Eagle: Conservation program successes

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From the Eagle Valley Enterprise:

The town of Eagle reduced its annual potable water consumption by 10 percent in 2009. This equates to a savings of more than 40 million gallons of water, with the largest reductions noted in the residential sector. Government operations, including park maintenance, reduced its consumption by more than 14 percent.

More conservation coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Conservation groups suing the U.S. Department of Energy for its decision to expand uranium mining on BLM parcels near the Dolores River Canyon

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From The Telluride Watch (Karen James):

“I find that some limited discovery is appropriate but reject the full range of discovery sought by Plaintiffs,” wrote U.S. District Court Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel, who both affirmed and rejected parts of a previous finding issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Watanabe that denied discovery.

While Daniel agreed that limited discovery was appropriate for the purpose of identifying site-specific actions taken by the DOE concerning leases, mining approvals or other activity to implement the program, he rejected a request for discovery concerning unspecified, non site-specific actions. “This discovery request is too broad and would essentially constitute a fishing expedition on the part of Plaintiffs,” he wrote.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Vail: Next ‘Waterwise Wednesday’ meeting January 27

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From the Vail Daily:

The impact of growth on Vail Valley water supplies will be discussed at the next Waterwise Wednesday session at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 in the Board of County Commissioner’s hearing room in the Eagle County Building. Clark Anderson, an Eagle County native and director of the Sonoran Institute’s Colorado Rockies program, will discuss ways water supplies can be protected when new development is approved. He will focus on design and planning strategies that minimize the impact on water supplies and how government agencies can developer more water-friendly policies.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.

Flaming Gorge Pipeline: The view from Green River, Wyoming

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Here’s a long article about Aaron Million’s pipeline dream to move water from the Green River (and Flaming Gorge Reservoir) to Colorado’s Front Range, from Brandon Loomis writing for The Salt Lake Tribune. From the article:

In an audacious test of the Western axiom that water flows toward money, Fort Collins, Colo., entrepreneur Aaron Million wants to tap this Colorado River tributary just downstream from here and send it to faucets in neighborhoods that don’t yet exist. “We certainly don’t want to impact the Green River,” says Million, who spent his youthful summers shoveling mud to open and close flood-irrigation canals to his grandfather’s melon farm in Green River, Utah.

His plan worries Utah and Wyoming officials, who don’t dispute that Colorado has a legal right to the water under the Colorado River Compact. They never expected their neighbor to take its share from a river that they consider money in their water banks, but rather thought the diversion would come from the Colorado River to the south…

“That river is so quickly impacted by [changing] water conditions,” says Mark Forslund, a Heber City fly-fishing guide who has floated the Green here for a dozen years. Unlike lower stretches, he says, the upper Green is shallow, with no holes to hide fish. When flows shrink in winter, fish die. In summer, the water gets hot. These are conditions that steel the monstrous brown trout and make valiant fighters of the rainbows and native cutthroats, he says. Tinkering with flows from the Fontenelle Dam, above the [Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge], could doom them. The Corps of Engineers is reviewing Million’s proposal to take water from just 200 yards downstream of the refuge boundary. Million now says he’ll consider a diversion downstream in siltier waters below the city of Green River, Wyo. Moving it lower is better, Seedskadee Refuge Manager Carl Millegan says, but won’t fully protect the refuge. Draining the river — perhaps taking as much as half of its lowest winter flows — will hinder fish migrations from Flaming Gorge. Kokanee salmon, a major source of nutrients for the refuge’s other fish and birds, might not swim up to Fontenelle to spawn and die as they do now, he says. “I can’t see how they’d make it,” he says while standing on a cutbank and watching one of the refuge’s seven eagle nests on a tree across the ice. Wherever the pipeline starts, Millegan fears, it could require adjusting Fontenelle Dam’s releases and stemming spring floods that scour the riverbanks and help new cottonwoods sprout.

Millegan’s view north across the sagebrush finds the ice-capped granite of the Wind River Range, source for both the river and uneasiness about its future. The glaciers there, including seven of the 10 largest in the American Rockies, are shrinking. It’s just one reason scientists throughout the Colorado River Basin worry that climate changes will drop water levels well below what the states divvied up on paper with the 1922 compact. “Whether you believe in climate change or not, every year around here is a struggle” for adequate flows, Millegan says. So far this winter’s snowpack in the Winds is about half the historic average.

The glaciers have shrunk by a third or more since 1970, according to Craig Thompson, an associate professor of earth sciences and engineering at Western Wyoming Community College. He and faculty colleague Charlie Love, a geologist, have studied the glaciers since 1985. The glaciers help maintain year-round flows, Thompson says, because they release meltwater late in the summer and fall, when winter snows are gone. When they disappear, he expects, the year-round supply for Denver or any other big pipe evaporates. Corralling the river also could degrade municipal supplies here, Thompson says, because lower flows mean higher salinity in this mineral-rich valley…

All this for private gain? At current Colorado water prices, Thompson figures the Million Conservation Resource group could make $250 million a year on the water.
“It looks like a project where Million gets to turn millions into billions,” he says, “and Wyoming gets to bear the impacts.”

