If maps by the campaign were adopted, three of the areas adjacent to The Hunter-Fryingpan and Holy Cross wilderness areas could restrict repairs to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project collection system, Hamilton said. “It interferes with existing or deferred parts of the north side collection system,” Hamilton said. “It’s a threat” Creating the wilderness areas could also hinder collection efforts for other importers of water like Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo Board of Water Works, including the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

In a wilderness area, activities like mining or constructing roads are curtailed. The language of the federal Wilderness Act also forbids “establishing or maintaining water facilities.” When legislation created the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area east of Aspen in 1978, corridors along streams were carved out for maintenance of the Fry-Ark Project. In the Hidden Gems proposal, the Wildcat Mountain area would be added to that wilderness area and would have to include the same provisions to be acceptable to the Southeastern district. The Mormon Lake and Woods Creek areas would be added to Holy Cross, which does not have the same sort of carve-outs however, attorney Steve Leonhardt told the Southeastern board.

Here’s an update on Hidden Gems from John Gardner writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

[Steve Smith, regional director for the Wilderness Society] says that since they first revised the proposal two years ago, the four organizations including the Wilderness Society, The Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Wilderness Workshop have sought input from as many people and user groups knowledgeable about the lands in the proposal, for further refinement. Smith says that opponents are against wilderness areas in general, and that some are unwilling to compromise. “Not only are we not excluding the motorized folks, we have invited them to participate,” Smith said. “We also are not saying that we are going to toss you off the land. We simply want to know the areas they use, so that we can make adjustments.”

More Fryingpan-Arkansas coverage here and here.

Aurora: City council receives water infrastructure news

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From the Aurora Sentinel (Aaron Cole):

According to Greg Baker, spokesman for the city’s water department, much of the city’s current sewage and water pipes are ending their 50-year life cycle within the next 10 years, and may need significant maintenance. “They all have aging infrastructure,” he said. “We’re coming up on a perfect storm in 10 years.”

That perfect storm includes aging sewer mains underneath the city’s streets, as well as other delivery systems within the city.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Animas-La Plata Project: Sponsors are keeping operations and maintenance in-house

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

An association created by the sponsors signed a contract Dec. 30, 2009, with the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the project facilities. The project, which will provide water for three Native American tribes and other entities, consists of a man-made reservoir in Ridges Basin southwest of Bodo Park, a pumping station on the Animas River and a water-distribution system in New Mexico.

Project sponsors are the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, the La Plata Water Conservancy District, the Navajo Nation and the San Juan Water Commission, all of New Mexico, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe…

Pat Page at the Bureau of Reclamation said Russ How-ard, maintenance manager for the Central Arizona Project, has been hired as general manager to oversee A-LP operations and maintenance. Howard will have a staff and will answer to the Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association on which all partners will have representation…

All A-LP water is for household or industrial use. Water earmarked for agriculture was deleted when the project was downsized in 2000. The Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority’s share in the A-LP is being held for the Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District, which in turn will provide water for the city of Durango and the La Plata West Water Authority. The latter would supply water to the dry southwest corner of La Plata County…

After test runs, filling the reservoir began in earnest on May 4, 2009. The lake is about 20 percent full…

It hasn’t been determined who will develop recreation at Lake Nighthorse. The Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District is negotiating with a consultant on a recreation master plan but has almost no money to carry the project forward.

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: Million Resources group details interest in project to Corps of Engineers

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From Westword (Joel Warner):

Many people believed Million didn’t have enough customers for his Regional Watershed Supply Project to satisfy the Corps, and even one of his consultants admitted in November he had only three or four users lined up. This week, however, Million got the last laugh when he submitted statements of interest from fifteen water users in Wyoming and Colorado. While these weren’t formal commitments to buy Million’s potential water, he believes they prove there’s more than enough demand to justify the pipeline. “We’re very pleased with the level of interest at this juncture,” says Million. “I would argue that probably from a historic perspective there’s never been a water project that’s had such a diverse and numerous list of potential end users.”[…]

“It was a great milestone for moving the project forward,” he says. Million adds there have been other promising developments too in his ambitious plan, which, if it gets the permits it needs, is still many years away from being able to break ground. Those include interest from the Department of Defense in the potential hydropower the pipeline could generate as the water running through it flows downhill, which could be used as part of a secure energy grid. Million says he’s also working to secure permits needed to take part of the pipeline’s water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and address the vocal concerns communities around the reservoir have expressed about the project…

Still he can’t resist at least one reference to favorite outlaw Butch Cassidy and his famous sidekick: “Like the Sundance Kid said, ‘I’m better when I move.’ And we’re on the move.”

