Energy policy — nuclear: Colorado orders Cotter to start treating the water at the Schwartzwalder mine

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From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

The mining division required Cotter to begin water treatment at its Schwartzwalder uranium mine west of Arvada by July 31.

“The mining division took bold and decisive action to protect our drinking water,” Jefferson County Commissioner Kathy Hartman said in a release. “I am pleased to see immediate action to protect Ralston Reservoir.”

Uranium levels at the mine itself exceeded 1,400 times Colorado water quality standards.

“Thousands of people depend on clean water from Ralston Reservoir, and we can’t afford for Cotter to drag its feet cleaning up their mess,” said Matt Garrington, program advocate with Environment Colorado and a Jefferson County resident. “The mining division deserves praise for taking strong action.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

CWCB: Water Availability Task Force meeting recap

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Below are my notes from today’s meeting:

Flood risk

Tom Brown (CWCB) said that there is a new timeline for the proposed floodplain rules. The new timeline and the current proposed rules are available at:

http://cwcb.state.co.us/WatershedProtectionFloodMitigation/FloodRulesRegs.htm

Mr. Brown says that they are not too worried about flooding from snowmelt. He took the opportunity to remind everyone that most Colorado flood damage is the result of heavy rain and flash flooding.

The CWCB has some federal funding available to help local communities update their floodplain maps. This is in cooperation with FEMA.

State Drought Plan

CWCB staff expects to have a draft of their revised drought plan available by early July.

The Colorado River Water Availability Study comments have been extended through July 15.

Jeff Brislawn said that the CWCB is shooting for submitting their updates to the state emergency management office by the end of September. Updates to the plan are mandated by federal authorities and can affect funding. The revisions to the plan are to make the plan more in line with the national framework. They are planning a future table top exercise when the drought plan revisions are made

They are also revising the state Impact Task Forces. The current plans call for a Water Availability Task Force, Agricultural Impact Task Force, Tourism Impact Task Force, Energy Impact Task Force, Municipal Water Impact Task Force, Wildfire Impact Task Force and Wildlife Impact Task Force. All proposed task forces will include economic impact analysis.

They now have a guidance framework for local government drought planners.

State Climatologist’s report

Wendy Ryan said that most areas in Colorado have experienced below average temperatures over the past month. There was good April moisture across the state. The Upper Colorado Basin and Northwestern Colorado are in D1 drought. The plains are doing really well for precipitation. May, so far, “has been really wet,” she said.

Grand Lake’s precipitation is below their historical minimum for the water year. The northeastern plains range from average (Akron area) to, “really good precipitation,” in Burlington, she said. Fort Collins is above average with Boulder well above average.

Snowpack and streamflow forecast

Mike Gillespie (NRCS) said that there has been a shift in moisture the last couple of months from south to north but that, “it could be too little too late,” for the northwestern part of Colorado. The cool temperatures and moisture have, “dragged out the snowmelt almost a month.” Most snowpack charts are showing 3 snowpack peaks for the water year. He also told the group that, “The percent of average snowpack is not the best measure this time of year.”

The Colorado River Basin snowpack is melting out and they currently have about half the annual year snowpack on the ground. Reservoir storage is at 116% of average in the basin and is the best since 2001. Streamflow forecast for the Colorado Basin is below average everywhere. At the end of the session Karen Rademacher from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District reported that they will not have to bring water from the Colorado Basin via the Adams Tunnel to fill Horsetooth Reservoir. Their Front Range reservoirs are going to fill with their east slope water rights.

Snowpack in the South Platte Basin was below average on May 1 (81%) according to Gillespie. By May 16 it was sitting at 91%. April precipitation in the basin was good and May is already at average. “Things have really turned around in the South Platte Basin,” he said. Reservoir storage is at 106% — not quite as good as last year. The forecast is looking at below average streamflow in the basin.

In the Gunnison Basin Gillespie said that there was a, “pretty rapid melt out,” over April and May due to warmer temperatures and dust on snow events. April precipitation was good. Reservoir storage in the basin is at 129% of average. Streamflow forecasts call for below average runoff consistently across the basin.

