Wet Mountain Valley: Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District board meeting recap

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From the Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

Engineering firm Crabtree Group was invited to the table to discuss RMW’s projects over the last year. Those projects included the construction of the new Gallery Well south of town and the installation of a booster station in Silver Cliff to increase water pressure…In a separate matter, [RMW chairman Darrell Niles] asked why a drainage system had not been installed near the booster station.

More Custer County coverage here and here.

Battlement Mesa: Grand Valley Citizens Alliance endorses Hidden Gems proposal

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From The Aspen Times:

The alliance gets involved in issues that affect life in western Garfield County. It has a membership of 168 area residents, and is a chapter in the broader Western Colorado Congress. The Hidden Gems plan has evolved into a controversial battle between Wilderness advocates and forest user groups that want to preserve existing access to public lands. The proposal would place a special designation on about 400,000 acres in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Summit and Gunnison counties. About 1,600 acres targeted by proponents are located in Garfield County.

More Hidden Gems coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: CWCB and BLM file statements of opposition to Energy Fuels’ water rights application for Piñon Ridge Mill

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From The Telluride Watch (Karen James):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management also filed individual statements of opposition against the applications. The CWCB is concerned that an instream flow water right it owns on the Dolores River could be adversely affected by water rights sought by Energy Fuels, and noted the company’s lack of augmentation plan in its statement of opposition. Additionally, the application presents insufficient information to fully evaluate the extent to which the CWCB instream flow rights may be injured, the statement notes. Linda Bassi, chief of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, said that the filing was not unusual for her agency. “We participate in Water Court cases to get protective terms and conditions,” she continued. “It’s not to stop the application but to ensure that it’s done in a way that will protect our water rights.”

Similarly, the U.S. government holds four water rights on public lands that are adjacent to the groundwater rights being sought by Energy Fuels that the BLM is concerned may be injured, “If the application is granted without terms and conditions related to monitoring and mitigating the impacts associated with the proposed wells,” the agency’s filing states. As a result, the BLM, “Seeks to incorporate similar water rights monitoring and mitigation measures as part of the water rights decree in this case,” as those Energy Fuels has already committed to as part of a limited-term land use authorization granted by Montrose County.

Energy Fuels Chief Executive Officer George Glasier called the statements of opposition filed by the existing water rights holders “fairly standard,” and not unexpected. “It’s a process you see all the time in Colorado,” he said…

Glasier said he anticipated a series of conferences over the coming months to see if the differences with the objecting parties can be worked through. “It will be a long process over the next year at least to sort out things with the water rights,” he said.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

CWCB delays until January 2011 the instream appropriation on San Miguel River to allow time to study more storage off the mainstem

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From The Telluride Watch (Karen James):

The decision represents and effort to find a middle ground between groups seeking an immediate appropriation of the water right and others who are opposed to it. “The board agreed to table it for a year, but expressed concern about progress being made” on plans for storage, said Linda Bassi, Chief of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section. As a result, the CWCB will expect a progress report on the storage plan effort when it meets in Durango in May, she said. “They sent a strong message that they are very supportive of this instream flow, but they are willing to hold off to allow these different communities to determine their needs and come together, “ said April Montgomery, who represents the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Rivers on the CWCB…

The instream flow being considered for the lower San Miguel River would designate minimum flows in a 16.5-mile stretch of the river in Montrose County that reaches from Calamity Draw west of Naturita to the Dolores River confluence. It has been recommended by both the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, primarily to prevent three dwindling species of native fish: flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub, from being listed for federal protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. “The board members did acknowledge the need to protect an instream flow to prevent a federal listing of any of the sensitive species,” said Bassi…

The CWCB vote honored recommendations made to it by the San Miguel and Montrose County Commissioners and the Southwest Water Conservation District Board. “The two counties and the Southwest Water Conservation District Board asked the [CWCB] to do that so they could work together on assessing water user needs,” Bassi explained.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.

Sterling: The city council is struggling to raise the dough necessary for water treatment plant upgrades

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Forrest Hershberger):

Sterling has been in violation of state health department and Environmental Protection Agency water contamination standards. The city is now under a time deadline to show progress on constructing a new water treatment plant that will remove uranium and a byproduct of water purification processing, trihalomethanes.

The debate Tuesday hinged how the new fees will be structured. The proposed fee structure would be tiered according to the size of tap and how much water is consumed. Councilman Patrick Lawson questioned if a tiered system is the best option. He said he isn’t convinced the tiered system would result in the conservation the city needs to achieve. Councilman Rocky Joy said he is concerned the council doesn’t have time to go back and restructure the fees. He added that he recalls the council not choosing the uniform volume rate plan because it could result in a significant loss in funding during low-use years. “My own personal opinion is it’s a little late to look at restructuring (water fees),” said councilman Jerry Haynes.

More Sterling coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: Lower South Platte reservoir levels higher than last year at this time

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The Sterling Journal Advocate is running a nice graph showing water levels over the last year at the three big reservoirs on the lower South Platte, Prewitt, North Sterling and Julesburg.

From the Wet Mountain Tribune (Jacque Keller):

South Colony is really good,” said district conservationist James Sperry of the NRCS office in Silver Cliff. “We’re carrying the Arkansas Basin.” The South Colony water equivalent is at 12.1 inches which is 106 percent of long term average for the year so far, said Sperry. An average year is 11.4 inches based on the last 30 years.

Precipitation from storms so far this year is 14 inches which is 89 percent of average…

While most ranchers watch the South Colony Snotel site, some use Medano Pass numbers to get an idea what the mountain is holding. Medano drains into the Rio Grande river drainage on the west side of the mountains. The water equivalent at Medano is 2.7 inches or 56 percent. The average is 4.8 inches. Medano precipitation is at 5.6 inches or 98 percent. The average is 5.7 inches.

