Pagosa Springs: Long-term water supply planning group inaugural meeting recap

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From the Pagosa Sun (Chuck McGuire):

In light of recent community unrest regarding future water planning and storage issues, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors asked that willing citizens step forward and assist in determining how best to assure long-term water supplies. By the June 9 meeting, 21 participants signed on, including local government officials, builders, Realtors, water experts and rate payers.

From the Pagosa Sun (Chuck McGuire):

Toward the end of another lengthy Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors meeting Tuesday night, some convincing community members moved what seemed an immovable object. As a result, the board suspended its construction-related Water Resource Fee (WRF) for six months.

More Pagosa Springs coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Ridgway Dam hydroelectric retrofit

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

“We hope to have a permit in our hands inside 15 months,” Tri-County General Manager Mike Berry said at Monday’s Ouray Board of County Commissioner meeting in Ouray. “At that point in time, we will start designing this project.”

According to Berry, two weeks ago the federal Bureau of Reclamation issued a federal register announcement calling for applications, which are due by December. The process is open to anyone and is intended to be an open and competitive process. After the deadline, it could take the Bureau of Reclamation anywhere from three to six months to select an applicant and then complete negotiations for a permit…

“The size of the plant will be somewhere between 1.8 and 2.5 megawatts, depending on how we can configure the construction of it,” Berry said, adding that the cost of the hydroelectric plant could be anywhere from $9 million to $15 million. “We are still talking about exactly what we [would] build.”

If Tri-County is ultimately awarded a permit, Berry said it is the utility’s intent to run the plant on historical flows to “minimize the environmental impact” and to continue to maintain the Uncompahgre River’s water flow in similar form as it has in the past. “We are primarily responsible to provide water and irrigation down stream,” Tri-County Boardmember Frank Starr said. “So we will not alter the release of water in order to create power.”

Energy policy — nuclear: The Sheep Mountain Alliance is taking a close look at the Piñon Ridge Mill application

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From The Telluride Watch (Karen James):

Throughout a long public process concerning the approval of what could be the nation’s first new uranium mill constructed in nearly three decades, project supporters have largely rejected arguments made by opponents as being overly emotional and lacking in sound, scientific substance.

But that criticism may have lost some of its sting last week when scientists hired by local environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance to examine parts of a 15-volume radioactive materials license application submitted to state regulators last fall by Energy Fuels Resources Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc., presented their findings during two public meetings held in Telluride and Ophir…

A solution of sulfuric acid would be used to leach the desired metals from the ore, leaving behind a waste solution containing concentrated levels of heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead that would then be piped into lined evaporation ponds for containment. “You don’t want anything to come in contact with this,” [Jamie Holmes, managing scientist with the Boulder, Colo.-based environmental consulting firm Stratus Consulting that studied hydrological issues at the proposed Piñon Ridge mill site said. “You don’t want it in the groundwater, in surface water, you don’t want any wildlife coming in contact with it.” Historically, however, linings have leaked, and net systems designed to prevent wildlife interaction with the toxic sludge have failed. “Our biggest concern is that they will generate toxic waste, not control it properly and then leave it to taxpayers to clean up,” Holmes said. “That is a recurrent problem in this industry,” he continued, referring specifically to heavy metal mining and milling.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’ve continued to drop releases from Green Mountain Reservoir to the Lower Blue over the past few days. It is likely, we will continue to drop through the weekend, as well. Inflows to the reservoir have been dropping and we are keeping pace. Today, the Lower Blue is flowing at just under 1200 cfs.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.

The Woodmoor Water and Santiation District purchases additional ag water rights on the Holbrook Canal

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Woodmoor, located north of Colorado Springs on the Douglas-El Paso county line, has approved spending almost $10 million this year for the purchase of water rights on the High Line, Excelsior and Holbrook ditch systems east of Pueblo. On Monday, its board approved spending another $1.7 million to buy 931.7 shares of the Holbrook Canal, about 5.8 percent of the ditch. Each share irrigates an acre. “We expect the yield to be about 800 acre-feet annually,” [Jessie Shaffer, manager of the district] said.

Earlier this year, the Woodmoor board voted to buy 47.8 shares of the High Line Canal, roughly 2 percent of the ditch. Each share irrigates 10 acres. The cost was a little more than $2 million, with an expected yield of about 700 acre-feet. The board also voted to buy part of the Stonewall Springs reservoir site and 771 shares of the Excelsior Ditch in Pueblo County for $5.85 million. That is expected to yield 380 acre-feet. “If everything goes through, we would be right at $10 million in assets,” Shaffer said. That works out to about $3,000 for each of the 3,300 taps in the district. Water users now pay a base fee of $6.81, with charges from $4.91 to $14.18 per gallon on a tiered scale that charges more per gallon as more water is used.

