Windy Gap Firming Project update

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From the Longmont Times Call (Scott Rochat):

Tonight, the Longmont City Council will be asked to put another $137,646 into the Windy Gap reservoir project. That would help pay for the project’s final environmental impact statement, one of the last hurdles remaining before the federal government would allow construction to begin. “We would hope the decision comes out within the next few months,” said Dale Rademacher, the city’s director of public works and natural resources…

The project would build a new reservoir at Chimney Hollow near Carter Lake. It’s been a bit of a wait to bring everything together — phase one of the project began back in 2000. Over that time, the city’s share of the bill has come to more than $2.1 million. But it’s the result at the end that’s kept city officials swimming ahead. Once the reservoir is built, Longmont hopes to reserve up to 10,000 acre-feet of water for its own use, increasing the city’s water reserves — now about 30,000 acre-feet — by a third. To put that in perspective, Longmont uses about 18,000 acre-feet of water per year — roughly 5.8 billion gallons.

More Windy Gap coverage here.

Precipitation news

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

The [Yampa] river was flowing at 190 cubic feet per second Monday morning at the Fifth Street Bridge, according to a monitoring station operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. The historic mean for the river on Aug. 23 is 116 cfs. “The rain that we have been having and the moisture from the monsoon weather has really kicked in,” said Kent Vertrees, a recreational representative on the Yampa-White River Basin Roundtable. “There isn’t a fear of a closure of the river to tubers because it’s been so full.”[…]

Steamboat has received 2.03 inches of precipitation so far this month, compared to a historic average of 1.54 inches. Local weather spotter Art Judson attributes the increase in rainfall to monsoonal moisture, slow-moving thunderstorms and chance. “It’s as much chance as anything,” he said. “What makes this warm season different is that we have had three separate events where we received more than 1 inch of rain in less than 24 hours. That’s unusual for here.”

While the increase in rainfall is one of the factors keeping tubes from scraping the bottom of the river, water being released from Stagecoach Reservoir continues to keep the Yampa flowing faster than usual. The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is releasing an average of 140 cfs of water into the river from the reservoir because of a construction project that will increase water storage there by nearly 10 percent. Conservancy District General Manager Kevin McBride said the discharge is expected to continue until mid-September.

Governor Ritter names river access dispute resolution task force

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Here’s the release from Governor Ritter’s office (Theo Stein/Evan Dreyer):

Gov. Bill Ritter today announced he has appointed 17 members to the River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force. The Task Force was created to help craft a dispute-resolution process to resolve future conflicts between river users and private landowners on Colorado waterways.

The Task Force appointments follow heated debate that occurred earlier this year over proposed legislation, a specific dispute along the Taylor River and the introduction of several ballot measures which have since been withdrawn.

The Governor appointed the following 14 members to serve as voting members of the Task Force. The terms expire at the pleasure of the Governor:

– Robert A. Hamel of Howard
– Greg Felt of Salida
– G. David Costlow of Fort Collins
– Thomas J. Klienschnitz of Grand Junction
– Leslie A. Tyson of Denver
– Jay P.K. Kenny of Denver
– Lee L. Spann of Gunnison
– James R. Ford of Pagosa Springs
– John G. Leede of Greenwood Village
– Charles B. White of Denver
– Jay Fetcher of Clark
– Paul C. Crane of Boulder
– Sen. Dan Gibbs of Silverthorne
-Undersheriff Richard D. Besecker of Gunnison

He also appointed three members to serve as non-voting members of the Task Force, also with terms expiring at the please of the Governor:

– Rebecca Swanson of Denver, to serve as a co-chair of the Task Force from the Governor’s Office

– Patrick D. Tooley of Denver, to serve as a non-voting ex-officio member and as a legal advisor to the Task Force

– Carolyn F. Burr of Denver, to serve as a non-voting ex-officio member and as a legal advisor to the Task Force

The executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, or a selected designee, will also serve as a co-chair. The charge of the Task Force is to develop a framework for resolving conflicts among landowners, anglers, commercial rafters, and the boating public on a stretch-by-stretch basis as disputes arise. The group will:

– Hold two public meetings in different parts of the state to gather stakeholder input.

-Hold at least four other open meetings to evaluate the public input and consider options for a dispute-resolution process.