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District in northern El Paso County wants 3,000 acre-feet per year, according to a letter from President Benny Nasser. “The district obviously cannot commit to the project at the present time, nor can it commit future boards of directors to acquire water,” Nasser wrote…

T-Cross Ranches, owned by Robert and Steven Norris, indicated they are interested in negotiating with Million on a reservoir site included in the pipeline plan and for the purchase of up to 20,000 acre-feet of water.

Million is proposing a reservoir site on Williams Creek that is in the same location as a terminal storage reservoir envisioned for the Southern Delivery System, a plan by Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West to build a pipeline from Pueblo Dam. Million’s proposed contract to the Norris family would lease the space in the reservoir at $3,000-$5,000 per acre-foot and could include the sale of the ground under any reservoir built at the site.

The El Paso County Water Authority did not commit to use Million’s Project, but indicated it is interested in exploring a regional vision task force to look at how water might be used. The El Paso County group, which includes most water users outside Colorado Springs in the county, wants to see how the water from Flaming Gorge could fit into addressing a 22,600 acre-foot gap in its future water supplies. El Paso County also wants to look at whether its plan to store groundwater in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek designated groundwater basin could be incorporated. Million said he is still talking to the El Paso County group and its members, but does not know if a vision process fits into his timeline…

In the South Platte Basin, several water districts indicated an interest in negotiating with Million for more than 200,000 acre-feet of water. Many are irrigation districts, which typically buy water for far less than municipalities. Their letters indicate that many areas are anticipating reduced supplies because of growth or pressure on existing sources.

More Flaming gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

2010 Leopold Conservation Award nominations to be accepted until March 17

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From the Western Farmer-Stockman:

Sand County Foundation of Colorado, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and EnCana Oil & Gas, is seeking nominations for the 2010 Leopold Conservation Award.
The prize, which awards $10,000 and a crystal Aldo Leopold trophy to the winner, recognizes Colorado landowners who demonstrate outstanding stewardship and sustainable management of natural resources. The Leopold is named in honor of author Aldo Leopold, who called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they manage.

“Conserving landscapes isn’t just about land conservation, but rather about people and their relationship with the land,” says Terry Fankhauser, CCA executive vice president. “The Leopold Conservation Award seeks to recognize the highest of conservation ethics whereby the rancher cares for the land and the land, in turn, cares for the rancher.” The conservation partnership established in such a relationship has long been recognized by the Sand County Foundation and is exemplified through the association’s award commitment. “The health of Colorado’s landscape is dependent on hard-working farmers and ranchers across the state who dedicate themselves to ensuring that Colorado’s natural resources are in better shape than when they found them,” says Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation president. “Year after year, the quality of award nominations for the Leopold Conservation Award proves that Colorado’s land, water and wildlife are in great hands,” he adds. The Leopold honor ceremony is scheduled during the CCA annual convention on June 14 in Pueblo. Nominations must be made no later than March 17. For information, go to www.leopoldconservationaward.org or contact Amy Bader at amy@coloradocattle.org or (303) 431-6422.

More conservation coverage here.

Energy policy — geothermal: Proposed BLM geothermal lease near Buena Vista update

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From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

On Feb. 11, the Bureau of Land Management is scheduled to offer the first lease for geothermal development in Colorado — 800 acres in the Chalk Creek Valley. Why the valley? Because an unidentified party nominated the land for lease sale. It is bureau policy not to reveal the nominator until after the sale. And following a congressional mandate, the bureau is trying to expedite geothermal leases in the West. “Congress voted for us to identify the low-hanging fruit, get out of the way and let the market decide,” said Kermit Witherbee, manager of the bureau’s national geothermal program…

“The whole process seems to have been fast-tracked without a lot of details being worked out,” said [Syd Schieren who uses the geothermal water to heat his organic-vegetable greenhouse and], who lives and has hot spring vacation rentals in the valley…

The Chalk Creek Valley sits above the Rio Grande rift, which runs as deep as 10,000 feet and enables enough heat to reach within 3,000 feet of the surface to heat groundwater to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Colorado Geological Survey. A geothermal electricity plant can tap into that hot water and bring it to the surface, where it is used to heat a fluid, such as isobutane, which boils at a lower temperature than water. The isobutane steam is used to turn an electric turbine, and is then condensed and collected for reuse. The water is reinjected into the deep rock reservoir to be reheated. A geothermal plant can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That makes it about five times as valuable as wind or solar, utility industry officials say. “It is baseload, and that is huge. It emits no pollutants or greenhouse gases,” said Jeff Lyng, renewable energy manager at the Governor’s Energy Office.

