Colorado Farm Bureau weblog

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Say hello to the The Pulse of Colorado Farm Bureau weblog. They’ve been around since March according to their archives. Here’s the link to their water category RSS feed.

Energy policy — oil and gas: The Thompson Divide Coalition still pushing the area for exclusion from oil and gas exploration and production

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

The Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), in cooperation with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, will take a second water sample this week from locations in both the Thompson Creek and Fourmile Creek watersheds. Two more samples will be taken later this year, said Lisa Moreno, TDC campaign director.

Carbondale trustees on Tuesday agreed to fund half of the remaining $13,970 to complete the $79,000 study. An anonymous donor has agreed to match the town’s share, Moreno said. Other organizations financing the study include the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program, the Aspen Skiing Company Environment Foundation, outdoor gear company Patagonia and the Brown Foundation. A funding request is also before the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Moreno said. The TDC, which includes area ranchers, recreation and environmental groups, formed in the fall of 2008 in an attempt to protect federal lands in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from oil and gas development.

The group is currently working with mineral leaseholders to retire the existing leases, and is seeking federal legislation to withdraw the area from the future leasing. “We have talked to the lease holders, and one is willing to talk,” Moreno reported to the Carbondale board. “The other one says it has plans for those leases.”

In the meantime, the group is working to collect baseline water quality data for the watershed to have on hand when and if drilling activity does take place.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Two Moab conservation groups are challenging Piñon Ridge groundwater permits

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Red Rock Forests and Living Rivers filed a statement of opposition to three of EF’s water-permit applications for groundwater that is tributary to the Dolores River. The water would be used for Energy Fuels’ proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill near Paradox.

More coverage from The Grand Junctional Daily Sentinel:

[Energy Fuels Resources LLC] is seeking 500 acre-feet of water that feeds into to the Dolores River for milling at the proposed Pi&#241on Ridge Uranium Mill near Paradox and 500 acre-feet in the form of captured rainwater needed to prevent water discharges from the site. Red Rock Forests is concerned about the “speculative nature of uranium mining and milling” in the region and whether Energy Fuels Resources will hold the water right without developing the mill, acting Director Harold Shepherd said…

The Bureau of Land Management is considering the Dolores River for status as a wild and scenic river, and diverting water for the mill could threaten that, said John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Conduit: $3 million shows up in President Obama’s budget

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Aaron Burnett):

U.S. Representatives Betsy Markey and John Salazar announced that the 2011 federal budget released Monday includes $3 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a proposed 130-mile water delivery system from Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley. The Conduit was originally authorized in 1962 as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas project. It is intended to provide high quality, clean water to more than 40 municipalities and water districts serving approximately 50,000 people. “Water sustains our farms, our families and our communities in southeast Colorado,” said Markey. “This project has been a long time coming, and I’m happy to see this funding in the budget. Construction of the conduit will not only help ensure clean, reliable water in the future, but it will put Coloradans to work today.”

Bill Long, a Bent County commissioner and a Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board member, said the inclusion in the federal budget by the president is a first for the project. “This is the first time that any administration has included funding for the conduit for their budget. We had $5 million in the budget last year, initially it was not part of the budget, but we got it added through John Salazar and Betsy Markey and the two senators.”

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Greeley considering boring for new pipeline from Bellevue to Greeley

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From the North Forty News (Cherry Solkoloski):

The city is planning to bore underground, rather than excavating a ditch, through sensitive areas just south of the Cache la Poudre River. Spokesperson Dan Moore said preliminary plans call for a series of bores, for a total of about a quarter mile of pipeline. The so-called northern segment through LaPorte is just one of several sections of pipeline that will take water from the city’s Bellvue treatment plant all the way to Greeley. Some of the segments have already been completed, but the northern segment’s preferred route has drawn intense criticism from some landowners who will be affected. However, Moore said, the boring method “should avoid most of the concerns we have heard.”[…]

Moore said that with the boring method, the city should be able to avoid destroying the historic features and the Point of Rocks. The city would bore under the irrigation canals and through a ridge just south of the Point of Rocks. It would go under the old railroad bed at some point, but the intact tracks would not be disturbed. Moore said the approach would be friendlier to the environment. The access road could be smaller, and the area would be easier to restore. The process would likely involve digging three boreholes, about 20 feet deep, from which the tunnels would be bored. There are always surprises when doing underground work, Moore cautioned, and the city might have to excavate in some areas if they encounter large chunks of rock…

Moore said that the cost difference between boring and trenching is difficult to assess. Although boring is a more expensive construction method, restoration of the property would cost less with that approach. Even with boring, he said, Greeley is sure that the preferred route on the south side of the river would be less expensive than the other alternatives considered…

Construction could begin next winter on the project, Moore said, and the project could take two seasons to complete. The city avoids doing pipeline work in the spring and early summer because of farming activity, irrigation and wildlife. Before work can begin, the city must acquire necessary permits from Larimer County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps will consult with the Colorado Historical Society before issuing a permit.