– Prepare a final report with recommendations for the Governor and Legislature by Dec. 31.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone). From the article:

The task force was created to help craft a dispute-resolution process to resolve future conflicts between river users and private landowners on Colorado waterways. During this year’s legislative session, a bill seeking to clarify whether rafters are entitled to float through rivers on private land failed to settle the question. The issue sprang from a dispute between a landowner along the Taylor River on the Western Slope and commercial rafters who for years had traversed the stretch through the land that the developer recently had acquired. The developer had threatened to halt passage through his property. A compromise was struck, avoiding about two dozen proposed ballot initiatives on the subject. The task force’s objective is to develop a framework for resolving conflicts between landowners, commercial rafters, anglers and the boating public on a stretch-by-stretch basis as disputes arise.

More whitewater coverage here.

Energy policy — coalbed methane: Las Animas County coalbed methane natural gas producers’ substitute water supply plans update

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From The Trinidad Times (Randy Woock):

The proposed SWSP was outlined in a July 22 letter to the companies from the Division of Water Resources. The letter notes that, as of December 2009, about 2,600 CBM wells in the Raton and Vermejo formations were considered to have an impact on tributary waters in the Raton Basin. A total of about 3,068 CBM wells operate within the Central Raton Basin…

The letter gives the average pumping rate of all active CBM wells in the affected areas in 2008 to have been about 2.95 gallons per minute (gpm). “For production through 2008, 95 percent of the pumping rates were below 12.6 gpm per well,” it states. “Estimated water production from potential new tributary CBM wells was determined…(e)ach new well perforated in the Raton Basin was assigned a pumping rate of approximately 12 gpm (6 gpm for the Upper Raton Formation and 6 gpm for the lower Raton Formation.” Depletion amounts were calculated using MODFLOW, an industry standard numeric groundwater flow modeling code also used by the U.S. Geological Survey. A 2008 study of the impact of area CBM wells on the Purgatoire River, commissioned by Pioneer and XTO, had found…

Monthly depletions in the affected area for the SWSP’s effective period of April 2010 to March 2011 were estimated as 0.105 acre-feet of water. Depletions caused by CBM pumping prior to 2008 combined with the estimated depletions, figured as a maximum estimated production of tributary water through the plan’s validity endpoint of March 31, 2011, are projected at 4.126 acre-feet. The SWSP, as approved by the SEO, calls for replacement water to come from, “a lease with the City of Trinidad to supply up to 50 acre-feet of fully consumable water from the city’s storage account in Trinidad Reservoir.”[…]

Karen Brown, Pioneer’s senior public relations adviser, told the Las Animas County Board of Commissioners at its Aug. 17 meeting that Pioneer was considering at least five different methods to measure water produced from its wells, including those purchased over the past 15 years from, “numerous operators who, at the time the wells were drilled, did not foresee such a change in regulations that would give the (SEO) jurisdiction over the CBM water production.” She added that Pioneer did already take flow measurements at its wells, discharge points and injection wells, and that it should have completed in the next 30-60 days the tests on the five aforementioned methods to determine which it would utilize to meet the SEO’s water measuring requirements. “Our job is really to ensure that the accuracy of these methods meets the (SEO’s) standards,” she said. Brown also said that more than 700 of Pioneer’s CBM wells produced less than 1 gpm of water. “It’s hard to really gauge that kind of flow,” she said. “Obviously, we want to really assess all of the different options because any one of these things will pose significant costs to the company.”

Additionally, Pioneer, XTO Energy and Red River Ranches hired earlier this year the environmental engineering and consulting company, Tetra Tech, to install and monitor on the Purgatoire River and its tributaries a system of water data monitoring stations. The system, in place for the next two year, includes nine continuous monitoring stations and 25 monthly monitoring stations to collect data on such things as flow levels, temperature, pH and chloride levels, sodium absorption levels and the water’s electrical conductivity levels.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: The San Juan County Historical Society plans hydroelectric plant at Mayflower Mill restoration site

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

These days, the Mayflower Mill operates as a self-guided tour for visitors interested in the area’s rich mining history. But power demands at the mill made electricity extremely expensive, Rich said. When Sunnyside Gold ceased operations in 1991, the cost of power could run as much as $30,000 a month. “It costs us $600 a month to turn on the lights there,” Rich said. “Since the mill is open for touring only three days a week, four months of the year, and we’re going to generate power 12 months a year we could sell our hydro production to San Miguel Power Co. and buy electricity.”