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.

Rafting rift settlement leaves questions about the ‘right to float’

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From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Colorado’s governor on Tuesday announced that a group of river rafters and a real estate developer who didn’t want paddlers floating by his property reached a four-year agreement…

The developer’s move [to close a certain reach of the Taylor River] prompted an intense debate over who owns riverways in Colorado, where tourists flock in summers to ride some of the West’s best freshwater rapids. The developer said that rafting trips would disturb a fishing preserve…

A state lawmaker from Gunnison tried and failed to protect rafting rights in a bill considered last session. After the bill failed, both sides vowed to seek ballot initiatives to put the question to voters, and 24 separate questions have been proposed. The four-year agreement announced Tuesday calls for both sides to agree to recall those proposals. Ritter hailed the decision to withdraw the flurry of ballot proposals “courageous.”

However, the “right to float” question isn’t settled. The agreement applies only to the stretch of the Taylor River in dispute, leaving unanswered the question of whether property owners with public rivers on their land can prevent paddlers, even if the rafters don’t stop on privately owned banks. “I do believe it needs to be addressed,” [Matt Brown, an owner of Scenic River Tours] said of permanent floating rights…

Ritter said he’s set up a panel of landowners, commercial and recreational river users and even police to propose a statewide procedure for settling river disputes. The report is due by the end of the year, in time for lawmakers to consider permanent rafting rules next session.

More whitewater coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Due to the recent high-rate of snowmelt run-off, we thought it would be best to provide folks in and around the area of Lake Granby some information about possible operations at Granby Dam later this month. With the elevated inflows we continue to see at Lake Granby, it is very likely we will fill the reservoir by the last weekend of June. Once the reservoir is full, inflow will be bypassed on downstream using both the outlet at the dam and the spillway. The last time we utilized the spillway to bypass inflow was in the year 2000.

More Colorado-Big Thompson project coverage here.

EPA proposes removal of more than 2,500 acres at Rocky Mountain Arsenal from Superfund list

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Jennifer Chergo):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a proposal to delete portions of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA) from the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is a list of the nation’s most contaminated sites, known as Superfund sites. EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have determined that all required cleanup activities are complete in the areas proposed for deletion. EPA is accepting public comments on the Notice of Intent to Delete for 30 days, from June 17 to July 19, 2010.

EPA is proposing to delete 2,500 acres of soil, sediment, surface water and structures from the central and eastern surface areas within the RMA boundaries. EPA is also proposing to delete the entire surface area just north of the RMA boundary. Groundwater underlying these areas is not included in this deletion and will remain on the NPL. All areas at RMA deleted from the NPL will continue to be subject to regular EPA review to ensure the protection of human health and the environment.

Deleting property from the NPL facilitates reuse of that property. Should the proposed deletion of the central and eastern surface area be finalized, its 2,500 acres will be transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to become part of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

This is the fifth proposed partial deletion of land at RMA. Between 2003 and 2006, EPA completed four partial deletions consisting of 13,406 acres. Of the property deleted at RMA to date, 917 acres were sold to Commerce City for commercial development, 12 acres were transferred to South Adams County Water and Sanitation District for the Klein Treatment Facility, 126 acres were transferred to local governments for road-widening, and 163 acres were retained by the Army, primarily for water treatment systems. Another 12,188 acres were transferred to the FWS to become part of the National Wildlife Refuge, as prescribed in the 1992 Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Act.

RMA is located in Commerce City, approximately ten miles northeast of Denver, Colo., in Adams County. RMA was established in 1942 by the U.S. Army to manufacture chemical warfare agents and munitions for use in World War II. Beginning in 1946, some facilities were leased to private companies to manufacture industrial and agricultural chemicals. Shell Oil Company, the principal lessee, manufactured pesticides at the site from 1952 to 1982. Industrial and waste disposal practices resulted in contamination of structures, soil, surface water and groundwater. EPA placed RMA on the NPL in 1987. Since that time, the site has been undergoing extensive environmental investigation and cleanup.

For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/co/rkymtnarsenal/

More superfund coverage here.