More Greeley coverage here and here.

HB 10-1188: Clarify River Outfitter Navigation Right

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

“The bill would allow incidental contact with property when commercial rafters went through private property,” said Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers Outfitters in Almont. “It would also allow commercial rafts to portage around obstacles in the river.”[…]

[State Representative Kathleen Curry’s] bill, called the “River Outfitters Viability Act,” has the support of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which represents more than 50 licensed outfitters in Colorado. According to the CROA Web site, commercial rafting contributed $142 million to Colorado’s economy in 2008.

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

Along with the outfitters association, he is working hard to keep access to one stretch of the Taylor River where a landowner wants to block access to commercial float trips through the property. The outfitters are supporting HB1188, co-sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Curry, I-Gunnison, and Sen. Mary Hodge, R-Brighton, that would explicitly allow commercial rafters to conduct float trips across private and government lands.

Past court cases have removed the outfitters from criminal liability if they do not make contact with the banks or riverbed of a stream, but simply pass through. There is still the possibility of a civil case being filed, such as a 2000 case on Lake Fork in the Gunnison River basin that essentially shut down a rafting company, Schumacher said. “We raised money after the Lake Fork case in 2000 to protect the right to float,” Schumacher said. “Right now, people are buying up ranches on the middle Taylor and forming private fishing clubs.” The new law is needed to clarify existing decisions on the rights of rafters and property owners, he added. “There is no statute or law in Colorado in reference to civil trespassing,” Schumacher said. “This is a David vs. Goliath situation, where we have to defend ourselves from private developers who bought the land knowing we float through it.”

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Rio Oxbow Ranch and the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust ink deal for conservation easement

Rio Grande Valley near Creede.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Coupled with a prior easement, a 6-mile stretch of the Rio Grande and its bottom lands will now be protected along with habitat for elk, eagles and trout and the mountain views that greet drivers along Colorado 149 west of town. “We just thought it was too valuable a piece of land in its present state to ever dive off it,” Alan Lisenby said.

The family bought the ranch in 1996, and with their love of trout fishing immediately focused on shoring up the river, he said. The family has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reduce the river bank erosion that harms trout habitat and in high runoff years sends silt downstream as far as Del Norte. The Lisenby’s also adjusted their cattle operation, which includes anywhere from 400 to 900 cows in a given year, to accommodate the elk herds that wander down from the surrounding high country. “All of that stuff fits in together,” Lisenby said. “It threads the needle with what the conservation people want to do.”[…]

A $7.4 million award from Great Outdoors Colorado in 2007 helped the land trust complete the easement on the Rio Oxbow in addition to completing agreements on six other ranches along the Rio Grande. Other contributors to the easement included the Nature Conservancy, the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The land trust has protected 18,000 acres along the Rio Grande. The group is pushing to protect a 175-mile stretch of the river from the headwaters to the state line that remains largely in the hands of ranchers and farmers.

Meanwhile, a recent study commissioned by the Trust for Public Land has determined that there Colorado nets $6 of economic benefit for every $1 spent on conservation easement tax credits, according to a report from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

The study was done by Jessica Sargent-Michaud, a staff economist for the land conservation organization. It looked at the investments and returns in Colorado’s conservation easements since 1995. Over that time, the state invested an estimated $511 million in conservation easements, including $373 million through tax credits and another $138 million through the lottery-funded Great Colorado Outdoors (GOCO) grants. That’s equal to $595 million in today’s dollars, the study said…

The study separated the easement land by type of ecosystem and looked at the value such ecosystems offer on a per-acre basis. It concluded that Colorado’s land in easements gave $3.51 billion in economic benefits to the state through water-supply protection, waste treatment and flood control; farm and ranch production; and recreation, including hunting, fishing and hiking.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