Based on the limited drilling and geochemistry data for Colorado, the current data show there are about five likely sites for geothermal plants, said Matt Sares, deputy director of the state Geological Survey:

• Strawberry Hot Springs, north of Steamboat Springs.
• The San Juan Mountains near Ouray and Rico.
• Pagosa Springs in Archuleta County.
• Waunita Springs, Gunnison County.
• Mount Princeton Hot Springs in Chaffee County.

…at least two 2,500-foot test wells are needed to determine whether the heat and water flow are sufficient for a commercial project and show that the water table and other wells won’t be damaged, [Fred Henderson, a geologist and Nathrop resident, created Mount Princeton Geothermal LLC] said. That work could cost $2 million to $3 million, Henderson estimates.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

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From the Associated Press via the Grand Junction Free Press:

As of Friday, Durango had received nearly 3 feet since Monday – nearly double the city’s average snowfall for January- while Wolf Creek Pass received 4 feet. A total of three storms moved through the region beginning Monday with 12- to 18-hour breaks between each one…Four of the five major mountain passes on highways in southwest Colorado remained closed Saturday.

Energy policy — coalbed methane: Do the recently issued produced water regulations fall short?

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Here’s a guest column from Durango water attorney, Amy Huff, that is critical of the new rules promulgated by the legislature and the state engineer for regulating produced water from coalbed methane wells. Ms. Huff wonders if the rules will protect senior rights holders. From the article:

Last April, the court held that the extraction of water – often called “produced water” – that occurs in the process of extracting coal-bed methane is a beneficial use of water, requiring a water right, which must be administered in our priority system. That ruling resulted in the Legislature revising Colorado’s statutes to give special rights to those claiming to use nontributary water for mineral purposes, in the state engineer promulgating rules that define certain areas of the groundwater in the San Juan Basin to be nontributary, and in the gas industry racing to the courthouse to adjudicate water rights for its coal-bed methane wells. These significant changes to Colorado’s water administration system should be carefully reviewed to ensure all water users are treated fairly, and to protect their property rights…

Before the recent legislative changes, people seeking non-tributary water rights, which would not be subject to the prior appropriation system, had to demonstrate they had the landowner’s consent to withdraw the water. The recent legislative changes have exempted those seeking nontributary ground water for mineral development, including oil and gas development, from obtaining landowner consent, and now the state engineer has designated an area of groundwater in the San Juan Basin as nontributary, as long as the permittee is using the water for mineral development.

In response, there were 12 water court applications filed last month by gas operators to obtain water rights for coal-bed methane production purposes. In total, these applications identify approximately 1,300 existing coal-bed methane wells and contemplate an additional 2,000 wells. Many landowners have received notice that a company has filed for a water right that will be diverted through a structure located on their property. The applications filed by entities such as ConocoPhillips, XTO Energy, Southern Ute Tribe, BP, Samson Resources, Four Star Oil & Gas, and Chevron are confusing because, in many instances, the locations of the water rights sought by these companies are broadly defined and are often described as a “well field,” making it very difficult to know where the energy company is planning to drill.

Additionally, some applications claim a right to nontributary water. Colorado case law has confirmed that the legislative intent has been to allocate the right to withdraw nontributary ground water according to overlying land ownership; nonetheless, the Legislature has now exempted those using non-tributary water for mineral development from needing to obtain that landowner’s consent.

The legality of this preferential treatment is uncertain and, therefore, debatable. It is inequitable that an entity can withdraw nontributary water for mineral development without landowner consent, while an entity that wishes to withdraw the same water for any other purpose is still required to obtain such consent. A more detailed notice of the water court filings can be found at the following Web site: http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Water/Division.cfm/Water_Division_ID/7.

With the Legislature’s authorization to promulgate rules to assist in the administration of nontributary water used for mineral development, the state engineer developed Produced Non-tributary Ground Water Rules, which set forth the procedures for obtaining a nontributary designation and also establish certain areas of ground water that are nontributary, if the permittee is using water to facilitate the mining of minerals. It is problematic whether the state engineer should have the authority to establish different procedures for permitting wells that withdraw nontributary water when the water is used to facilitate mineral development and whether he can designate the ground water beneath landowners’ property as non-tributary to benefit those who are in the business of mining minerals. For more details, visit http://water.state.co.us/ for a copy of the rules. In particular, examine the maps that show the boundaries of the nontributary area in the San Juan Basin.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust completes second phase of conservation efforts for Rio Oxbow Ranch

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From the Del Norte Prospector:

