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.