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 (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 (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.