Secretary of Interior Salazar announces “WaterSMART” initiative

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From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

“The federal government’s existing water policies and programs simply aren’t built for 21st century pressures on water supplies,” he said. “Population growth. Climate change. Rising energy demands. Environmental needs. Aging infrastructure. Risks to drinking water supplies. Those are just some of the challenges,” he said in a press release. To fund the initiative, the 2011 budget proposed by President Barack Obama includes an additional $36.4 million for water programs. Salazar, as part of his order, wants his department to increase the available water supply in the West for agricultural, municipal, industrial and environmental uses by 350,000 acre feet by 2012.

Energy policy — oil and gas: State officials close to finalizing a plan to deal with Ned Prather’s benzene tainted spring

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Neslin told the state commission Monday that agency staff “are hopefully close to finalizing a schedule for bringing these matters to closure.” The schedule would set forth deadlines for any further testing or reporting by companies under investigation. It also would include completion of a settlement agreement or withdrawal of notices of alleged violation against the companies “by a date certain,” or a hearing before the commission early this summer to consider an order of violation and imposition of penalties, Neslin said. Contamination of the first spring was detected after Ned Prather became ill by drinking benzene-tainted water May 30, 2008. Benzene, a carcinogen associated with oil and gas production, later was found in a second spring.

Richard Djokic, attorney for the Prather family, said it’s his understanding that the latest sampling continues to show benzene is present in both springs. The state is investigating nearby operations by Williams Production RMT as the possible source of the first spring’s contamination and suspects OXY USA in the case of the second spring.

Oil and gas commissioner Tresi Houpt, who also is a Garfield commissioner, told Neslin Monday, “I would hate for us to bump into a situation where the snow starts falling again before we’ve done anything to help remediate this.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil shale: Shell withdraws Yampa River water rights application

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From the Associated Press via the Los Angeles Times:

Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are thought to hold 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil in shale. But critics of a federal management plan for developing oil shale on public lands say the process would use too much of the region’s scarce water.

Shell was hoping to obtain water rights from the Yampa River. The company, which is the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell, left open the possibility of pursuing the project in the future. “The exact scale and timing for development will depend on a number of factors, including progress on our technology development, the outcome of regulatory processes, market conditions, project economics and consultations with key stakeholders,” the company said in a statement. Shell said the ultimate goal is to create an operation that is economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially sustainable.

The state was notified of Shell’s decision on Tuesday, Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Theo Stein said.

More coverage from Kirk Siegler writing for KUNC. From the article:

A spokesman could not be reached for further comment Tuesday night. But the news is being cheered by a host of environmental groups and local officials. “In northwest Colorado, we were very concerned about the impacts with the current construction technique that they were proposing,” says Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger. The county is one of 25 entities that filed formal protests against Shell’s proposal. Monger says the county also had concerns with the amount of resources that were going to be required to extract the water.

More coverage from Dennis Webb writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

“We reviewed our application in the context of our ongoing research and development activities and, in light of the overall global economic downturn that has affected our project’s pace, have decided not to pursue the Yampa water right at this time,” the company said in a prepared statement.

Grant Junction attorney Mark A. Hermundstad also announced the decision in an e-mail to other attorneys involved in the case, saying Shell was dismissing its claims for conditional water rights. “However, the withdrawal of the Yampa water rights application should not be construed as an indication that Shell is pulling out of oil shale development,” Hermundstad wrote. “Shell intends to continue its oil shale research and development activities with the ultimate goal of creating a commercial oil shale recovery operation that is economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially sustainable.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Moffat Collection System Project: Boulder and Lafayette city councils approve IGA over water in expanded Gross Reservoir

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Larry Qulling):

At the last Boulder City Council, meeting the Boulder and Lafayette city councils unanimously approved motions to implement Inter-governmental Agreements (IGA) between their cities and the Denver Water Board for a 5,000 acre foot environmental pool as part of the Moffat Expansion Project. What should not be lost from the council meeting is a keystone event which can provide in-stream flows for South Boulder Creek that have been missing for over 50 years. These two council votes culminate the planning and collaboration of nearly 10 years of effort. Two IGAs were approved which allow for the creation and operation of an environmental pool for South Boulder Creek as part of the Gross Reservoir expansion. Per the agreement, Lafayette will contribute the most water to the pool as part of their existing South Boulder Creek water rights portfolio. Boulder will also contribute to the pool through exchange of CBT leased rights into the pool. The agreement specifically states Denver Water cannot participate in nor have access to the environmental pool. Both Boulder and Lafayette will manage the pool to achieve targeted minimum flow October through April of as high as 7cfs to South Boulder Road. Lower minimum flow targets as planned below South Boulder Road all the way through the confluence to Middle Boulder Creek. The complete IGA package can be viewed at the City of Boulder Web site.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

