HB 10-1188 (Clarify River Outfitter Navigation Right): State Senate morphs bill into a study

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From Steamboat Today (Joel Reichenberger):

Colorado House Bill 1188, which sought to settle the state’s “right to float” laws, was put on hold rather than voted into law in the state Senate. A study was commissioned and isn’t due to be reported until the end of October, ending for now what some view as a perilous threat to landholders’ rights…

“I support it because it clarifies the rules,” he said Friday. “It has always been a contentious issue. For me, this would allow me to float knowing if I do everything I’ve always been doing, respecting landowners and acting in good behavior, that I’m OK, and I’m not doing anything wrong. It could give me some peace of mind that I’m doing everyone OK.”

The status quo is full of gray area, but oftentimes rafters think they are fine crossing through private property as long as they don’t touch the river bottom or the shore. The bill would have hammered that right into stone and would have made allowance for touching the bottom of the river and the bank…

The bill read as a disaster to [Steamboat-based lawyer Michael Holloran] and those who stood against it. “It is like the state saying, ‘We’ve decided we want people to walk through your house,’ like it would open our doors and let them come through,” Holloran said. “It would have a very serious impact on owners, and it is what I consider an egregious taking of private property.”[…]

The long-term effects of such a bill, he said, could be far more devastating than those short-term changes, removing fishing leases as a potential revenue source for farmers and ranchers who make up the fabric of Steamboat.

More HB 10-1188 coverage here.

Moffat County Collection System Project: Boulder County wants deeper study of impacts

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Laura Snider):

The document outlining the purpose and impacts of the proposed Gross Reservoir expansion is “inadequate,” and fails to consider the big picture, according to Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners…

“We were surprised by how many things there were that the EIS did not adequately address,” Commissioner Will Toor said. “Fundamentally, in terms of purpose and need, I think that the EIS gives remarkably short shrift to water conservation. We’ve seen in the efforts of the last several years since the drought that there’s an awful lot of potential for significant reduction of per capita water use.” The commissioners also expressed specific concerns over taking more water from the Fraser River and the fact that the EIS does not take into account the cumulative effects of other proposed projects seeking to divert water from the Colorado River watershed. And closer to home, the commissioners are concerned about the flooding of hundreds of acres of high-quality forestland, and the impact of construction trucks on county roads. “We are hopeful that the federal agencies will really require a full explanation of these issues and an adequate analysis,” Toor said, “and if the project does move forward, adequate mitigation.”

Western Resource Advocates, based in Boulder, also expressed concern that the need for the project wasn’t adequately explained and that Denver Water hasn’t fully explored its conservation options. Denver Water does plan to meet half of the water shortfall it projects in 2030 with water conservation measures, and it has a strategy to reduce overall water use in its service area by 22 percent — compared to water use before the 2002 drought — by 2016.

“Denver Water has done a great job of what they’re doing with conservation,” said Drew Beckwith, water policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates in Boulder. “They have a pretty holistic conservation program, but what they’re missing is an outdoor landscape retrofit program for the residential sector.” These types of programs in other arid regions often offer “cash for grass” to incentivize people to plant drought-tolerant native plants in their yards instead of lawns. And in Denver, where 62 percent of residential water goes to outdoor use, that kind of program could make a big difference, Beckwith said. “Conservation is the cheapest, it’s the fastest and it’s the smartest water-supply strategy,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency also weighed in on the EIS last week, giving the document an “EO-2 rating,” which means the agency has environmental objections based on “insufficient information.”

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

Windsor: Town is sorting out options for long-term supply

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From the Windsor Beacon (Ashley Keesis-Wood):

Windsor Engineering Director Dennis Wagner agreed, saying the CBT’s carryover system has allowed the town to manage its water needs. The carryover allows the town to “bank” a certain amount of water to be used the following year. The primary concern, and one that is addressed extensively in the new plan, is that the town’s water portfolio relies heavily on CBT water. “I know we’re in the NISP (North Integrated Supply Project) pool for water shares,” Vazquez said. “I do wonder though, with the delays in that project, whether that’s truly going to be the biggest bang for our buck.”

Vazquez said he felt the Windy Gap [Firming] project, which [will include the Chimney Hollow Reservoir] will be constructed near Carter Lake, would be a better buy. “I’m not saying we should abandon NISP but that we want to look at other options,” he said.

Wagner acknowledged the delays in NISP’s construction. “We definitely should meet with the Windy Gap participants and see about that,” Wagner said.

Windsor Town Manager Kelly Arnold recommended a joint work session between the town board and the Water and Sewer Advisory Board to discuss the next steps moving forward.

More Windsor coverage here.

