BLM proposes that the CWCB file for instream water rights on two Dominguez-Escalante Conservation Area creeks

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel editorial staff:

The BLM has proposed an unusal plan for resolving the issue, under which the state may file for instream water rights for the two streams that run through a wilderness area in the [Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area]. The concept is one the Colorado Water Conservation Board should accept when it takes up the question in May. At the heart of the proposed solution is an agreement written into the federal legislation that created the NCA: If the state files for adequate instream water rights for the two wilderness creeks, the Interior Department won’t assert a federal water right…

The BLM has asked the state to seek a variable instream water right that recognizes streamflow can change dramatically. That’s not how Colorado instream flow rights have traditionally been appropriated in the past. A set minimum amount has been the typical filing. But a variable rights have been filed for a handful of other streams in the state.

Private water rights are also an issue. Even though the headwaters of both Big and Little Dominguez Creeks are both high up on the Uncompahgre Plateau in the Uncompahgre National Forest, there is private land within the national forest that depends on water from the two creeks. The BLM proposal recognizes that, and acknowledges rights will be senior to the state’s instream flow filings, and there will be some modest amount of water for additional future development of those rights.

More CWCB coverage here.

Snowpack news: Upper Colorado River Basin looks iffy

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Matt Barnes):

As a result of decent storm activity during the third weekend of February, snowpacks in the Upper Colorado River Basin improved slightly from 72 percent of average last month to 79 percent of average on March 1. This is the second lowest March 1 snowpack percentage the basin has seen going all the way back to 1992. Only March 1, 2002, with 68 percent of average snowpacks, was lower.

Using projections based on historical SNOTEL data, there is only a 10 percent chance that the basin will reach its average peak snowpack. Most of the sub-basin snowpacks are below average to well below average.

The lowest snowpack percentages can be found in the Willow Creek and Muddy Creek watersheds at 59 percent and 69 percent of average, respectively (these are lower than 2002). The Roaring Fork and Plateau Creek drainages boasted the best snowpacks at 90 and 95 percent of average. February precipitation at the higher elevations was 95 percent of average.

Fort Morgan: Water Resources Director briefs council about elevated levels of total suspended solids at wastewater treatment plant

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From The Fort Morgan Times (John Brennan):

The surges have been happening periodically over the last couple of months, usually at night, he said. City officials are trying to determine what is in the wastewater stream and where it’s coming from. [Water Resources Director Gary Dreessen] said he has contacted the city’s wastewater consultant and state officials, and both believe that “we’re being hit by something,” he said — meaning that someone is putting a large amount of an unknown substance into the sewer system.

More wastewater coverage here.

Colorado Springs Utilities will start building access trails for the south slope of Pikes Peak this year

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

Bowing to public pressure, Utilities officials have sped up their time line for opening the long-closed watershed, a remote and scenic area that contains several reservoirs. Original plans, announced in January, called for trail-building in 2011 at the earliest. While a date has not been set, the area could be opened to public recreation this summer. “It’s not any secret the public has felt like we can move faster on this. Now that we’re at a place where we can move faster, let’s do it,” said Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Quintero Tuesday.

Utilities officials will make a presentation to the city council members, sitting as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, at a public meeting March 17. A public open house will be held April 27…

A trail along Ute Pass will be extended through Utilities property, an important goal for trail advocates behind the Ring the Peak Trail. In the South Slope watershed, a 5.6-mile trail along the west side of Mason Reservoir will be opened to bicycle use, instead of just foot and horse traffic. The other proposed trail, the Lake Moraine Trail, would connect with an existing trail that runs to the Cog Railway. Another proposed change would allow limited hunting in the area. Despite pleas from Ring the Peak advocates and the Trails and Open Space Coalition, Utilities does not plan a route to connect the two new trails, because the terrain is rugged and there is concern about impacts to a bighorn sheep herd in the area.

Energy policy — nuclear: HB 10-1348 (Increase Oversight Radioactive Materials) update

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Reilly Capps):

A new piece of legislation seeks to tighten up the application process and ensure that old mills are cleaned up before new ones are opened, and the Telluride Town Council came out in support of it yesterday. The Uranium Processing Accountability Act [HB 10-1348] (pdf) would apply most directly to the Cotter-owned mill near Cañon City, which first opened in 1958. It is still in the process of cleaning up contamination. The company applied to reopen the mill in 2001. If this bill passes, the Cotter Corp. couldn’t re-open the mill until all the clean-up has been completed…

The bill would also apply to the bonds that companies put up to pay for cleanup. When a mill starts operation, the company has to post a public bond that will pay for the cleanup. The proposed bill seeks to make sure that the public has a say in the size of the bond.