Colorado snow pack numbers from around the state, as of early February, are as follows: White and Yampa–73 percent, North Platte–75 percent, South Platte–80 percent, Colorado–75 percent, Gunnison–91 percent, Delores, Animas, San Juan–104 percent, Rio Grande– 108 percent and Arkansas– 88 percent.

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat:

Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 86 percent of average as of Feb. 1, and is only 73 percent of last year’s snowpack totals on this same date. The increased snowpack totals across southern Colorado were essentially offset by the decreases in percentage across the central and northern basins and has resulted in the same statewide snowpack percentage for two consecutive months. Once again, this month’s percentage is the lowest since 2003…

The greatest decreases were measured in the South Platte basin, which decreased by 18 percentage points from the Jan. 1 readings. Other basins seeing sizable decreases include the North Platte and Colorado basins, decreasing by 10 and 9 percentage points, respectively.

Energy policy — oil and gas: Carbondale to chip in $7,000 for the Thompson Divide Coalition’s watershed study

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From The Sopris Sun (Jeremy Heiman):

Carbondale officials were interested in supporting the study, initiated by the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), in part because contamination from gas drilling in those areas has the potential to enter ground water and pollute town water wells. Carbondale’s Crystal River wells, which are relatively shallow, could be threatened by such contamination, said Mark O’Meara, Carbondale’s utilities director. O’Meara said the risk presented by chemicals from gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area is difficult to calculate. “If it gets into the groundwater, I don’t think there’s any model to predict where it’s going to go,” he said.

He compared underground geology to a sandwich, with multiple layers, sloping toward the Crystal and Roaring Fork valleys. Contamination released by drilling activities could enter groundwater between any of those layers and follow the slope to the valley bottom. The Crystal wells are a secondary source of water for the town, but are nevertheless used on a regular basis for domestic drinking water for residents, as are another series of wells in the Roaring Fork drainage. Carbondale’s primary source of water is Nettle Creek, south of town.

TDC has budgeted almost $79,000 for the study, which is intended to establish baseline data on the purity of streams and underground water in the Thompson Divide area, where gas drilling companies hold leases. The largest share of the cost has been paid for by grants from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, the Aspen Skiing Company Environment Foundation and Patagonia, and grants expected from two other sources. Carbondale’s trustees offered to pay half the remaining budget shortfall of $13,970. The study has been under way since last fall, and will involve sampling at several sites during each season through this summer.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

CWCB acquires water for instream flow use on Washington Gulch and the Slate River

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From the Crested Butte News (Mike Horn):

If the transaction goes through between the Colorado Water Trust, the CWCB, the Skyland Metropolitan District, and Verzuh Ranch, Inc., Skyland residents will likely have a little more drought-protection as well. After being used for instream flows in the rivers, the acquired water will be diverted into Skyland Metropolitan District’s system, namely Grant Lake reservoir. The diversion point would be just upstream of the Hwy. 135 bridge that crosses the Slate River…

According to Skyland Metropolitan District Manager Mike Billingsley, “The transaction is under contract but not closed; we’re about halfway through the 180-day diligence period. The CWCB approved their contribution during their January meeting, but we don’t have it in hand yet.” Billingsley said they’ve been working on the water right acquisition for four to five years. “It’s been pretty hot and heavy since I started a year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “The water right itself is important for Skyland to complete our water portfolio,” explained Billingsley. “In drought years, the reservoir goes low, the golf course goes dry, and it’s a struggle.”

As Billingsley said, “It’s still far from being closed.” But if the arrangement goes through, there’ll be more water in the rivers, the wetlands will get recharged, and Skyland will be hydrated, even if drought conditions arrive.

More CWCB coverage here.

Pagosa Springs: PAWSD revises water and sewer fees

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From the Pagosa Sun (Chuck McGuire):

Of particular concern to most consumers, monthly water and sewer services fees remained unchanged. The base rate for in-district water service is still $12 per equivalent unit (EU), while the base rate for wastewater service is $23 per EU. The number of EUs is determined by water meter size, with a 5/8-inch meter being one EU. The board also maintained existing charges for water use by volume. The use of 1-8,000 gallons in the district still costs an additional $4.20 per 1,000 gallons over the base rate. For 8,001 to 20,000 gallons, the fee adds another $8 per 1,000 gallons, and anything over 20,000 gallons is assessed an extra $9.45 per 1,000 gallons.

During dry periods when available water is low and mandatory water conservation requirements are in effect, an additional in-district, drought surcharge will be imposed as follows: 0-8,000 gallons usage (per 1,000 gallons), no additional charge; 8,001 – 20,000 gallons usage, $2.18 per 1,000 gallons; Over 20,001 gallons usage, $2.40 per 1,000 gallons…

Those building a new home, or involved in the construction industry, will be happy to know the district has held Capital Investment and Water Resource fees to last year’s levels. The water CIF is still $3,579 per EU, while the wastewater CIF remains at $4,252 per EU. Last year’s $5,617 WRF will continue, with a five-year, 5-percent per annum amortization available again this year.

Perhaps the most significant changes to the fee schedule were the additions of an equipment-replacement fee and labor charge for repairing damage to the district’s automated meter reading equipment. The “FireFly,” which relays water meter readings to the district’s central database, is located either on the lid of the water meter, or attached to a post next to the meter pit. Upon discovering evidence of someone tampering with, damaging or destroying the FireFly, the district will charge the respective customer $104 — plus an hour of labor — for repairs, as necessary. Should a customer inadvertently damage a FireFly or its wiring, he or she may still be subject to the charge.

Here’s Part two of Bill Hudson’s series from the Pagosa Daily Post, Three Districts, Two Dilemmas. Here’s Part three.

More infrastructure coverage here.