Snowpack news: San Juan Basin gets more snow

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From The Durango Herald (Katie Burford):

Monitors were showing 17 inches of snow from the storm at Molas Pass, 14 inches around Cascade and 21 inches at Wolf Creek’s summit, he said. At lower elevations, where snow has fallen off and on since Friday, accumulations were not as great as daily temperatures hovered above the freezing mark. Sunday’s snowfall in Durango was 5½ inches as of 7 p.m., said local weather forecaster Briggen Wrinkle. Since Friday, Durango had received 10 inches of snow.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (James Amos):

The National Weather Service recorded 3.8 inches of snow Sunday, which yielded 0.2 inches of precipitation. Monday’s collection of 0.4 inches of snow and 0.01 inches of precipitation was far more modest. But the snow put the Pueblo area above average for snowfall this month, even while the winter lags behind the yearly average. Pueblo has received about 9.2 inches of snow this month. About 19.1 inches of snow has fallen in the Pueblo area this winter, a few inches behind the yearly average of 22.3 inches, according to Randy Gray, a meteorological technician at the weather service…

Residents in Trinidad and Walsenburg woke up to about 4 inches of snow and a couple more inches fell Monday. Cuchara residents reported a foot of snow falling Sunday night into Monday morning with an additional 6 inches falling by 3 p.m…

Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 17 inches of snow in the 24 hours prior to 9 a.m. and 45 inches since the storm hit earlier in the weekend…

In the Upper Arkansas Valley, between 2.5 and 4.5 inches of snowfall was reported overnight Sunday, giving Fremont County students a chance to sleep in Monday when school officials in Canon City, Florence and Penrose announced two-hour delayed starts. Elsewhere in the area, Chaffee County’s high country got plenty of snow. Weather spotters reported 17 inches of snow one mile southwest of Buena Vista and 17.5 inches of snowfall during the weekend at Monarch Mountain, 11 inches of which fell overnight Sunday to give the ski area a 77-inch base…

In Custer County, between 3 inches and a foot of snow were reported across the county. Custer County Road and Bridge Foreman Dave Trujillo said 8-12 inches of snow fell in the upper elevations and 6-7 inches accumulated in the town of Westcliffe, while 3-4 inches fell in the Rosita area.

Craig: Presentation on the history of transmountain diversions tonight

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From the Craig Daily Press:

The Friends of Northwest Colorado, Colorado Trout Unlimi ted, The Wilderness Society and Colorado Environmental Coalition are scheduled to host a presentation from 6:30 to 8 p.m. today at the Center of Craig, 601 Yampa Ave. Ken Neubecker, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited and environmental representative for the Colorado River Basin Round Table, will speak about the history and ramifications of trans-mountain water diversions, including examples from actual and proposed water projects affecting the region. “Part history lesson, part Colorado water law, part science, this presentation leads to a better understanding of past, present and future Western Slope water issues,” the CEC wrote in a news release.

For more information or to RSVP, contact Sasha at, or call 824-5241 and leave a message.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here and here.

Arkansas River: Exchanges

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Here’s a look at exchanges on the Arkansas River, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole article. Here are a few excertps:

So far this year, two Water Court filings involving yet more exchanges on the Arkansas River have been filed. Woodmoor Hills has filed for an exchange as a way to move water it intends to buy on the High Line and Holbrook Canals to Northern El Paso County. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, a group of shareholders from seven canal companies, has filed for an exchange that would allow them to sell water through leases with upstream users, such as Aurora, Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority — the only user which has already signed an agreement with the Super Ditch.

Water trades, sometimes in the form of what are called contract exchanges, are not monitored by the state as part of river administration, Witte added. “Contract exchanges are not addressed in law, and not something we regulate,” Witte said. “It’s a contractual arrangement to help them move water where they need it.” The trade of 5,000 acre-feet between Aurora and the Pueblo water board is an example of that type of arrangement, Witte said.