Six miles of the river flows through the wide curving oxbows that inspire the name of the spectacular Rio Oxbow Ranch. Across the broad valley, the Weminuche Wilderness rises on the far side and the views are indeed breath taking. The local Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust’s conservation efforts has now insured that this view is protected in perpetuity, with completion of the second phase of the conservation easement on the Rio Oxbow Ranch at the end of 2009. With contributions from many sources, including the ranch owners, the Lisenby Family, along with financial support from Lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado, The Nature Conservancy, the Rio Grande Basin Round Table and Colorado Water Conservation Board, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the many partners that contributed matching funds, this premier conservation accomplishment was achieved…

The Rio Oxbow Ranch is one of six properties on the Rio Grande that received support from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Legacy Grant for the Rio Grande Initiative. The $7.4 million grant to the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust was awarded in December 2007. Five of those ranches are now under easement with one left for completion in 2010, along with other river corridor properties having been protected through other GOCO and matching grant cycles as well. “As of the end of 2009, nearly 18,000 acres of river corridor ranches have been protected here in the San Luis Valley, by the collaboration between us and our various partners,” said Rio de la Vista, Co-coordinator of the Rio Grande Initiative with the land trust. “It’s a tribute to our community that people here see the value of conserving the land and water along the Rio Grande. Those ranches and all that they encompass are so important to our quality of life in the Valley.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Shelley Simmons receives Tamarisk Coalition’s First President’s Award

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From the La Junta Tribune Democrat:

The Tamarisk Coalition’ First President’s Award is given in memory of Pete Larson, the Tamarisk Coalition’s first president to honor his dedication to restoring natural resources through the application of science, education, and volunteerism. The individual selected for this award has demonstrated the same level of commitment on their project through their volunteer efforts, incorporation of education and use of science in their work or through their project. On Jan. 13, Shelly Simmons (formerly VanLandingham) with the Colorado State Forest Service – La Junta office was nominated and received this distinguished award at the Tamarisk Symposium in Grand Junction. Attached is a photo of Shelly Simmons receiving the award from the Tamarisk Coalition President, Dr. Anna Sher.

In the award nomination form, her nominator described Simmons’ contribution, saying, “Shelly Simmons has spearheaded the tamarisk control and restoration efforts for over seven years in Southeast Colorado within the Arkansas River Basin. Shelly was an integral part of the development of the Arkansas River Watershed Invasive Plants Plan. She chaired the education (and) outreach committee, assisting with the development of the educational http://www.arkwipp.org Web site and the brochure.

More tamarisk control coverage here and here.

California Gulch: Operable Unit 8 removed from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List

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From the Leadville Herald Democrat:

Operable Unit 8 of the California Gulch Superfund Site has officially been deleted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List. The deletion will be recorded in the federal registry on Jan. 12, according to Commissioner Carl Schaefer. There are 12 total OUs in the Superfund site, with two others deleted: OU 2, which is Malta Gulch west of Leadville, and 10, which is Oregon Gulch south of Leadville. The next to be deleted after OU 8 will be OU 3, said Schaefer. In September, OU 9 should also be deleted. These deletions come with individualized institutional controls in place. These controls protect the remedies done on the mining waste that was left in place on these sites. California Gulch Superfund Site was added to the EPA priority list in 1982.

More California Gulch coverage here and here.

Upper Arkansas River: Restoration plan complete and improving habitat is at the top of the list

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From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Ann E Wibbenmeyer):

Funding for the projects in the plan is from a Natural Resources Damages Assessment lawsuit that was settled over the last two years. Newmont Mining Corporation and Resurrection Mining Company were the first to put $10 million into a trust fund for the projects in 2008. With the resolution of the ASARCO, LLC, bankruptcy at the end of 2009, another $10.5 million was added to the fund…

After receiving the first of the funds, the trustees for the settlement began gathering project ideas. The trustees include the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Department of Law…

The largest project, which is in this tier, will be in-stream habitat restoration. This project will improve living conditions for fish in the Arkansas River south of the California Gulch Superfund site…

Other tier-one projects include water monitoring for the Dinero Tunnel, where a bulkhead was installed in 2009; weed control in Lake and Chaffee counties and habitat protection. The estimated total cost of this first tier of projects is $6,464,000 with $5,845,000 coming from the trust fund.

More restoration coverage here.

