Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project: County Planning Commission embraces changes to permit to allow trenching instead of boring to cross the Arkansas River

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From The Mountain Mail (Sue Price):

The recommendation by Chaffee County Planning Commissioners to amend the special land use permit application includes installation of two pipelines in the trench – one for the company and one in partnership with the Town of Buena Vista…

Nestlé earlier received approval to drill a directional bore under the river, but elected to revise plans for an open cut to accommodate a request made in January by Buena Vista officials who want to install an additional pipeline for future use by the town. The Nestlé company agreed to install a 16-inch pipeline for Buena Vista, at no cost to the town, while they install their 6-inch pipeline within a 16-inch casing. The construction site is south of the U.S. 24 bridge across the river at Johnson Village between CRs 301 and 312. Don Reimer, Chaffee County planner, said his staff personnel considered 15 criteria including noise and geologic and wildfire hazards, before announcing they were agreeable to amending the special use permit. Holly Strablizky, land use counsel for Nestlé, said, “To minimize impact, we thought it was a good thing to team with Buena Vista as long as we can complete the work by March 15 as stipulated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “If county commissioners don’t approve the amendment or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue the permit in time, we will go back to our original plan.”[…]

Bobbi McClead, natural resource officer with Nestlé, explained new technology would employ an aqua barrier cofferdam – inflatable plastic structures – in the river to dewater a portion of the stream at a time to allow trenching. Pipelines will be placed 8 feet beneath the river bed. “The plan uses the best available technology in construction to prevent erosion, sedimentation in the river and is protective of wildlife and wildlife habitat during construction,” McClead said. When construction is completed, Nestlé will revegetate the disturbed area with native plants and seed-mixes to leave the area “in original or better” condition, she said.

More Nestlé Waters Chaffee County Project coverage here and here.

Moffat Collection System Project: U.S. Representative Jared Polis, while not taking a stand yet, is expressing ‘increasing concern’

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Laura Snider):

“(Polis) is not taking a position on the Gross Reservoir expansion yet,” said Andy Schultheiss, district director for the Democratic congressman’s Boulder office. “But we’ve been studying the issue for quite some time now, and we’re increasingly concerned. … We’re going to pursue this in the next couple of weeks.” Schultheiss gave his comments at a public meeting in Nederland on Tuesday night that was organized by state Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, to discuss the reservoir project. Half a dozen staffers from Denver Water were on hand for two hours to answer questions from the more than 40 residents who attended the meeting…

Schultheiss is concerned about the quality of the draft environmental impact statement prepared for the project, which he called “a piece of junk.” He also said alternatives to meeting Denver’s water demands need to be more fully explored…

“It seems to me that what needs to happen here is that we need to slow down and take another look at the big picture of water supply on the Front Range,” he said…

Levy also has concerns about the project, including whether stricter conservation measures can be put into place before more water is diverted from the already depleted Fraser River — a tributary of the Colorado River — across the continental divide in Grand County. “I don’t feel that they’ve adequately justified the need for the project,” she said.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

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

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Update: From the Associated Press via Steamboat Today (Mike Lawrence):

The water would have been taken out of the river at one or two pumping stations about 75 miles west of Steamboat. It would have been stored in a reservoir capable of holding 45,000 acre-feet of water in Cedar Springs Draw, off the main stem of the Yampa. That potential reservoir’s size could have exceeded the more than 33,000 acre-feet of storage in Stagecoach Reservoir near Oak Creek and the 25,450 acre-feet in Elkhead Reservoir near Craig. Within three months after Shell’s application, 25 local groups and municipalities — including Routt County, Oak Creek, Yampa and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District — filed opposition to the application.

The city of Steamboat Springs argued that its water rights in the Yampa River Basin “may be adversely impacted if the subject application is granted without adequate protective terms and conditions.” Shell representatives met with local officials in Steamboat last year to discuss the application and its potential impacts. Litigation was possible.

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Shell said in a statement it has decided not to pursue the Yampa water right at this time “in light of the overall global economic downturn that has affected our project’s pace.”

The controversial proposal — seeking about 8 percent of the Yampa’s average spring flow — drew opposition letters from 27 businesses, environmental groups and federal, state and local agencies. “The Yampa is the last river in Colorado with natural peak and low flows,” said Kent Ventrees, who teaches river recreation at Colorado Mountain College. “This is outstanding news for the Yampa.” The natural river sustains endangered fish species and flows through Dinosaur National Monument, where National Park Service officials worried that Shell’s plan would hurt the park.

