Energy policy — nuclear: Cotter, Corp’s cleanup plans at the Schwartzwalder mine fall short according to state regulators

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“Pumping just from the alluvium will not be sufficient to mitigate the uranium-contamination problem,” said Loretta Pineda, Colorado director of mining, reclamation and safety. “(State regulators) have ordered Cotter to pump and treat from both the alluvium and the mine pool.”

State officials recently fined Cotter $55,000, then suspended all but $2,500 on the condition that Cotter initiate a cleanup by Aug. 31. That could include any action, such as positioning the right equipment at the mine. State regulators, Pineda said, “believe the mine pool poses a significant risk to surface water (and are) vigorously pursuing the enforcement action. . . . The state fully intends to hold Cotter accountable for permit violations.”

Of greatest concern is Ralston Creek, which flows into Denver Water’s Ralston Reservoir and contains uranium levels exceeding health standards. Cotter “strongly disagrees” with state regulators, according to a June letter sent to the Colorado attorney general from Cotter attorney Charlotte Neitzel. “Although Cotter believes it has not violated the statutes and regulations,” the letter said, the company “recognizes the importance of taking action for the situation at Ralston Creek.”[…]

Cotter contends that the highly toxic groundwater filling the shaft, where uranium levels far exceed health standards, does not reach Ralston Creek.

“(Denver Water) supports the state’s order for Cotter to treat the groundwater in the mine,” spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. “We’re very concerned with maintaining the quality of our source waters and hope Cotter complies.” Tests along Ralston Creek indicate uranium concentrations as high as 310 parts per billion, above the 30 ppb standard for drinking water, Chesney said. “Our treated water is meeting drinking-water standards, and our current treatment process is able to handle uranium at these levels. However, that could change in the future,” she said. “Installing a new system would be costly.”

More nuclear coverage here and here. More Schwartzwalder Mine coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress Annual Summer Conference recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Is there a way for the state to encourage private investment in water infrastructure, such as the Million project,” Bob Trout, senior partner in Trout, Raley, Montano, Witwer & Freeman, asked state lawmakers at the Colorado Water Congress summer conference. Trout said the water community and Colorado water law are hostile toward public-private partnerships…

While public water providers want certainty, they also don’t want competition from private developers. “They want ownership, but for hugely expensive projects, ownership might not be an option,” Trout said. “In addition, Colorado water law is antithetical to private water development.”

Prior appropriation, anti-speculation and interstate compacts make it difficult to approve and permit private projects, Trout said. For instance, Aaron Million’s proposal to move water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado triggered discussions about the availability of water under the Colorado River Compact and worries about speculation in the federal permit process.

Public water providers say they need certainty and have to keep water rates low. “We’re not opposed to public-private projects, but we need to maintain control of the supply to consumers,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water. “For us, failure is not an option.”[…]

“We have to have certainty that a private project will provide the water, but the question is how do you structure it to guarantee that certainty?” said Bruce McCormick, Colorado Springs Utilities chief of water services. “We’re responsible to our ratepayers, not stockholders.”[…]

“The most important thing the Legislature can do is stay the hell out of the road so you can have those public-private partnerships,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “More than 100 years ago, Sterling Reservoir was built in two years with horses and wagons. It takes more time than that today to get the paperwork out of the way.”

Travis Smith, a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Interbasin Compact Committee, said it is time for the state to support water projects, whether public or private. There may be a role for private development. “Through the IBCC, we’re looking at the question, ‘Does the state have a role in supporting and facilitating water projects?’ ” Smith said. “We have to look at whether the state takes a permissive view of private water projects or a prohibitive view.”

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

“What I was surprised about when I looked at these new quote-unquote normals is they really haven’t changed very much,” [State Climatologist Nolan Doesken] said Thursday in a presentation to the Colorado Water Congress. Climatologists calibrate normal temperatures every 10 years, based temperatures over the last 30 years. So by the end of this year, the “normal” data will kick out the 1970s and introduce the warm 2000s.