Million views his plan more like his great-grandfather might have, back when he built one of the river’s earlier irrigation ditches. “Water in the Western United States was developed privately, initially, by the farm and ranch and mining communities,” he says. It wasn’t until later that the federal government stepped in, he says. His pipeline is a return to the principle of private capital serving public demand. “That’s how America was built,” Million says…

Million is unfazed. He can build the pipeline with up to $3 billion in private financing, he says, if he gets 140,000 acre-feet or more. Despite the loud and broad criticism — including condemnation by the Green River and Laramie city councils in Wyoming — Million believes the project is on course. After all, he notes, Colorado has an absolute right to the water…

Million must show who will buy his water before the environmental review continues. His deadline to produce a list of users to the Corps of Engineers is today. He says he has that list ready, but critics wonder why anyone would sign on without a firm supply and rates in place. To get a permit to alter wetlands, Million also will have to prove his plan jibes with the Clean Water Act. That means the corps must determine it’s the least damaging plan that can reasonably meet the need. The corps is investigating that question, project manager Rena Brand says, and whether in fact Front Range growth is likely to require so much water.

University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon sees many obstacles in Million’s way, “not the least of which is the Rocky Mountains.” Farmers and small towns in western Colorado won’t want the Front Range to soak up all of Colorado’s rights. Further political complications come from Front Range citizens and water districts who “won’t want Aaron Million to hold all of the cards.”[…]

Glennon’s 2008 book, Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It , groups Million with a host of grand-scheming “water alchemists” who, he writes, “gaze at the Mississippi River, the Columbia River, icebergs in Alaska, and rivers in British Columbia and wistfully imagine the problem is solved.” Still, he says, if Million secures real municipal and agricultural customers, the interstate compact’s so-called “law of the river” is with him. “Sometimes,” Glennon says, “dreamers pull off their dreams.”

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Rocky Ford: Sixth Annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show Feb. 4

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From the Ag Journal:

The sixth annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show is scheduled Feb. 4 in Rocky Ford…

The water topics will include operation of the Pueblo Reservoir and an update on the irrigation efficiency rules…

The symposium will be conducted at the Gobin Community Building in Rocky Ford with registration beginning at 8 a.m. The program will begin at 8:30 a.m. Early registration is $20 per person or $30 per couple before Jan. 29 ($25 and $35, respectfully, after January 29). Student registration is $5. For information call Janet Golden or Natalie Edmundson, CSU Extension office in Rocky Ford at (719) 254-7608, or visit the Web site http://www.farmranchwater.org.

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Just under a foot of snow fell on the eastern San Juan Mountains Tuesday and more is expected in the region today. The snowstorm, which dropped 10 inches of snow on Wolf Creek Ski Area, made for treacherous driving in the high country…The snowstorm glanced off much of the San Luis Valley, leaving only a dusting in Alamosa and 2 inches in the foothills southeast of Crestone, according to a National Weather Service spotter.

More coverage from the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict/Steve Grazier):

County officials placed the snow total at 7 inches at 6:45 a.m. [Tuesday], [Norv Larson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction] said. Another 1 to 3 inches of accumulations are expected through the morning…

Snow falling from power lines has resulted in “blinks,” according to Jones. “Blinks” occur when accumulating snow falls off a power line, and the line moves, connecting with the neutral, or lowest line, Jones explained. When a phase touches the neutral it can trip a breaker or blow a fuse, which could affect an entire section of line…

Despite a lack of hard evidence, many in the weather community believe El Nino has impacted weather systems across the nation, according to Larson. “Although there isn’t a lot of climatological evidence, you could argue that El Nino is really impacting California and that seems to be where most of the precipitation is coming from,” Larson said.

Pueblo Board of Water Works ponies up $12,226 for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Program

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

…the water board has contributed to the Colorado River endangered fish program for many years, joining other Front Range water users who import water across the Continental Divide through a program sponsored by the Colorado Water Congress. The program, started in 1988, assures compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. Last year, it received authorization for $15 million in federal funding through 2023. This year, the Pueblo water board’s share of the budget was $12,226.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 1983 that Colorado River flows needed to be restored to 1960 levels in order to save four vanishing species: the humpback chub, bonytail, razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow (formerly Colorado squawfish). The fish were a substantial source of food for early Coloradans, as described in a Fish and Wildlife report of historical accounts, and once called “white salmon” by the locals, said Bud O’Hara, division manager of water resources for the water board. The fish were the catch of choice until the 1940s, when trout and catfish became preferable species, and people referred to the endangered species as “trash fish,” according to the report. Efforts to restore the fish are paying off, O’Hara told the board. One tagged fish swam more than 480 miles thanks to fish ladders that have been added at some points on the Colorado River…

The money supplied to the Colorado Water Congress efforts funds programs such as providing 10,825 acre-feet of water to a critical reach above Grand Junction and to pay for a technical coordinator to monitor compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act for water providers.

More Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program coverage here and here.

Confirmation hearing for DNR nominee today

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From the Associated Press via CB4Denver.com:

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to question Jim Martin during a hearing Wednesday morning. Ritter appointed Martin to lead the department in October but the Senate must approve his appointments…Martin previously headed the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Before that, he was executive director of Colorado-based Western Resource Advocates, an environmental law and policy organization.

More about the Martin nomination here.

Will the landmark agreement to manage the Colorado River in times of drought survive?

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Back in December 2007 federal officials, the seven Colorado River Compact states, several Indian Tribes and who knows who else were all smiles as then Secretary of Interior signed an agreement to manage the Colorado River in times of drought. Well a California judge has put a wrench in the works by overturning an in state agreement to share water between the northern and southern parts of California which has cast a cloud of doubt over the larger agreement. Here’s a report about Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe’s reaction to the ruling, from the Associated Press (Dan Elliot) via the Merced Sun-Star. From the article:

Dick Wolfe, director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said Tuesday that water officials have shown a new collective will to overcome obstacles to cooperation on the river.

A California state judge invalidated a conservation plan intended to curtail Southern California’s overuse of the river. Among other things, the plan called for an effort to restore California’s Salton Sea, an enormous desert lake. The judge said California lawmakers hadn’t approved the state’s share of the Salton Sea project cost. An appeal is planned, and the judge left the deal in place for now. The California conservation plan also called for transferring trillions of gallons of water from agricultural to municipal use. By expanding its municipal water supply through those transfers rather than taking more water from the Colorado River, California was set to become part of a landmark 2007 agreement on managing the Colorado River during droughts. Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are also party to the deal…

…Wolfe believes water officials will find a fix because of a new willingness to cooperate after decades of legal disputes. “I think that somehow the parties that are involved will try to find a solution to address that part ruling,” he said. Wolfe said it’s too early to predict with any certainly how the California court ruling might affect Colorado and the other states…

The plan committed California state government and a collection of water suppliers to pay up to $133 million toward restoring the Salton Sea, which is fed by the Colorado River irrigation channels that were being diverted. The state’s share was estimated at about $60 million.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District fills two board seats

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Judy Debus):

Two new members joined the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District Board last week, bringing a full board for the first time in several years. Filling the two empty positions are Pete Kohn and Bill Lauck, both of the Brush/Fort Morgan area.

Kohn farms near Brush on a third-generation farm and raises hay, corn and sugar beets. He is married and has two grown daughters and has served on a number of water related boards and committees. He has served on the Fort Morgan Ditch Board since 1997; the Jackson Lake Board since 2003/04; and has served on The Fort Morgan Water Company, which handles the purchase of water by the Pawnee Power Plant. Kohn also has a residential and commercial contracting business…

Bill Lauck also farms with his son in the Fort Morgan/Brush area. He is a member of the Fort Morgan Ditch Board; is president of the Fort Morgan Water Company and serves on the SS Lateral Ditch Board. Lauck has four children and eight grandchildren.

More Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Conflict in the San Luis Valley over groundwater pumping

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Here’s a recap of a recent meeting of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

In response to several letters to the editor from Perry Alspaugh, the water district board asked Alspaugh and other members of the senior surface water group Save Our Senior Water Rights (SOS) to meet with the board during its quarterly meeting in Alamosa.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Colorado Springs stormwater strategy update

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Even with the demise of the Colorado Springs stormwater enterprise the city is still planning to implement promises they made regarding the Fountain Creek watershed. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A project started in 2009 is looking at revising policies for construction within the watershed to develop methods that will reduce erosion and sedimentation, the risk of flooding and improve water quality and aesthetics on Fountain Creek. It would build on previous efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Vision Task Force, and the results could be applied to other communities throughout the watershed. “Other communities are looking at it, and we’ve invited them into the discussion,” said Dan Bare, a senior civil engineer assigned to the task. “The goal is to establish a standard we can all live with.”

Former Pueblo Stormwater Director Dennis Maroney, now a Pueblo consultant, called the development of the standards the most important step Colorado Springs could take toward improving Fountain Creek. The first phase of the effort, gathering information, has been completed. The political turmoil has stalled the next two phases, analyzing data and writing new policies, Bare said. “The plan has remained the same, but the schedule has been delayed due to the budget uncertainties the city has been experiencing,” Bare said…

Bare is in the process of setting up work groups that will begin looking at different sets of issues in order to determine the best policies or practices for minimizing damage to Fountain Creek. Writing and implementing the manual could take up to two years, Bare said. Documents posted on the Web site identify population growth, increased impervious surfaces, more water use, more runoff, floodplain encroachment and increased pollutant loading in Colorado Springs as the main contributors to problems on Fountain Creek. The effects include damage to property and infrastructure like highway bridges or pipelines. Public health, safety and welfare issues, loss of habitat and water quality issues also are listed as effects.

More stormwater coverage here.