CWCB approves $660,000 loan for Smith Dam repairs

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A storm last year damaged Smith Dam, located near Blanca in the Rio Grande Basin. Smith Reservoir is one of two — the other is Mountain Home Reservoir — that serve the Costilla County farming district, and without it, the farmers lost valuable water. The CWCB approved a $660,000 loan to repair the nearly 100-year-old dam. The repairs have already been made, financed in part by a bridge loan from one of the irrigators. CWCB staff deemed the Trinchera District a good risk, since it had repaid two other construction loans in the past. “The construction fund we use has to have money in it in order to make loans for the water community for unanticipated projects like this,” said Travis Smith, CWCB director from the Rio Grande Basin…

The board also approved a $4 million loan for a reservoir company east of Greeley on [January 27]…

[In January], Gimbel said funds from the $60 million loan for the Arkansas Valley Conduit are available if they are needed to match the local share for the $300 million project for the next two years. The conduit received $5 million funding for this year from Congress and another $14 million is being sought for next year.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Telluride: $15 million for the new Pandora water treatment plant

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

…with Mill Creek running at the upper reaches of capacity and the town’s growing population, town officials have been working to change that for years, setting their sights instead on the pure, high mountain lakes above Bridal Veil as a source of municipal water. The town has been working to make the Pandora water treatment plant — which would pipe the pure water up there to a plant at the end of the box canyon before dispersing it to town — a reality for most of the decade. Now, it appears that the plan, which was thrown off track by litigation in the past couple years, is on the horizon. The town expects open it up for bids in February and begin construction of Pandora by early this summer. That was the news delivered this week during a presentation to the town by URS Engineer Bill Wemmert, who has been working with the town on the plans for several years. “Slowly but surely we’re getting closer to where we can pull the trigger on construction,” said Town Manager Frank Bell.

Right now, the town relies on Mill Creek and a water treatment plant on Mill Creek Road for its primary source of water, with the Stillwell tunnel as a backup. However, in the early part of the decade a study concluded that during extended lapses of drought, there isn’t adequate raw water to meet Telluride’s demand — and that set the town on a path to create the Pandora system.

As planned, the system will tap water from Blue Lake, Lewis Lake and Mud Lake — pure, deep-blue alpine lakes above Bridal Veil — and carry it down an 11,000-foot pipe that follows the switchbacks of Black Bear Road to the plant, which will be located on a small shelf of land above the Pandora Mill. The plant is designed with the capacity to handle 2 million cubic gallons of water a day, and will be the primary source of drinking water for Telluride. In addition, it will be outfitted with provisions for the installation of a micro-hydro unit capable of creating 250 kilowatts of renewable energy, but Idarado would have to approve installation of the unit. The plant itself will be partially buried in the hillside and obscured by the surrounding vegetation. The water will be filtered through a membrane system and will receive chlorine treatment, but Wemmert said very little chemicals will be used for treating the water.

Though it diverts water from the San Miguel, Bell said it will not affect the watershed. “There aren’t any effects of this plant on downstream users,” he said.

The project also includes the creation of a chemical storage and transfer facility

More water treatment coverage here.

CWCB finalizes rules for rainwater catchments pilot implementation

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

2009’s HB1129, set up a pilot study for new developments that would supplement other water sources with rainwater runoff captured from streets, parking lots and structures. The CWCB began looking at guidelines for the study last September, and finalized them at this week’s meeting. The first applications could be considered in March. “It really comes back to conservation,” said Veva DeHeza of the CWCB staff. “The pilot proposal will be assessing the conservation potential of rainwater harvesting.”

Guidelines from areas that already have rainwater harvest rules — Texas, New Mexico, Oregon and Tucson, Ariz. — were considered in writing Colorado guidelines, DeHeza said. The guidelines are flexible, allowing the state to look at household or development-wide systems. Features such as retention ponds and cisterns will be evaluated. “There are many ways to do rainwater harvesting,” DeHeza said.

Because of funding constraints, only two projects will be considered over the next two years. They will take at least two years to complete, by documenting the amount of runoff from the site before development and the measures put in place to capture rainwater. The study will also look at landscaping features that reduce outdoor water use…

Under the new law, it could be possible to reduce the amount of augmentation, based on how much conservation contributes to maintaining natural flows. The pilot study will be critical for future claims in water court for new developments. While the guidelines were approved unanimously, some board members expressed concern about possible unforeseen complications. “I continue to be concerned about unintended consequences, especially with centralized collection ponds,” said Barbara Biggs, who represents the Denver metro area on the board. “Unsuspecting homeowners might have to deal with green ponds, mosquitoes, plugged-up sprinklers and sick dogs.” DeHeza replied that the guidelines look at water quality and stormwater management.