Snowpack news: Snow water equivalent in some areas of the northern mountains increase with latest storm

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From the Vail Daily (Edward Stoner):

Just before the storm hit, the snowpack for the Colorado River Basin region of the state, which includes Eagle County, was 76 percent of average. It was 85 percent of average statewide. “It is a little bit (troubling), especially given that we’ve got about two to three weeks of our normal season remaining when we can really accumulate much snow,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natrual Resources Conservation Service…

Municipalities and farmers with more junior water rights may not get all the water they want this year, Gillespie said. The Vail area will need three times average snowfall between now and April 14 to return to normal, Gillespie said. This is the lowest snowpack year in Colorado Basin since the 2002 drought year, he said. But Friday’s storm is a good boost. Eight inches of wet snow would boost the area’s snowpack by 10 percentage points compared to average, he said.

On Fremont Pass, where the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District gets much of its water supply, the snowpack was at 85 percent of average as of Monday.

the northwest part of the state is at just 73 percent of average snowpack, while the Rio Grande Basin in the south is at 108 percent of average.

From the Colorado Daily (Vanessa Miller):

Flakes started flying after midnight Friday, and 12.3 inches of snow had stacked up in Boulder as of 6 p.m. — breaking the previous record of 10.8 inches for the date, according to a local meteorologist…

On March 1, in two locations where snowpack experts measure the weight of water content just below the Continental Divide near Nederland, readings were 81 percent and 59 percent of the long-term averages for that time of year, respectively. Boulder also gauges its water-supply conditions at a “snow pillow” in the same area. As of March 15, the pillow was at 64 percent of the long-term average, [Carol Ellinghouse, Boulder’s water resources coordinator] said.

Is there a ballot issue in the future to fund water projects?

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From The Tri-Lakes Tribune (Nicole Chillino):

Several months ago, [Dick Brown] said he became concerned about the state of Colorado’s budget with respect to water due to the loss of severance tax, the largest source of revenue to Colorado Water Conservation Board projects. According to him, severance tax is paid by producers of minerals, mining, oil and gas pay on their operations, with oil and gas paying about 90 percent of the total tax revenue received. In large part as a result of the loss of oil and gas production on the Western Slope, revenues from the severance tax have dropped off, he said. Brown added that he and Gary Barber came up with a fee on containers of non-alcoholic beverages to fill in the gap created by the loss of revenue to go toward the state water conservation board, the state engineer and toward projects for municipal and agricultural water use. “The real common denominator in a lot of the things that we want is the sale and production of non-alcoholic beverages that are basically water; they’re flavored water,” he said…

The Colorado Water Congress has appointed a subcommittee to evaluate the state budget, Brown said. It is his plan to introduce the idea to the subcommittee in the anticipation of putting it on the November ballot. It could take another year or two before it appears on the ballot, he said, but he and Barber thought it necessary to get people thinking about a solution to help finance a long-term water supply.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Piñon Ridge mill could be operating by 2012 according to Energy Fuels’ president

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

“Uranium is back in favor,” Glasier told the Colorado Plateau Section of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration Inc.

Energy Fuels’ Piñon Ridge mill in the west end of Montrose County is being evaluated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Energy Fuels also is looking to establish long-term contracts that will help it to establish the revenue stream needed to gain financing for the mill, Glasier said. Energy Fuels has put $10 million into the project so far and has yet to turn dirt on the mill, which will be permitted at first to process 500 tons per day of ore. Eventually it will process 1,000 pounds per day, Glasier said.

Uranium now is about $40 per pound on the spot market, but it was $138 per pound a little more than two years ago, he said. The relatively low price could change quickly, in 2013, when the United States no longer can use uranium taken from the former Soviet Union’s warheads to power the nuclear-generation stations in the U.S., Glasier said. Largely as a result of using uranium from sources such as Russia, uranium production has fallen sharply in the United States, but it will go up when stockpiles no longer exist, Glasier said.

The Piñon Ridge mill would be the nation’s second operating mill. The White Mesa mill near Blanding, Utah, is the nation’s only operating mill.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: HB 10-1348 (Increase Oversight Radioactive Materials) passes out of House Transportation and Energy Committee

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

“We had amazing bipartisan support,” said Matt Garrington, of Environment Colorado, one of the groups that developed the bill. The bill also was developed by Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste. It is sponsored by Rep. Buffie McFadyen and Sen. Ken Kester.

Among those who testified for the bill were Fremont County Commissioner Mike Stiehl, CCAT co-founder Sharyn Cunningham and Gloria Stultz.

The bill now will go to the full House for debate and a vote. If it passes there it will go to the Senate committee.

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

Creede: Two San Luis Valley water leaders die in freak accident

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Ray Wright, 56, and Doug Shriver, 54, both farmers in eastern Rio Grande County, were clearing the roof of Wright’s cabin when more than two feet of snow on top of the building gave way. “It buried them like an avalanche,” said Mineral County Coroner Charles Downing, who pronounced the men dead at the scene, roughly 17 miles west of town.