The southwestern Colorado basins are similar to the Gunnison, said Gillespie. The same dust conditions and warmer temperatures have combined to reduce what was a great snowpack earlier in the year to 77% of average on May 1. April precipitation was below average and May has been, “very dry,” he said. Reservoir storage in the area is at 100% of average. Streamflow forecasts are for below average conditions with the exception of the San Juan River (91% of average).

The Rio Grande Basin snowpack was at 90% on May1. It peaked at 112% of average on April 3. They’ve had a very dry May. Reservoir storage is at 89% of average. Streamflow forecasts for the basin are amongst the best in the state.

Gillespie said that the Arkansas Basin snowpack peaked at 104% of average on April 5. They are at 96% of average for precipitation for the water year. The reservoir storage is the best since 2001. Streamflow in the headwaters should be average with many of the tributaries below Pueblo Reservoir expected to have above average runoff.

Weather forecast

Klaus Wolter (NOAA) told the task force that we can say, “goodbye to El Niño and hello to La Niña.” He said, “Enjoy the spring weather,” for the next two weeks as temperatures are forecast to be near normal adding that Colorado, “will dry out a bit.” He expects daytime temps in most of the lower elevations to get to the 80s and stay there. He forecasts a dry summer in the South Platte Basin.

Tamarisk control: The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District ponies up $36,000 for herbicide operations

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the largest tamarisk removal projects in the Arkansas River basin apparently was successful last year and sponsors are ready to go after some more. The Lower Arkansas River Water Conservancy District board voted unanimously Wednesday to contribute $36,000 toward this year’s $130,000 project to use helicopter spraying to kill tamarisk in Prowers County. Last year, 1,414 acres of mostly private land was sprayed at a cost of $117,000 in the Arkansas River flood plain, said Nolan Daskam, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The estimate for the cost of the project was $200 per acre, but was completed for $84 per acre. The price of the chemical used, Habitat, dropped because of competition from a generic brand, Daskam explained. The project also pinpointed spraying through use of global positioning system technology, he added. “I think if we get a handle on this, we can keep it in control,” Daskam said. “We can make progress up to the county line and into Bent County…

The project’s goals include restoring native vegetation, improving wildlife habitat and reducing the flood hazard from clogged river and stream channels, Daskam said. There are other methods of tamarisk removal in Prowers County as well, including grinding and bulldozing, with follow-up hand spraying to kill plants that regenerate. “Mechanical control still has its place,” Daskam said. “For some landowners, it’s the only option.”

About 45,000 beetles that eat tamarisk leaves have been released in Prowers County. “In October, we found them (beetles released earlier in the year), and they were thriving,” Daskam said. “We’re waiting to see how they over-wintered. It’s the cheapest method, so we’re hoping they’re successful.”

More tamarisk control coverage here and here.

Evergreen: Flushing the pipes

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From the Canyon Courier:

The Evergreen Metropolitan District will begin the annual water-main flushing program the first week of June and continue through the summer. Affected areas will be Tanoa, El Pinal, Wah Keeney Park, Hiwan Hills and Hiwan. The purpose of water-main flushing is to remove fine particles that settle in the water mains that cause color, taste and odor issues. If you have any questions, contact the Evergreen Metropolitan District at 303-674-4112.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Energy policy — oil shale: Judge Kane allows ninth delay in conservation group lawsuit

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From the Associated Press via The Durango Herald:

U.S. District Court Judge John Kane granted the request last week, extending the deadline to July 16. But Kane said he’s not inclined to approve any more delays, noting that the two lawsuits were filed nearly 17 months ago. Federal officials made the latest request because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Kane said while he is sympathetic to the “existence of factors beyond Defendants’ control which have contributed to the delay of this proceeding,” settlement negotiations have been under way for nearly eight months. “I strongly urge the parties to either resolve this controversy or prepare to litigate,” Kane said.