Shell was seeking a water right to pump water into a new reservoir covering 1,000 acres and 15 billion gallons. The water — taken from a point west of Craig — would have been shipped to the White River basin for use in Shell’s oil-shale program…

Shell’s water-right application was vulnerable to challenges because the water could not be directly put to use, said Drew Peternell, Colorado water- project manager for Trout Unlimited. “They don’t even know how much water they need,” Peternell said. “It was very close to speculation, which is not allowed in Colorado water law.”

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

Shell spokeswoman Carolyn Tucker said that doesn’t mean the pace of the project has slowed. Rather, it is just maintaining its research focus while adjusting to economic realities. “The global downturn has effects on Shell just like it does on any other company. Some of the resources and some of the plans we’ve made early on don’t ring as true. We have to be more flexible as a company, and some of the research dollars have to be doled out more sparingly,” she said. Tucker added, “We’re not pulling out, we’re not shutting down. We’re just being as flexible as we can with the economic times.”[…]

Shell said it plans to submit permit applications for its first research and development pilot project late this year or early in 2011. “We hold a variety of water rights in northwest Colorado and we have for many years, so we do have water,” Tucker said. Shell had set out to diversify its water rights by seeking 375 cubic feet per second from the Yampa to fill a 45,000-acre-foot reservoir in Moffat County…

David Abelson, oil shale policy advisor for the Western Resource Advocates environmental group, said the WRA opposed the water right application on behalf of four environmental groups. Altogether, he said, 28 statements of opposition were filed against the application, from water districts, local governments, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, several federal agencies and other interests. The Yampa is the state’s only major river with water left to appropriate, Abelson said. “We’re extremely pleased about the decision to save the Yampa for another day,” he said. He said he believes Shell’s decision also supports his organization’s long-held view that oil shale development is not ready for prime time. “The technology is not developed, oil shale has never been economically competitive, and there’s nothing to suggest that either of those hurdles are about to be overcome,” he said…

Theo Stein, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said of the Shell announcement, “I think that this is an illustration of how complex the interweaving of oil shale issues and water issues is, and the need for a careful and thoughtful (oil shale leasing) process that the Interior Department is managing.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to see the snowpack update map for today, from the National Resources Conservation Service.

Meanwhile the University of Utah has developed new techniques for forecasting snow to liquid ratio (SLR), according to a release published Monday:

University of Utah scientists developed an easier way for meteorologists to predict snowfall amounts and density – fluffy powder or wet cement. The method has been adopted by the National Weather Service for use throughout Utah – and could be adjusted for use anywhere.

Based on a study of 457 winter storms during eight years at 9,644 feet in the Wasatch Range at Utah’s Alta Ski Area, the researchers determined that forecasters could predict snowfall density – known as snow-to-liquid ratio (SLR) – most accurately using only two variables: temperatures and wind speeds at mountain crest level.

The American Meteorological Society is publishing the study in the February issue of its journal Weather and Forecasting.

“We’ve developed a formula that predicts the water content of snow as a function of temperature and wind speed,” says the study’s senior author, Jim Steenburgh, professor and chair of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah.

“This is about improving snowfall amount forecasts – how much snow is going to fall,” says Steenburgh. “As a nice side benefit for the ski community, this will tell you whether you’re going to get powder or concrete when it snows. We are working on incorporating this into the website” run by the university.

The new method “is also helpful to avalanche forecasters,” says the study’s first author, Trevor Alcott, a doctoral student in atmospheric sciences. “We’re forecasting snow density, which is related to the stability of freshly fallen snow.”

A Better Handle on Snowfall, Skiing and Avalanche Conditions

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Salt Lake City has used the method since November, says Randy Graham, the science operations officer.

“Forecasters really like it because it gives us a more realistic depiction of how snow density will vary across the Wasatch Range and with elevation,” he says. “Instead of anticipating a singular density of snow or fluffiness of the snow over the Wasatch, Trevor’s and Jim’s tool has allowed us to have different snowfall densities in our forecasts for different areas based on forecasts of [crest-level] temperature and wind.”

“We’ve always had some insight into the difference between a real powder day versus a really wet snowfall event,” Graham adds. “What this tool has enabled us to do is to better differentiate how dense the snow is going to be over an area with really complex terrain – the state in general, but in particular the Wasatch Range.”

Bruce Tremper, director of the Utah Avalanche Center, isn’t familiar with the new method, but says predicting “new snow density is a very important factor in avalanche forecasting. If low-density snow falls first – light powdery snow – then heavy, wetter snow falls on top, it instantly creates a slab of ‘upside-down snow’ as we sometimes call it. These slabs can easily be triggered by people.”

Resorts “really care about the water equivalent of the snow,” Graham says. “It’s really important to them. Powder is better. And it’s important for them to know what kind of avalanche [prevention] work they’re going to have to do.”