Plans for augmentation, primarily used now to make up depletions from well pumping, are not exchanges, but require adjudication in Water Court, Witte said. Like an exchange, augmentation plans allow for out-of-priority diversions to make up for depletions. “The party making the transaction is only replacing their depletions,” Witte said. “The big difference is that if it were an exchange, they would need to tell the world and convince them (the engineering) is true.”

Other similar ways to move water may be alternate points of diversion or changed points of diversion. These occur by moving the diversion of a water right upstream. Water can then be left in storage for use at a later date. Winter water storage is an example of how an alternate point of diversion is used.

Substitute supply plans, such as one being used by Manitou Springs that allows it to store water by replacing it from a new source, is probably not an exchange, Witte said. “It’s not really an exchange, but a water management practice that causes no injury,” Witte said.

More on Arkansas River exchanges from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

By far, the top driver on this peculiar road is Colorado Springs, which operates an exchange by storing water out of priority in Lake Pueblo against its sewer return flows down Fountain Creek. It’s a complex accounting system that incorporates a lot of moving parts, including the transit loss along Fountain Creek, agreements with other water users and determining the nature of water being used. Each year, Colorado Springs submits an accounting to the state explaining how all the variables were factored in.

Fully consumable water can be used to extinction under state law, whether it’s imported or simply the consumptive use of water rights formerly used for agriculture that have been moved for use in a municipal supply. About 85 percent of Colorado Springs’ water supply falls into those categories, and much of it is now being reused through the Fountain Creek exchange. In recent years, the range has fallen between 20,000 and 25,000 acre-feet annually, but the amount of exchanges could double when the Southern Delivery System is fully operational. Last year was no exception, as Colorado Springs moved a little more than 20,500 acre-feet of water via its Fountain Creek exchange, according to Division of Water Resources figures made available to The Pueblo Chieftain…

In all, about 83,000 acre-feet of water that once would have flowed down the river was stored in Lake Pueblo last year, most of it through alternate points of diversion, rather than exchanges. That amounts to nearly 12 percent of the river’s annual flow at Avondale. More than half of that — 46,361 acre-feet — was stored during the winter water program, a court decree that allows flows to be captured rather than used for irrigation. Water also was stored at downstream reservoirs like John Martin and Meredith as part of the program. Aurora stored about 11,500 acre-feet, mostly using alternate points of diversion decreed by courts in its two cases involving purchases of water rights on the Rocky Ford Ditch. Aurora also could move water from the rights it purchased on the Colorado Canal in Crowley County through exchange…

Pueblo, which has the highest exchange priority on the Arkansas River under a 1987 court settlement among water users in nine court cases, exchanged very little water last year. “We didn’t use much of our transmountain water, so there weren’t return flows to recapture,” explained Alan Ward, water resources administrator.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Monte Vista: City council approves option for 300 acre-feet of augmentation water

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

City council approved an option to buy 300 acre-feet of water from nearby Anderson Ditch Thursday to offset pumping from the town’s seven groundwater wells. The purchase would still depend on the city securing financing for $665,000 and the approval of the court for Water Division 3.

The move could also conflict with the bureau’s proposal, which called for a land-for-water swap that would bring 189 acre-feet from the ditch. Mike Blakeman, a public affairs officer for the BLM’s San Luis Valley office, said the agency would continue to pursue its project, given that Monte Vista’s deal had yet to be finalized. In exchange for the water, the agency intends to trade 2,693 acres to the Sun Peaks Land Co., which controls the water rights that were up for sale. The bureau’s proposal, first unveiled at the end of 2007, would have used the water to offset groundwater pumping that feeds the Blanca Wetlands, a series of ponds and marshes on 9,775 acres in eastern Alamosa County. The agency pumps water in the area to maintain habitat for migratory birds and replace wetlands lost with the construction of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Closed Basin Project…

Both the city and the BLM are trying to comply with state law requiring groundwater users to find replacement water for pumping that injures senior surface water users…

Should the city make it through financing and gain water court approval, it hopes to store the water in the Rio Grande Reservoir where it would be available for replacement purposes on the Rio Grande…

The city expects the purchase would increase water rates for the roughly 2,000 taps in town by a $1.42 per month.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here and here.