Energy policy — nuclear: Locals debate Powertech’s proposed uranium in-situ mine near Nunn

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From KUNC (Kirk Siegler):

“People have a misunderstanding about uranium and nuclear power in general,” says Powertech CEO Richard Clement. “People conceive of uranium being a major radioactive substance where if you just become associated with it you’re going to be radiated and killed.”[…]

“People just don’t understand what we’re trying to accomplish here, really it’s a very non invasive type of development,” Clement says. A fire hose would be injected a couple hundred feet below the ground to break up the uranium, and pump it back to the surface…

Colorado environmental officials appear poised to make sure those things won’t happen again, as uranium mining appears poised for a comeback. The state is currently rewriting regulations to protect groundwater from toxic runoff. That could be one more road block in front of President Obama’s push for more nuclear power. But State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Theo Stein says the intent is not to stop uranium mining, but make sure it’s done safely. “Groundwater in that part of the state is precious and limited, and it’s important to make sure that any industrial activity does not adversely impact that groundwater,” Stein says.

[Joe Bagby] says he thinks the mine will happen anyway, because he says it’s a top down push from president Obama, a push that may get more of boost in Colorado and nationwide in light of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

American Rivers: Upper Colorado is sixth most endangered river

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From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Julie Sutor):

“We can’t continue to take and take water from the Upper Colorado without accounting for the serious impacts to fish and wildlife habitat,” said Ken Neubecker of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “This river is on the brink. A vibrant, healthy river system in the Upper Colorado is every bit as important to the future of Colorado as the water it supplies to our farms and cities.” Neubecker nominated the Upper Colorado for its designation on American Rivers’ 2010 list.

The diversions of concern to conservation groups (and headwaters communities like Summit County) are the proposed Moffat Project and Windy Gap Firming Project. Both proposals would expand reservoir storage capacity on the Front Range to move more West Slope water from the Colorado River and its tributaries, including the Blue River in Summit County and the Fraser River and Williams Fork in Grand County.

Denver Water and Northern Water, the two Front Range water providers behind the projects, say habitat protection and water conservation are big priorities, and such principles already figure into their project plans and their daily operations. “I think we’re going to take care of a lot of their concerns,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said of the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would increase supply for a number of Front Range communities including Loveland, Broomfield, Longmont and Greeley. “We’ve been working long and hard to reach some West Slope compromises, and we’ve proposed some stuff that’s never been proposed in this state before, in terms of taking care of the Upper Colorado.”[…]

Neubecker doesn’t feel either the Moffat Project or the Windy Gap Project necessarily equates to a death sentence for the Upper Colorado. On the contrary, if done in the right way, both have the potential to enhance protections for the river’s aquatic ecosystem and adjacent riparian habitat. But for that to happen, he says, the projects must do two things: First, they should take into account the cumulative environmental impacts of existing water diversions and not just examine the impacts of the proposed projects in a vacuum. The Colorado headwaters have been subject to major water depletions for more than 100 years, and wildlife has paid the price, according to American Rivers. Second, guidelines for future diversions and flow management should be flexible enough to adjust for unforeseen environmental impacts — a concept called “adaptive management” — something Werner said Northern Water supports. “We need to have some serious and meaningful mitigations and have the proponents of these projects recognize the impacts they’re having on these rivers beyond the narrow legal concepts under Colorado water law. Lawns recover a lot faster than rivers do. For a river to lose that water is a matter of life and death,” Neubecker said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Western Governors Association annual meeting recap

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From the Flathead Beacon (Dan Testa):

In a discussion about the demand for water outstripping supplies, Robert Glennon, author of, “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It,” assailed many state governments, like Georgia’s, for not taking more drastic conservation steps following the severe drought there. “This is about the health of the American economy,” Glennon said. “We may fret about running out of oil, but water lubricates the American economy just as oil does.” The problem is compounded, he added, by the fact that many Americans are migrating from the coasts, where water is more abundant, to Western cities, where it’s scarce. Developing renewable energy sources, like ethanol and solar power, he added, also use vast amounts of water.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, of Idaho, asked whether settling water rights with tribes should be a top priority. “Unless and until these tribal rights are quantified,” Susan Cottingham, of the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, answered. “It is this uncertainty hanging over all the other water rights.”