The lawsuits by conservation groups claim the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management violated environmental laws by curtailing public comment and failing to consider impacts on wildlife or the potential effects on climate change. The 13 groups suing also argue that regulations setting the royalty rates for oil shale violate federal law requiring fair-market value for public resources.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Endangered Species Day

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set today as endangered species day, so take a whooping crane or humpback chub to lunch. Here’s a report from Julie Sutor writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association share responsibility for administering the Endangered Species Act. In its 37 years, the law has helped prevent the extinction of hundreds of species. “The Endangered Species Act is the nation’s premier law protecting biodiversity today,” said Rowan Gould, acting FWS director. “The bald eagle, the American alligator and the gray wolf are all species which once found themselves on the list, facing the brink of extinction, but have successfully rebounded.” The Fish and Wildlife Service works with other federal agencies, state, local and tribal governments, environmental organizations, industry groups, academia, the scientific community and members of the public to help conserve the nation’s imperiled fish, wildlife and plants.

More endangered species coverage here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project 2010 allocations

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board voted Thursday to allocate 48,276 acre-feet from the project, based on its anticipated yield. Municipal allocations will be 17,606 acre-feet, with 30,670 acre-feet for agriculture. Another 10,114 acre-feet of agricultural return flows will be allocated, mostly to well owners associations. Total revenues from both allocations are about $400,000…

In particular, Colorado Springs requested far less water than it would be entitled to under the principles, just 2,000 acre-feet. Its partners in the Fountain Valley Authority — Fountain, Security, Stratmoor Hills and Widefield — have requested another 3,200 acre-feet. Colorado Springs also will receive a repayment of 700 acre-feet for water it “loaned” to the district to lower the elevation of Lake Pueblo in the Safety of Dams program. The Fountain Valley Authority would be entitled to about 12,000 acre-feet under the principles. In contrast, the Pueblo Board of Water Works requested 5,000 acre-feet, a little more than its 10 percent allocation…

The water will come in two allocations, 80 percent as soon as water begins moving and another 20 percent in July. While the district has made two allocations in previous years, this setup will give water users a guarantee of most of the water, with a provision for a cash refund if supplies fall short. “The two-allocation procedure is a new process because it’s very difficult to predict what imports are going to be,” said board member Greg Johnson, a member of the allocations committee. “Allocations would be simpler if we knew up front what the water supply will be.” Monthly forecasts on the available water by the Bureau of Reclamation have fluctuated each month as weather conditions changed from heavy snow early, to dry conditions in April, to renewed snowpack this month. Reclamation estimates that 54,700 acre-feet will be brought over. Of that, 3,000 acre-feet is owed to Twin Lakes through an exchange of West Slope water. Another 500 acre-feet goes to the Pueblo Fish Hatchery, and 15 percent is set aside for transit loss and evaporation. That leaves 43,776 acre-feet for allocation.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here and here.

El Jebel: Taylor River rafting rift sufaces at the Colorado River District’s ‘State of the River’ meeting

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From the Aspen Daily News (David Frey):

State Rep. Kathleen Curry said she “didn’t get it right” in trying to craft a right-to-float bill on Colorado rivers, but strong emotions on both sides of the issue suggest crafting any kind of bill to address the issue will be tricky. “It creates a situation with not a lot of room or even motivation for middle ground,” said Curry, speaking at a State of the River conference hosted by the Colorado River Water Conservation District on Tuesday night…

“We met a great deal of opposition, really from all sides,” Curry said. “I didn’t get it right. We thought we had basically gone down a path of trying to create a compromise.” With no legislation passed, 20 proposed ballot initiatives are pending to resolve the issue on the November ballot. Sixteen were proposed by landowners. Four were proposed by river outfitters. Two of those include language for anglers. Two don’t…

Glenwood Springs water attorney Scott Balcomb argued that if the state wants access through landowners’ properties, it should pay for rights of way, much as governments do for roads. “I’m not against the boating industry. You can tell,” Balcomb said, pointing to a boating logo on his shirt. “I am for respecting the constitutional rights of landowners and getting it done in a proper organized way. Both sides of this controversy badly need to know what the rules are so that the incidents that Ken brought out stop.”[…]

Sitting in the audience, Frying Pan Anglers’ Warrick Mobray said he understood both sides of the argument. As an angler, he wants floating rights. As a landowner, he wants protections. The two sides should sit down and hammer out a compromise, Mobray said, but he admitted, that’s not very likely. “Both sides are nuts,” he said…

Water experts said Tuesday night that Ruedi Reservoir will fill completely, thanks to spring showers which have helped maintain the snowpack.