But Dianna Orf, a lobbyist for the Colorado Mining Association, said the legislation doesn’t make sense. “The implication I see is that if you can’t accept new material for processing, you can’t produce the revenue stream you need” to clean up the old site, Orf said. The Colorado Mining Association is not necessarily opposed to the legislation, said director Stuart Sanderson. But he said the state, and the country, would do well to support uranium production in general.

Here’s the fact sheet from the Colorado Environmental Coalition and an excerpt:

Uranium milling has a radioactive and toxic legacy in Colorado. Operations have polluted our air and water, devastated communities and public health, killed wildlife, and ruined our lands. In March 2009, Cotter announced plans to reopen its Canon City mill, even though it’s still an E.P.A. superfund site and has other outstanding violations. The first new uranium mill in the U.S. in 25 years is being considered in the Paradox Valley of Western Colorado to mill ore pulled from the public lands in Colorado’s red rock canyon country surrounding the Dolores River. We must learn from our past mistakes and update state law to match modern standards. The Uranium Processing Accountability Act would require any uranium processing facility to clean up its toxic mess before applying for new or expanding operations. This ensures scarce state resources will be allocated for the clean-up of existing problems.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here. More nuclear coverage here.

SB 10-027 (Fine Illegal Surface Water Diversions) passes State House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee now awaits vote of full house

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

[State Representative Ellen Roberts], is carrying Senate Bill 27 on behalf of Attorney General John Suthers. The bill puts a $500 per day fine on people who illegally divert surface water. It matches the fine that is already in place for people illegally using groundwater. “The basic point is to get compliance so senior water rights are not injured,” Roberts said.

The $500 fine would be the maximum. In most cases, the attorney general resolves the case in less than a month for fines that are much less than $500, said Assistant Attorney General Chad Wallace.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

CWCB: Proposed 2011 Instream Flow Appropriations

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

Pursuant to ISF Rule 5c of the Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program, this notice identifies the streams to be considered for instream flow appropriations in 2011. At the January 2011 meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), staff may request that the Board form 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, watershed, county, upper terminus, lower terminus, length, and USGS quad sheet name(s).

Copies of the Instream Flow Recommendations and Appendices of data submitted into the Official CWCB Record are available for review by the public 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 723, Denver, Colorado, 80203. In addition to the CWCB office, copies of the Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Recommendations are available on the CWCB website.

HB 10-1188: Rafting bill faces uncertain future in the State Senate

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

“It’s in trouble,” said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, the sponsor of House Bill 1188. The bill coasted through the House on a 40-25 vote, but it faces a tough first hearing in the Senate on Monday. A confluence of three very different opponents does not like the bill.

The first and most powerful force is an alliance of farmers, ranchers and developers who want to protect their property rights.

Second, water experts are worried about the bill’s reliance on English Common Law to grant the right to raft on Colorado streams.

Finally, private boaters think the bill is too narrow, because it extends the rights of only professional rafting companies and leaves everyone else high and dry…

“It’s kind of unfortunate, because it [HB 10-1188] has driven a wedge between what we enjoy now, which are informal agreements between rafters and landowners,” said Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus. Whitehead said he has been bombarded by e-mails from both sides, including some from Southwest Colorado landowners who are rethinking their decisions to allow rafting through their land. Whitehead said he can see both sides of the argument, but he does not support the bill in its current form. He’s especially worried about the bill’s use of English Common Law to confer a “right of navigation” on commercial rafting companies.

The Colorado Water Congress opposes HB 1188 for the same reason, said Doug Kemper, executive director of the lobbying group. By introducing the Common Law concept of “navigable” rivers, Colorado could open itself to many consequences unrelated to rafting, such as impacts on federal water-quality standards, Kemper said. “That term ‘navigable’ is really an Eastern term,” Kemper said…

“We’re not trying to upset the balance here. We’re trying to maintain the balance,” said Greg Felt of the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

The bill is limited to registered commercial rafting companies, and that upsets people like Mark Squillace, a University of Colorado law professor who is arguing for the rights of private boaters, anglers and tubers. “What this bill would do is give a preference for individuals who are willing and able to pay a rafting company to go out on the river,” Squillace said…

The test for HB 1188 will come next week in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hodge thinks that if she can get the bill through the committee, she will have enough support to get it through the full Senate…

…Squillace is hoping legislators will take the question straight to the state Supreme Court. It’s a seldom-used maneuver, but the law allows the Legislature to ask the court legal questions on a pending bill.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

SB 10-052 (Alter Designated Groundwater Basin Area) passes State House

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Sponsored in the House by Rep. Kathleen Curry, U-Gunnison, SB52 passed by a margin of 38-26. Opponents, including Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, said the bill undermines the standing of senior surface-water rights holders, while its supporters said it protects those with properly permitted wells. The bill’s specific aim is to honor already permitted wells in the event that the Colorado Ground Water Commission redraws boundaries of the state’s eight existing designated groundwater basins…

Having passed the Senate unanimously, the bill now will be presented to the governor for final approval to become law.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.