Alcott, an NWS intern, extended the technique so it can be used throughout Utah, and says the agency’s Elko, Nev., office may use the method to improve forecasts. It could be extended to other regions by making local snow measurements in different locations and using them to devise predictive formulas for snow density.

Graham says the method “is a really good example of taking a complex problem, boiling it down to the most important variables to describe the problem, and then coming up with a technique that can be applied in operational forecasting.”

The study was funded by the National Weather Service, its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Science Foundation.

Flakey Forecasting

Steenburgh says that to accurately predict snowfall amounts, “getting the snow density right is critical. To forecast snowfall amount, you need to know how much water is going to fall and how dense the snow is going to be.”

Meteorologists predict how much water a storm will produce and translate that to snowfall based on predicted snowfall density, which is the snow-to-liquid ratio (SLR) – the ratio of the depth of new snowfall to the depth of water from melting that snow. SLR reflects how powdery or wet and heavy the snow will be.

“The best way to think of it is how much does an inch of water translate to in terms of inches of snowfall? So a snow-to-liquid ratio of 5-to-1 means 5 inches of snow for every inch of water, or a water content of 20 percent,” says Steenburgh.

Higher SLRs mean the snow is more powdery. Typical Utah SLRs are:

Heavy, wet Utah snow has an SLR around 7 (an SLR such as 7-to-1 is commonly referred to only by the numerator), with a water content of 14 percent.

Average Utah snow has an SLR of 14, or 7 percent water content. Steenburgh says “that is still pretty dry, especially when you compare it with coastal ski areas” with SLRs around 9 or 10.

Very dry, light snow has an SLR of 25. That’s the same as 4 percent water content. Anything above SLR 25 is extremely dry, fluffy snow known as “wild snow.”

Steenburgh says the driest snows ever recorded had SLRs of 100 in Japan and Colorado. Alcott says the record high 24-hour SLR at Alta – known for its powder – is 50.

Learning to Predict Powder

To devise their method, Alcott and Steenburgh studied the relationship between measured snow density or SLR and various recorded atmospheric measurements at a single site at Alta, named the Collins Snow Study Plot.

Steenburgh says he and Alcott chose to study that site “because Alta gets a ton of snow [almost 43 feet annually]. You get as many samples in Alta in one year as you get in Salt Lake City in 10 years.” In other words, Alta provided numerous snowstorms that could be analyzed and used to develop a formula for predicting snow density.

Alta snow safety crews measure snow depth at the Collins site twice daily. Precipitation measurements are made automatically each hour.

Alcott and Steenburgh analyzed temperatures, wind speeds and other factors such as relative humidity for 457 “snow events” or storms at Alta during November through April of 1999 through 2007.

The depth of new snow was divided by the depth of water measured by a rain gauge to determine actual snow density and see what variables best correlated with it.

The study showed that only two variables – crest-level wind speeds and temperatures – were most critical in predicting snow densities. In fact, for all the storms studied during 1999-2007, those two variables alone explained 57 percent of the variance in snow density. And for large, wet storms, crest-level wind speed and temperature explained 73 percent of the variance in the snow density or SLR.

That means that much of the storm-to-storm difference in whether new snow is powdery or wet can be predicted by the new technique.

“It’s the KISS method – keep it simple, stupid,” Steenburgh says. “How much can we strip down the number of variables analyzed and get a good result?”

He says the new technique “does a good job of predicting how the snow density changes from storm to storm, and it does especially well for the larger storms.”

Alcott says the Weather Service’s previous method was less accurate because it tried to predict snow density based on surface temperature at the forecast location – a method developed in the Great Plains – rather than what the study showed was more accurate: temperatures and wind speeds above mountaintops where snow is forming.

Secrets of the Snows

In analyzing Alta snow conditions as they developed their formula for predicting snow density, the researchers discovered some interesting aspects of Alta snow:

– The fluffiest snow tends to occur when a storm contains less than 0.8 inches of water in 24 hours, when crest-level wind speeds are 18 to 26 mph and when temperatures are 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, with snow heavier at either colder or warmer temperatures due to the type of ice crystal formed at different temperatures.

– Snowfall density can vary radically from day to day. For example, during Jan. 3-12, 2005, it ranged from heavy, wet snow with a snow-to-liquid ratio of 5.2, to “wild” powder with and SLR of 35.1.

– Snow densities at Alta have the widest range in February, from a wet SLR of 3.6 to fluffy powder at 35.1.

– The most extreme powder – “wild snow” with snow-to-liquid ratios of 25 or more – peaks in mid-winter. Of 26 wild snow events during the eight-season study period, 24 occurred in December, January and February, with none in April.

– Extremely wet snow, with SLRs less than 7, occurred in 28 of the 457 storms during the 1999-2007 study period, or 6.1 percent of the storms.