Their deaths leave an absence at the top of the valley’s water community.

Wright served as president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and as a member of the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide board tasked with balancing the state’s water needs. He had also served two terms on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Shriver was on the Colorado Ground Water Commission and served as president of the Rio Grande Water Users Association, an umbrella organization for ditch companies along the Rio Grande.

R.I.P. Stewart L. Udall

From The Aspen Times (Barry Massey):

Stewart Udall, an elder in a famed political family who led the Interior Department as it promoted an expansion of public lands and helped win passage of major environmental laws, has died at the age of 90. During his 1961-1968 tenure as interior secretary, Udall sowed the seeds of the modern environmental movement. He later became a crusader for victims of radiation exposure from the government’s Cold War nuclear programs…

Udall, brother of the late 15-term congressman Morris Udall, served six years in Congress as a Democrat from Arizona, and then headed the Interior Department from 1961 through 1968 under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson…

Udall helped write several of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation, including the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protects millions of acres from logging, mining and other development. “I never lost an argument with the budget people under either Kennedy or Johnson. If you had a new national park or a new policy on wilderness or something on wild rivers … they’d say, ‘Go ahead. It’s a good idea,'” Udall once said in an interview.

More than 60 additions were made to the National Park system during the Udall years, including Canyonlands National Park in Utah, North Cascades National Park in Washington, Redwood National Park in California and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail stretching from Georgia to Maine…

In a 1963 book, Udall warned of a “quiet conservation crisis” from pollution, overuse of natural resources and dwindling open spaces. He appealed for a new “land conscience” to preserve the environment. “If in our haste to ‘progress,’ the economics of ecology are disregarded by citizens and policy makers alike, the result will be an ugly America,” Udall wrote. “We cannot afford an America where expedience tramples upon esthetics and development decisions are made with an eye only on the present.”

After leaving government service, Udall taught, practiced law and wrote books. In 1979, he left Washington to return home to Arizona. In doing so, Udall began another career — leading a legal battle against the government he had once served as an influential insider. Udall helped bring a lawsuit against the government on behalf of the families of Navajo men who suffered lung cancer in mining uranium for the government. Another lawsuit sought compensation for people who lived downwind from aboveground nuclear tests in Nevada during the 1950s and early 1960s. The lawsuits failed in court, and Udall said the experience left him angry and discouraged. “The atomic weapons race and the secrecy surrounding it crushed American democracy,” Udall said in a 1993 interview with The New York Times. “It induced us to conduct government according to lies. It distorted justice. It undermined American morality.” But the lawsuits eventually produced results. They provided a mountain of evidence for congressional investigations into the safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. And in 1990, the Radiation Exposure Safety Act was enacted to compensate thousands of Americans. Udall helped write the measure and lobby for its passage.

Udall, born in St. Johns, Ariz., on Jan. 31, 1920, was raised on a farm in the desert country near the Arizona-New Mexico line, an area settled in 1879 by Mormons led by his missionary grandfather. The Udalls became one of the most prominent families in the state.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (Scot Kersgaard). From the article:

During his eight years as Secretary, the National Park System expanded to include four new national parks, six new national monuments, eight seashores and lakeshores, nine recreation areas, 20 historic sites, and 56 wildlife refuges. In other words, Udall expanded the number of stunning natural places where you can spend weeks pulling fish out of rivers or just strolling around and thinking and breathing without ever catching a an industrial-life rash.

More coverage from the Arizona Daily Star (Jamar Younger):

Some of the accomplishments from Udall’s Cabinet career included the creation of the Wilderness Act of 1964, The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the expansion of the National Park system. He also helped create The Land and Conservation Fund…

Udall started as a Tucson attorney who fought to desegregate the city’s schools, open UA eating facilities to blacks and help pass a law banning discrimination against minorities in hiring. In 1968, he and his brother pushed through a bill creating the Central Arizona Project, which was signed by President Johnson. As a private attorney in the 1970s and ’80s, he won a 30-year battle to get Navajo uranium miners compensated for lung cancer incurred on the job. He also wrote “The Quiet Crisis” in 1963, a landmark book offering an early warning on threats to the environment.

CWCB: Joint Meeting of the Water Availability & Flood Task Forces Thursday

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

A Joint Meeting of the Water Availability & Flood Task Forces is scheduled for Thursday, March 25, 2010 from 9:30a-12p at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver, CO, in the Bighorn Room. A meeting agenda has been attached and will be posted on the WATF and Flood Task Force web pages.

In the event you are unable to attend in person, but still wish to participate, please contact Ben Wade at ben.wade@state.co.us NO LATER than 4pm on Wednesday, March 24 to get call in and webinar information. This will allow you to hear as well as see the presentations live. An email will be sent prior to the meeting that will have the link to the online meeting and the number to call. Please note that we will have limited phone capabilities and the conference call service will be offered on a first come first serve basis.