Meanwhile, here’s an update on the agreement between Wilder on the Taylor and the two outfitters that will allow them to run the river this season, from Seth Mensing writing for the Crested Butte News. From the article:

The offer: follow six rules ranging from timing of the trips to respecting water levels in the Taylor, and take a few trips through the property this summer. Then the two sides can take time to talk about the future…

…Gunnison Rep. Kathleen Curry, who championed the bill in the state house, said she probably will not pursue a similar bill next year, if she is re-elected. “I don’t plan to run legislation next year because … the issue was so contentious the personal toll this bill took was too high. I don’t see the point in working on a ‘compromise’ proposal just to have it killed next year in the legislature by the big money landowner interests,” she says. “If both sides were willing to agree to a solution and then stick by their word when the time came, then I think it would be worth pursuing this issue further. But, based on what happened this year, I have little hope for that.”

Now, outside of ongoing mediation, Shaw is saying he won’t press trespass charges against either Three Rivers or Scenic River Tours if the rafters limit the timing and number of trips, cover Wilder’s liability in the event of an injury and keep their angling flies out of the water. In a statement Shaw said, “While mediation between Jackson-Shaw and the two Taylor River rafting companies continues, Jackson-Shaw recognizes that Three Rivers and Scenic are at the threshold of their commercial rafting season and that it will take time to finalize any formal agreement. Accordingly, as a show of good faith, Jackson-Shaw has decided to give Three Rivers and Scenic permission to float through Wilder on the Taylor this summer.”

As long as boaters have been running the Taylor freely, they have had to take out and portage around a bridge on the Wilder property. Shaw’s offer gives them the permission to continue doing that. The two rafting companies will have to decide how to share the four commercial trips that will be allowed through the property each day, with two going through between 9:30 and 11 a.m., followed by the others between 1:30 and 3 p.m. And even inside the three-month window, Shaw says the rafters shouldn’t float through Wilder when the water level is below 200 cubic feet per second below the Taylor Dam…

According to the release, scheduling conflicts have delayed a second mediation meeting at the Judicial Arbiters Group in Denver, which was started at Governor Bill Ritter’s request. The two groups will meet again May 26. “So long as Three Rivers and Scenic are willing to accept Jackson-Shaw’s permission and follow these simple terms, Jackson-Shaw will allow the rafting companies to conduct rafting trips through the property this summer,” Shaw concluded. “Acceptance by these two rafting companies of these terms will not prevent mediation from continuing. However, it will give the two companies some certainty as the rafting season begins.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More whitewater coverage here.

High flow regime for Black Canyon necessitates Crystal Dam spill

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From the Montrose Daily Press:

During the 24-hour release, up to 4,300 cubic feet per second poured out of the lake and into the river…The water was released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation under a 2008 court decree that provides Black Canyon National Park with a federal reserve water right to protect riparian resources. The release is beneficial to river life downstream and helps the Gunnison to revert to flows and conditions more in keeping with the natural environment before construction of the Aspinall Unit, which encompasses Crystal Reservoir, Blue Mesa Reservoir and Morrow Point Reservoir.

Check out this very cool video of the event from William Woody and The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Pagosa Springs: San Juan River Workgroup meeting May 27

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From the Pagosa Sun (Kathy Sherer):

The San Juan River Workgroup will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 27, at the Ross Aragon Community Center cafeteria. Everyone is welcome. The meeting will focus on discussing and editing a values statement; starting to develop a list of “Issues, Concerns and Opportunities,” planning a summer field trip; and a beginning review of river and watershed protection tools. To learn more and to find all the meeting handouts, schedule and minutes, go to: http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection/ (click on San Juan River Workgroup on the left side) or call the Southwestern Water Conservation District at 247-1302 or call the San Juan Citizens Alliance at 259-3583.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.