More CWCB coverage here.

CWCB: 2010 proposed instream flow appropriations

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Click here for the list of proposed instream flow appropriations from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. From email from the CWCB (Rob Viehl):

At its January 26–27, 2010 regular meeting, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) declared its intent to appropriate instream flow water rights for the streams listed on the attached Instream Flow Appropriation List. The attached list contains a description of the Instream Flow (ISF) Recommendations including stream name, water division, watershed, county, upper terminus, lower terminus, length, USGS quad sheet name(s) and recommended instream flow amounts. Copies of the Instream Flow Recommendation Summary Reports and Appendices submitted into the Official CWCB Record are available for review during regular business hours (8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Office, located at 1313 Sherman Street, Room 721, Denver, Colorado, 80203.

More CWCB coverage here.

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

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The Uranium Processing Accountability Act would require uranium processors to comply with clean-up orders before new applications are processed, strengthen public oversight of bonding requirements; require processors to inform residents about threats to their water if they have registered wells in close proximity to known groundwater contamination; and require processors to amend their operating license before accepting new sources of “alternate feeds.”

The legislation would affect the Cotter uranium mill south of Cañon City…

“There’s one reason why we’re here, to protect the community, the environment of Colorado,” said Matt Garrington of Environment Colorado, which helped develop the legislation. The group hosted a press conference announcing the legislation at the Fremont County Administration Building. Commissioner Mike Stiehl spoke about contamination from leaking CCD tanks on the site. “Without the legislation we’re proposing, there is no reason to clean that up prior to decommissioning of the mill,” he said…

Also among Tuesday’s speakers was Bill Edrington, owner of Royal Gorge Anglers. “I’m not really here to protect my business, I’m here to protect this river, which I love,” he said. He said the Arkansas River is a “wonderful” wild fish producer, but that if the fish start to die from loss of food because of contamination, then the river is lost. “My mother always taught me if I made a mess, clean it up,” he said. “We want to keep (Cotter) around to clean up their mess.”

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Center: Water tower maintenance update

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From the Center Post Dispatch (Teresa L. Benns):

[Utilities Supervisor Kelly Stone] explained that while the leakage problem is solved for now, there would always be a problem with the tank because some movement of the tower will always occur. There also has been a problem with over filling in the past he said, but the filling process is on a timer now and this should be resolved. Further work on the tower will be done in the spring, Stone said.

In working with Rural Development on the water meter funding, Town Clerk Bill McClure reported that Rural Development authorities are suggesting that, “We get the water tower resealed from the inside.” The estimate on the resealing is about $10,000, and the funds for the project would be included in the current request for Rural Development funds.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Hearing schedule for state rules

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Since Gov. Bill Ritter signed a 2008 law, House Bill 1161, requiring companies doing in situ leach mining to safeguard groundwater, state mining regulators have been working with Powertech and others in the uranium mining industry to write rules governing how the law is implemented. So far, the rules-writing has been informal, but the state on [January 27] released its plans for a formal public process for the final approval of the rules by the state Mined Land Reclamation Board…

The board is asking for the public to make its voice heard on the proposed rules at an April 15 hearing at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Loveland. It will be the first formal public hearing on the rules, but how many hearings there will be isn’t clear…

The board set a March 1 deadline for written comments from the public about the proposed rules. Those who want to be a party to the hearing – someone who believes they have a direct interest in the rules and can offer alternatives – must submit a written request by Feb. 23. Those granted “party” status are given an elevated legal status in the hearing process and must attend an April 6 prehearing conference at the Denver Art Museum.

Jackie Adolph of Citizens Against Resource Destruction, which opposes the Centennial Project’s potential impact on groundwater, said she believes public input in the rulemaking process is important to protect the water. “I think that we will have quite a bit of public participation in this process,” she said.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Energy policy — coalbed methane: Bayfield public meeting recap

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From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

About 60 area residents plus gas production company and Colorado Division of Water Resources representatives turned out Tuesday evening at Bayfield High School for a presentation on all the water that’s pumped out of coalbed methane wells to get the gas to flow. The meeting was prompted by new state rules for coalbed methane well water deemed to be “non-tributary,” and by massive company filings in District 7 Water Court for rights to water – both tributary and non-tributary – that they are pumping out of coalbed methane wells…

“In the past, if there was no beneficial use, no water well permit or augmentation plan was required,” [State Engineer Dick Wolfe] said. “The change is in what’s considered beneficial use.” The other big distinction is whether the water is tributary to a stream. If it is, an augmentation plan may be needed to protect senior water rights from stream depletion.