More CWCB coverage here.

Energy policy — coal: Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants rise recently across the U.S.

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From The Denver Post (Renee Schoof):

Many coal- fired power plants lack widely available pollution controls for the highly toxic metal mercury, and mercury emissions recently increased at more than half of the country’s 50 largest mercury-emitting power plants, according to a report released Wednesday. Five of the 10 plants with the highest amount of mercury emitted are in Texas, according to the nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project. Plants in Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Michigan also are in the top 10. The report, which used the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, found that mercury emissions increased at 27 of the top 50 plants from 2007 to 2008. Overall, power- plant emissions of mercury decreased 4.7 percent in that period, but that amount was far less than what would be possible with available emissions controls, the report said. No Colorado plants were among the top 50 cited.

More coal coverage here and here.

Glenwood Springs: City council approves contract for new wastewater plant

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Gardner):

City Council unanimously approved the award of the wastewater treatment plant bid Thursday night at its regular scheduled meeting. Council awarded the contract to Salida-based Moltz Construction at a low bid of $22.3 million…Now the city just has to close on the financing agreement with the Colorado Water Resource and Power Development Authority, which is expected to occur in May.

More wastewater coverage here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pony up $1.9 million to study frac’ing

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Update: Here’s the release from the EPA:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will conduct a comprehensive research study to investigate the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health. Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing that vital resource. There are concerns that hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment. To address these concerns and strengthen our clean energy future and in response to language inserted into the fiscal year 2010 Appropriations Act, EPA is re-allocating $1.9 million for this comprehensive, peer-reviewed study for FY10 and requesting funding for FY11 in the president’s budget proposal.

“Our research will be designed to answer questions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment,” said Dr. Paul T. Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The study will be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process, with significant stakeholder input.”

EPA is in the very early stages of designing a hydraulic fracturing research program. The agency is proposing the process begin with (1) defining research questions and identifying data gaps; (2) conducting a robust process for stakeholder input and research prioritization; (3) with this input, developing a detailed study design that will undergo external peer-review, leading to (4) implementing the planned research studies.

To support this initial planning phase and guide the development of the study plan, the agency is seeking suggestions and comments from the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB)—an independent, external federal advisory committee. The agency has requested that the Environmental Engineering Committee (EEC) of the SAB evaluate and provide advice on EPA’s proposed approach. The agency will use this advice and extensive stakeholder input to guide the design of the study.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process that drills vertical and horizontal cracks underground that help withdraw gas, or oil, from coalbeds, shale and other geological formations. While each site is unique, in general, the process involves vertical and horizontal drilling, taking water from the ground, injecting fracturing fluids and sands into the formation, and withdrawing gas and separating and managing the leftover waters.

A federal register notice was issued March 18, announcing a SAB meeting April 7-8.

More information on hydraulic fracturing: http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw000/uic/wells_hydrofrac.html

More information on the SAB and the supporting documents: http://www.epa.gov/sab

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday that it is launching a probe into whether the procedure, known as hydraulic fracturing or “frac’ing,” is contaminating aquifers that supply drinking water. The study, expected to be finished by 2012, is to examine the industry’s effect on groundwater, surface water, human health and the environment generally…

“Our research will be designed to answer questions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment,” said Dr. Paul T. Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The study will be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process, with significant stakeholder input.”[…]

The industry has long maintained that in the 60 or so years since the practice became common, there has not been a single documented case of water contamination attributed to the procedure. Critics of the industry, however, say no cases have been found because no one looked very hard, and because the practice has been exempted from the national Safe Drinking Water Act since 2005. The exemption came at about the same time that new techniques in drilling and frac’ing, as well as rising prices for natural gas, lead to a significant increase in drilling activity around the U.S., including Western Colorado.

The industry also has long maintained that the chemicals used in the formulation of “frac’ing fluids” are not actually secret, and that they are available on various websites, including the site maintained by the Garfield County Oil & Gas Liaison office (www.garfield-county.com, under “County Departments”). Industry critics, however, have been skeptical of that claim, arguing that the lists that are publicly available are not actually complete.

In Garfield County, Ron Galterio of the Battlement Concerned Citizens group called the announcement “welcome news” in light of the BCC’s “great concern about the hydraulic fracturing process, the many unknown and toxic chemicals used, and the long-term effects on ground water.”[…]

“Many opponents of hydraulic fracturing in Western Colorado suffer from 90/10 syndrome: 90 percent of their information is usually less than 10 percent accurate,” said David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “As a result,” he continued, “[we] look forward to working with the EPA demonstrating that technological breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing can continue to be safely applied as Western Colorado develops its tremendous natural gas reserves. An EPA data-driven analysis that results in fact-based decision-making; it might just be the inoculation our industry needs against an ongoing plague of misinformation.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.