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:

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 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 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”

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. 🙂