Water conservation and future Colorado demand

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Greg Trainor):

One of the key components of future water supply planning is water conservation. This is among other approaches that either create new water (like cloud seeding), capture existing water (like more reservoirs to hold back excess water in times like this spring), or transfer water from one use to another use.

It has been estimated that transfers of water from agriculture to the cities could result in 65 percent of Colorado’s irrigated agriculture disappearing by 2050. Is the demise of irrigated agriculture something we as Colorado residents wish to see? And, with agriculture gone, what would we eat?[…]

Water conservation, in its broadest sense, is anything that stretches water supplies. The idea is to keep water, which you already have, in place, and not use it until you absolutely have to. This happens in a number of ways like installing water efficient appliances, not running water while brushing your teeth, replacing lawns with xeric landscaping, or making improvements to water distribution systems by repairing leaks. So water conservation seems like something we can do to stretch our supplies without too much inconvenience or discomfort. Keep in mind that every acre foot saved should be used to make up for shortages in precipitation during times of drought, and not used to supply water to future population increases. To do so only puts us into a deeper hole when drought does occur. Less water, but more people with nothing to drink…

In 2004, the Colorado Water Conservation Board established steps for the development of a comprehensive conservation plan and water providers are required to address each of the following elements:

•Characterize water use and forecast demand

•Profile proposed facilities

•Identify conservation goals

•Identify conservation measures and programs

•Evaluate and select conservation measures and programs

•Integrate resources and modify forecasts

•Develop implementation plan

•Monitor, evaluate and revise conservation activities and the conservation plan[…]

Grand Junction, Ute Water Conservancy District and Clifton Water District have been working on many other cooperative efforts to ensure the Grand Valley is protected in times of shortages. For example, the three systems are interconnected. If there is a water shortage for one entity, it is considered a shortage for the others. Crews train together as well as have the authority to open up valves to supply water from other areas of the system…

For more information on area water conservation efforts, visit the Drought Information Response Project website at www.thedripwebsite.com.

More conservation coverage here.

Runoff news: A look ahead at operating the Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Program this summer

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“At some point this summer, we are going to ask to exceed the releases of 10,000 acre-feet,” Tony Keenan of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday.

The releases are made under a 1990 voluntary flow management program among several local, state and federal agencies. It allows Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water and other supplies from Turquoise and Twin lakes to be released into the Arkansas River at strategic times to maintain flows for recreation through mid-August and for fish and wildlife during the winter months.

This year, flows surged in late May and early June and temperatures rose and began to melt snow in the mountains. Already, the flows are dropping. “We have about half of what we had in the river 10 days ago,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. The Upper Arkansas River was flowing at about 2,300 cubic feet per second this week, down from more than 5,000 cfs earlier. The flow program calls for a target level of 700 cfs through Aug. 15.

While the program is capped at 10,000 acre-feet of releases, more has been released in the past, if the timing can benefit the Fry-Ark Project, or the needs of big water users like Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora. “I think the water is going to be plentiful, it’s space that concerns us,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. For the past two years, space in Lake Pueblo has been tight in the spring, meaning water stored by some users could spill. About one-third of the water in Lake Pueblo now is either excess-capacity or winter water. The lake level is about 131 percent of average. “We could be looking at the same problem next year,” Vaughan said, citing graphs that show Lake Pueblo inflows are running ahead of last year’s supplies.

At the same time, Reclamation is trying to make enough space in Turquoise and Twin lakes to contain water being brought in through the Fry-Ark Project. Projections for water this year are at about 56,000 acre-feet, slightly above average. So far, about 41,000 acre-feet have come over. “We’ve already lost some yield because of the hard runoff,” Vaughan said. When the Boustead Tunnel was carrying its maximum of 945 cfs of water, about 800 cfs was flowing into the Roaring Fork River at the tunnel’s diversion point on the other side of the mountains.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

[White River National Forest] engineers said the agency may not know for several weeks just how much damage occurred as a result of recent accelerated snowmelt that resulted from high temperatures. Meanwhile, the public is being urged to be careful when approaching bridges, especially those having significant accumulation of debris on piers and footings. Such accumulation has been spotted on several bridges and may have caused structural damage requiring significant repairs. People also are asked to report any damage to the Forest Service as soon as possible. The forest’s supervisor, Scott Fitzwilliams, said in a news release, “Flood-damaged infrastructure will be costly to repair but we are committed to doing so as funding becomes available.” Officials got their first idea of the possible damages sustained on the forest when a hiker reported last week that the Lower Cross Creek Bridge in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail had been washed out.