HB 10-1188

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From The Mountain Mail (Audrey Gilpin):

Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison and Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton are sponsoring the bill as the Colorado Outfitters Viability Act [HB 10-1188: Ltd Liab Water Right Recreation Purposes] …

Bob Hamel, chairman of Colorado River Outfitters Association and owner of Arkansas River Tours in Salida, said the bill stems from an out-of-state land owner threatening legal action against commercial river outfitters using a stretch of the Taylor River near Gunnison. The landowner, Hamel said, told outfitters he would issue a 2009 permit to run the portion of river through his property if guides agreed not to run the stretch during the 2010 season. “He didn’t have authority to permit outfitters, and guides came to us (Colorado River Outfitters Association) about the issue,” Hamel said. Guides have run the Taylor River about 20-30 years and portaged (carried rafts on shore) around a low bridge on that part of the river, Hamel said…

The proposed bill would allow licensed outfitters to not only operate on historically run rivers crossing private property, but to make contact with the riverbank and portage around hazards which could put passengers at risk. Landowners would also be protected by the proposed bill, Hamel explained, because they wouldn’t be liable if a boater or angler is injured portaging or during incidental contact on their property while on a commercial river trip. Historically run rivers in Colorado are not identified in the bill. However, Hamel said there’s 20-30 years of documentation to identify the commercially run rivers.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Snowpack news: Silverton gets a couple of feet of new snow

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Here’s a look at downtown Silverton, from the Silverton Standard & the Miner.

The editorial staff at The Durango Herald have had a lot of time to sit and write lately so they penned this editorial about…snow. Here’s an excerpt:

It [snow] does pretty well by us as well. It quenches our thirst, irrigates our crops and washes our clothes. We get to play with it in rafts, kayaks and inner tubes. And before all that, we get to slide around on it on skis, sleds, tubes and boards.

More coverage from the Vail Daily. From the article:

Wolf Creek Ski Area is reporting 55 inches of new snow powder since Tuesday…The resort has received 244 inches of snow so far this season.

Coyote Gulch archives in less danger of going missing

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This morning there was an email in my inbox from Userland software. The key bit: “The content will stay up, but on a new domain at radio-weblogs.com.”

I’m very encouraged right now. For readers that use the archives for research we can all breath a sigh of relief for now — no Digital Dark Ages for Coyote Gulch yet. 🙂

Theo Stein: ‘Water is a private right in Colorado, so the state cannot propose specific concepts’

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From the Circle of Blue Water News (Brett Walton):

Colorado’s potential water demand from a proposed water pipeline originating in Wyoming is 50 percent more than the amount proposed for delivery, according to documents submitted yesterday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…

Meanwhile, Colorado officials are taking a hands-off approach. “Water is a private right in Colorado, so the state cannot propose specific concepts. A developer needs to come along to put forward those ideas,” Theo Stein of the Colorado Water Conservation Board told Circle of Blue.

Million’s pipeline is one of two proposals for developing the water in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The Colorado/Wyoming Coalition, led by Frank Jaeger of the Parker Water and Sanitation District, is a group of municipal suppliers also looking to deliver water to users in both states.

The Army Corps will hold meetings through late 2010 to gauge stakeholder opinion. A draft environmental impact statement will be available in 2012 and a final report is tentatively scheduled to be released in 2014.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

SB 10-052: Alter Designated Groundwater Basin Area

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From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

[SB 10-052: Concerning the Ability of the Groundwater Commision to
Alter the Boundaries of a Designated Groundwater Basin] is sponsored by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison. Brophy said this week that SB 52 is designed to provide assurance for people who own large capacity ground water wells that those wells cannot be pulled out of the designated basin area. Under SB 52, the Ground Water Commission, which manages the eight designated basins along the Eastern Plains and the Front Range, could revise the basin’s boundaries to remove previously included areas only if the area does not include wells that have had final permits issued. Brophy said that in 40 years since the boundaries were designated, no one has challenged either the maps or the engineering. Without changes in the law, “the risk is a [surface] water user would sue and pull your well out and shut it down.” If SB 52 is signed into law, “you will know the wells are safe and the banks who lend you money for the wells will know they are safe,” Brophy said.

Michael Shimmin, a Boulder water rights attorney who represents water management districts within one of the basin areas and the ground water commission, testified Thursday that there are more than 7,000 high capacity wells in the eight basins. They provide irrigation for agricultural uses and serve industrial or municipal uses. Ground water is the only water source available and there is no meaningful connection to surface water, Shimmin said. The need for SB 52 is based on whether the decision to create these designated basins was ever final. Shimmin said that in 2006 the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted state law to say that they were never final — the commission could always come back and either add to or subtract from the boundaries. That case, Gallegos v. Colorado Ground Water Commission, is currently awaiting a final outcome in court. The bill exempts any lawsuit that was in place as of Jan. 1, 2010 and would exempt the Gallegos case, according to Shimmin.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.