Runoff news: Arkansas River flows dropping

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

As of Tuesday, more than 50,000 acre-feet of water has moved through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake from the collection system high in the Colorado River basin. “We’re close to our projections,” said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark Project manager. The visible snow is largely melted off in the mountains, coming off faster than would be optimal for water production. A slower melt would have allowed more opportunity to capture flows. The good news is that requirements for minimum flows will ease into July, providing better chances to capture water…

Flows in the Arkansas River have dropped dramatically in the last three weeks to about one-third of what they were at the beginning of June. On Tuesday, there was about 1,600 cubic feet per second flowing at Avondale.

Southern Delivery System: Lake Pueblo storage negotiations with Reclamation update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs, in the current negotiations with the Bureau of Reclamation for its proposed Southern Delivery System, argues that it would be fair to be granted the same rate Pueblo has for storage in Lake Pueblo, and to not pay an annual fee for conveyance.

Pueblo’s rate and payment arrangements were determined under different circumstances and for different reasons during negotiations in 2000. Pueblo received a 25-year contract to store nonproject water in Lake Pueblo in 2000 for a fixed price of $17.35 per acre-foot. The contract began at 3,000 acre-feet, and increases to 15,000 acre-feet by 2025. At the same time, it agreed to pay its share, 77.58 percent, for construction of the South Outlet Works and Delivery Manifold over a 25-year contract at 3.046 percent — about $169,000 annually, or $4.2 million over time.

Reclamation offered Colorado Springs storage and conveyance for $75 an acre-foot and an exchange contract for $50 per acre-foot, a deal termed “unacceptable” by SDS Project Director John Fredell at the end of a June 15 negotiating session. Throughout the negotiations, Colorado Springs tried to hammer home the point that as part of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, it should be entitled to the same terms Pueblo received in its 2000 contract. Colorado Springs also maintains it should not have to pay to use the North Outlet Works, which it intends to pay for and construct, along with its SDS partners — Security, Fountain and Pueblo West.

The North Outlet Works was bumped up in Colorado Springs planning in 2008, after it became apparent the connection on the south end of the dam, either through excess capacity or enlargement, would not be available. Colorado Springs wants the power to sell its own excess capacity in the new connection to help pay for it…

Colorado Springs already benefits from the Fry-Ark Project through the Fountain Valley Conduit, as well as arrangements made for the use of Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake by the Homestake Project, which includes Aurora as a partner. Fountain Valley (Colorado Springs, Security, Widefield, Fountain, Stratmoor Hills) is entitled to 25 percent of the relatively cheap Fry-Ark allocations each year, as well as ample storage space for project water in Lake Pueblo. But Colorado Springs and its SDS partners want more. SDS is seeking to use excess-capacity space in Lake Pueblo that was never part of the Fry-Ark Project to accommodate growth, provide redundancy and fully use water rights obtained after the Fry-Ark Project began. Negotiations continue July 15 in Fountain.

Pueblo, on the other hand, received contracts for parts of the Fry-Ark Project that were envisioned as far back as 1960. At that time, Congress was getting close to passing the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and a large treatment plant was envisioned at the base of Pueblo Dam that would provide water for Pueblo and communities below…

Concurrently, Pueblo was improving its own system. In the 1950s, Pueblo’s two water companies, which served either the north or south side of the Arkansas River, merged. Both operated river intakes, which are still used occasionally. There also were wells at the honor farm. When Pueblo Dam was completed in the 1970s, the South Outlet Works was built with a capacity of about 359 cubic feet per second. In all the planning documents, 310 cfs were reserved for Pueblo and the Arkansas Valley Conduit, as part of the Fry-Ark Project. The final allocation gives Pueblo capacity of 278.5 cfs (180 million gallons per day); Fountain Valley, 30.6 cfs; Pueblo West, 18.94 cfs; and future Arkansas Valley Conduit, 30.94 cfs. Pueblo is nowhere near using that full capacity, while Fountain Valley and Pueblo West already occasionally hit the limits. Land was set aside on federal property for a filter plant that would eventually be built to serve Pueblo and the conduit. In addition, there was an understanding throughout the development of the Fry-Ark Project that Pueblo would receive consideration on 20,000 acre-feet of storage space, said Terry Book, deputy director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “When we did our negotiations, we looked at what the legislation said and documented the history and correspondence between the parties,” Book said. Those records show a clear trail back to 1967 of official correspondence between Reclamation, Pueblo water board and the Southeastern district that led up to the 2000 negotiations. Over that time, Pueblo constructed a new water treatment plant north of the Arkansas River in 1977, and completed a major upgrade of the plant in 2003. By about 1999, the water demand in Pueblo was sufficient to construct the pipeline from the South Outlet Works to the water treatment plant…

Since the Pueblo contract, Aurora — a city of 300,000 east of Denver that uses the Fry-Ark Project to move water out of the basin — was given a 40-year contract. Colorado Springs was successful in gaining Reclamation’s approval of a 40-year contract after the first SDS negotiating session in May.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

CWCB: June 23 Water Availability Task Force recap

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Below are my notes from last Wednesday’s meeting:

Drought Plan

Veva Deheza (CWCB) announced that Colorado’s drought plan revision is currently in internal review. Public comments will be solicited starting July 19. Final approval on the mitigation plan is expected by 1/1/2011.