Attorney John Cyran from the State Attorney General’s Office Water Rights Division said that as a result of the Vance decision, Fruitland formation coalbed methane wells need water well permits. “We have authority to issue permits or to stop any withdrawal if there’s injury to senior rights,” he said. “We still don’t think we should have to issue permits. If you issue permits, they are water rights.”

Cyran continued, “The Vance Supreme Court ruling means produced water is an appropriation for beneficial use, and they need well permits. If they are tributary, they have to replace any water that’s out of priority with augmentation. It means we have to issue thousands of permits. And we have to make sure there’s no injury to senior rights.” With many Fruitland coal wells, the connection with surface streams (mainly at the formation outcrop) is so distant that potential depletion “isn’t enough to worry about,” he said. “We have to administer the tributary wells and figure out which aren’t tributary. It’s a lot of them.”

The State Engineer’s recently released rules governing non-tributary coalbed methane wells include a map designating non-tributary areas, almost all south of Highway 160, and much of it south of the Ute Line.
The rules state that they “shall not be construed to establish the jurisdiction of either the State of Colorado or the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over non-tributory ground water within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation…”[…]

Wolfe described the 1973 and 1985 laws dealing with non-tributary groundwater rights. The 1973 law gave exclusive right to the surface owner. The 1985 law allows “incidental withdrawal of non-tributary water in mining operations,” only the amount necessary to produce the oil or gas, and only while oil or gas production is happening. A man asked about recent production company letters to landowners referring to an absolute water right. Wolfe said the term absolute refers to water production from existing wells while conditional right refers to potential future wells. Sarah Klahn, the palintiffs’ attorney in the Vance suit, said a primary legal issue yet to be determined is, “Can you get the right to non-tributary water if you don’t own the surface?” Cyran clarified that the Engineer’s Office issues water well permits, while water rights must go through Water Court…

Ron Burkett, whose family owns one of the county’s largest private properties with many gas wells on it, asked where the augmentation water will come from. From Vallecito or from ditch company rights, Assistant State Engineer Kevin Rein said. “There’s a real strict court process for that.”[…]

As for the flood of company Water Court filings [by energy firms], he said, “You can’t claim water you won’t actually use. No speculative claims.” It can’t injure senior rights, and it has to be administered in priority…

Wolfe advised a couple augmentation plans have just been filed, and March 31 is the deadline for producers to file augmentation plans for all existing tributary coalbed methane wells. These can be blanket applications by individual operators or groups of operators. They have to identify every coalbed methane well in the plan and the source of replacement water, he said. Anyone wanting to file statements of opposition to the company filings for water rights or augmentation plans must satisfy criteria to have standing with the court, Cyran said. “You need some kind of water right to have standing.” Owners of water wells that don’t have an adjudicated water right – which is different from a water well permit – have to the end of this month to apply for that and gain standing, he said, adding, “It’s not that hard to file a water right application.” However, Bayfield attorney Marian Tone pointed out to the Times that it costs $224 per water well to file a rights application, plus $158 to file a statement of opposition. “They say it’s no big deal, but it is.”

More coverage from Katie Burford writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

“The oil and gas industry is only seeking the water rights associated with oil and gas production,” said Bruce Gantner, a ConocoPhillips environmental consultant who is handling comments about the company’s application. Others filing applications in the area include BP, the Southern Ute Tribe and Chevron.

But some observers of the process called it a “water grab” and question the legal framework for the gas companies’ claims. “I think that the applications are overreaching, and they’re very broad, and they’re probably speculative, as well,” said Amy Huff, a water attorney who recently presented at a public meeting about the subject…

Gas companies firmly assert that water to which they are seeking rights is deep underground and has no effect on water people use for drinking or irrigating. “This water is not of a drinking-water quality,” Gantner, with ConocoPhillips, said. Zeller argued that domestic wells run a couple hundred feet deep or less while gas wells are about 3,500 feet or deeper.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Colorado Water Institute: January 2010 newsletter

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Click here to download the Colorado Water Institute’s latest newsletter Alternatives to Ag Transfer.

More Colorado Water coverage here and here.