Temperatures at a weather station in Mesa Verde National Park are on track to rise 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the new period – in line with most of the rest of the state, according to Doesken’s data about the last 29 years. But compared to the 1951 to 1980 period, temperatures at the Mesa Verde station have fallen 1.3 degrees. Most of the other weather stations in Colorado show slight temperature increases over the same time frames. Doesken knows his numbers don’t match up with the perception of a rapidly warming planet. He watches data gathered at weather stations, while projections of global warming are made through computer models that attempt to predict the future, he said. Despite the models of warmer future weather, he has not seen drastic warming so far in Colorado. “You’ve got to be thinking beyond that to plan for the future, but the current data are showing pretty small changes so far. But it leans in the warm direction,” Doesken said in an interview.

The heat in the 2000s is masked in Doesken’s data, he said, because the two 30-year periods he was comparing overlap by two decades…

The weather created dramatic changes this spring, said Mike Gillespie, who oversees the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s network of snow gauges. The El Niño weather pattern kept Southwest Colorado cool and flush with snow through most of the winter, while northern river basins teetered on the edge of drought, he said. The San Juan River Basin, which drains most of Southwest Colorado, reached its peak snowpack on April 4, when it was exactly 100 percent of the long-term average. Then El Niño left in April, and the storm track shifted north. Suddenly the parched northern part of the state was getting snow, while the south saw rapid melting.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

[Dan Maes and John Hickenlooper] made separate appearances at the group of savvy water lawyers and engineers Thursday and Friday.

Maes, the Republican, went first. He admitted that he has a lot to learn about water, and he invited input from the group. “I have a pretty simple policy on water so far: If it starts in Colorado, it’s our water,” Maes said. He would support new reservoirs to keep Colorado water in state. He also played to Western Slope sentiments about Front Range water grabs. “There is not a head of cattle or a field of crops that will want for water because of a green yard in Denver on my watch, I promise you that,” said Maes, who lives in Evergreen, about 20 minutes west of Denver.

Hickenlooper, the Democratic Denver mayor, said he would help everyone in the state cooperate on water by applying the same skills that helped him rebuild Denver’s adversarial relationships with its suburbs. He tells Denverites who think the city’s senior water rights should give them plentiful, cheap water to think again. “In the end, maybe it’s not Denver’s water. Maybe it’s all of our water,” Hickenlooper said. “Part of what makes Denver Denver is the fact that we are in Colorado.” He pointed proudly to Denver Water’s conservation rate of nearly 20 percent since the 2002 drought. Hickenlooper would not commit to supporting large new reservoirs because public opinion is so divided on what to do about the water supply. “I think right now, the basic level of public sentiment is so fractured that we’re almost not in a position to make reliable decisions,” he said.

More Colorado Water coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: The next step is public comment before the contracts between Reclamation and Colorado Springs Utilities are finalized

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We have a few more edits to make to the contract,” said Kara Lamb, public information officer for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Then, it will be made publicly available for review and comment.” Reclamation is not sure about the timetable, Lamb added…

Negotiations concluded on Wednesday as Colorado Springs and Reclamation wrapped up a process that began in May to allow SDS participants — Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West — to connect a 50-mile pipeline to Pueblo Dam and to store water in Lake Pueblo. Colorado Springs also will receive a contract to move up to 10,000 acre-feet of water annually in a paper trade from Lake Pueblo to Twin Lakes. The storage rate would be $36 per acre-foot annually, increasing by 1.79 percent each year. At the end of the contract term of nearly 40 years, the rate would be doubled. The SDS partners also will receive $5 million in credit over five years for oversizing the $30 million North Outlet Works. Initially, about 28,000 acre-feet of water would be stored. The amount will ramp up to 42,000 acre-feet over several years. That would generate about $1 million in the first year, and more than $3 million annually by 2050. The money goes toward repayment of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, including the Arkansas Valley Conduit, under a law signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

There actually are five contracts involved. Colorado Springs is representing all of its partners on a conveyance contract that would transfer the North Outlet Works title to the federal government and determine how operating, maintenance and replacement costs would be paid. Each of the four communities also would have a storage contract, with Colorado Springs’ exchange included in its contract. Another provision allows Fountain to trade space in the Fountain Valley Conduit for SDS pipeline space with Colorado Springs.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.