The Mayflower Mill, which produced 1.9 million ounces of gold, 30 million ounces of silver and 1 million tons of combined base metals in 49 years of operation, owned two water rights on Arrastra Creek totaling slightly more than 1 cubic foot of flow per second – year round. Water rights in Colorado are worth gold no matter the quantity. Now, the hydroelectric plant will sit on the west side of the Animas River just downstream from its confluence with Arrastra Creek. A one-mile pipeline draws water from upper Arrastra Creek for the Mayflower Mill. A new pipeline, parallel to the current one, will feed the hydroelectric plant, which will recycle the water into the Animas. Telluride Energy will install an 8-kilowatt hydro turbine adjacent to the site of the former Mears Wilfley Mill, which recycled tailings from nearby mines. The State Historical Society this month put up $105,000 for the hydro project. The local society will contribute $30,000, and $20,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture’s rural development fund, $10,000 from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and $4,000 from the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…

The Mayflower Mill, the single longest-operating ore mill in the San Juan Mountains, is a National Historic Landmark. The mill operated for 49 of its 61-year life (1930-1991). “There aren’t many ore mills left in the United States – and none like the Mayflower,” Rich said. “It’s intact. We could throw a switch, and it would operate.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities offers Pueblo County $2.2 million in lieu of dredging Fountain Creek

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County commissioners for the Southern Delivery System, Colorado Springs is obligated to dredge Fountain Creek through Pueblo to maintain the effectiveness of flood-control levees. Commissioners are looking at the purchase of an out-of-service railroad bridge, combined with sediment collection and removal systems, as an alternative to dredging…

Earlier this year, Pueblo’s stormwater consultant, Dennis Maroney, told commissioners that the out-of-service Union Pacific railroad bridge sits too low in the Fountain Creek channel and could act as a dam during high flood flows. Removing it, then improving the approach to the bridge, would be a more effective solution than continually dredging the channel, he said.
Commissioners have not decided how to proceed or how the money would be spent.

Meanwhile the Bureau of Reclamation is assuring residents below Pueblo Dam that the structure is safe despite recent warnings from a group — Consumer Advocates, Inc. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A group called Consumer Advocate Inc., run by Michael Satterfield, raised questions of the dam’s safety based on a 1977 report by W.A. Wahler. The report found safety flaws in the dam just two years after it was completed. In an open letter in the Colorado Springs Gazette earlier this month, Satterfield wrote: “It has gone on to become one of the most safety modified dams in the country. Several of the problems cannot be fixed by additional engineering. Wahler’s report states that the soil under the dam is unstable and undermines the stability of the dam itself.” The same report has been cited by Colorado Springs Councilman Tom Gallagher in his claims that Pueblo Dam cannot be operated for its designated purposes, much less for the proposed Southern Delivery System, which Gallagher opposes.

Reclamation has updated its publication, “Safe Then; Safe Now, a Summary of Pueblo Dam’s history.” It addresses the Wahler report, saying that two terms in the report have been “widely misused and misunderstood.” The Wahler report calls Pueblo Dam a “high hazard dam” and talks about “seepage.” Reclamation responded:

– “ ‘High hazard dam’ is a classification term used in reference to dams located above populated areas, such as Pueblo, and does not indicate anything about a dam’s overall performance.

– “ ‘Seepage’ describes the water that moves through all dams. Pueblo Dam has features to control and collect the seepage in a safe manner and equipment that monitors seepage through the structure.”

In a 2000 updated study on the safety of dams, Reclamation concluded that 17,000 Puebloans could be at risk if Pueblo Dam were to fail. The scenario would involve a “probable maximum flood” that would be many times greater than the largest recorded flood on the Arkansas River in 1921. Since 1977, several improvements have been made on the dam, Reclamation said. In 1981, a stability berm was added to the base of the northern earthen embankment. In 1998, drain pipes were installed downstream of the north embankment to collect and monitor seepage that occurs at high water elevations. In 1998-99, Reclamation added a massive concrete “door stop” in the stilling basin and tied the foundation of Pueblo Dam into underlying rock with long metal rock bolts to prevent possible slippage of the concrete buttresses in the middle of the dam. The Reclamation report also notes that the full capacity of the dam, almost 350,000 acre-feet, is not used in order to provide flood protection for Pueblo.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.