Colorado River Water Availability Study

Comments are trickling in for the study and are due by July 21.

Colorado River mainstem

Currently water storage in Lake Powell is 64% and Lake Mead is at 41% for a system-wide total of 58%, according to Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi (CWCB). This is slightly below last year. So far this year streamflow into Lake Powell is much higher than predicted earlier in the year.

State Climatologist’s report

Colorado’s weather was cool to considerably cooler than average in May, according to Nolan Doesken. This was the, “Coolest May in a number of years,” he said. The one week of warm weather in May kicked off the runoff in a big way.

Klaus Wolter (NOAA) told the group that we are in the, “coolest one year running record on record,” with his 28 years of data.

In May it was dry in the southwestern part of the state with very good moisture on the eastern plains, according to Doesken. The first half of June has been dry as well. Morgan County has already received half their average annual moisture, and, “The northeast corner of the state is doing dandy,” he said.

Doesken reported precipitation news from around the state. He said that Grand Lake got off to a slow start and is tracking with the driest year on record. Grand Junction is tracking along with median precipitation. The Uncompahgre Valley is near normal. Mesa Verde had a surge of mid-winter moisture but has moved from above average to below average since. Del Norte had a wet start as well but is now showing a pattern similar to Arizona in an El Niño year — dry. Pueblo is above average with a big May. Burlington continues at near record precipitation. Doesken added that, “crops are looking fantastic and I hope that hail will leave them alone.” Akron is tracking at near average. Fort Collins in above average as is Boulder.

Report from the NRCS

Mike Gillespie remarked, about Colorado, that we’ve gone, “from floods to fires in the same month,” and the, “remnants of the 2010 snowpack are rapidly melting out.”

The Yampa/White River basin precipitation was at 94% of average for the year and reservoir storage is 113% of average, he said. Streamflow forecasts are below average.

The Colorado Basin precipitation is at 92% of average and reservoir storage is 119% of average while the streamflow forecast anticipates 70-80% of average. Basin storage is the best in a decade. Karen Rademacher (Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District) said that Granby Reservoir will probably start spilling Monday, adding that Northern’s reservoirs on the east slope filled with east slope water rights this year and that no water is currently moving through the Adams Tunnel.

In the South Platte Basin Gillespie noted that precipitation is 93% of average, reservoir storage is at 108% of average and the streamflow forecast is below average. Snowpack had a, “nice late peak with a number of rebounds,” he said.

The Gunnison Basin snowpack started out like gangbusters but experienced an early melt from warm weather and dust events. Precipitation is at 94% of average, reservoir storage is 119% of average. Streamflow is expected to be below average with inflow to Blue Mesa forecasted at 69% of average.

Gillespie said that southwestern Colorado experienced, “a rapid early melt out,” with little precipitation in May and so far in June. Precipitation for the year is at 82% of average and reservoir storage = 115% of average. Streamflow is forecasted to be 70-80% of average. Down in Dolores they are, “worried about the back-end of the season,” with the lack of moisture and early runoff.

In the Rio Grande Basin precipitation is at 92% of average but, “June has been terribly dry,” he said. Reservoir storage is 90% of average but the streamflow forecast is, “fairly good,” at 90-98% of average.

The Arkansas Basin precipitation is sitting at 87% of average. Reservoir storage is 105% of average with below average (75-80%) streamflow expected.

Wildfire

Taryn reported that the current outlook predicts average fire potential with a quieter grass fire season than 2008 and 2009.

Short term and long term weather outlooks

Klaus Wolter told the task force, “La Niña looks inevitable now.” The weather forecast for the next 5 days looks dry. The 2 week forecast is not calling for a, “super heat wave,” he said, and, “Summers after El Niño years tend to be dry.”

The final word came from Nolan Doesken quipping, “The last time reservoir storage looked really good was just before it got really bad.”

More CWCB coverage here.