Fountain Creek: The USGS and the Fountain Creek Watershed and Flood Control District are moving up the schedule for a flooding study in the basin

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The district would use $300,000 from payments by Colorado Springs as part of its obligations under its 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System from Pueblo County. The money would be matched with $100,000 from the USGS. Other partnerships are needed to fill out funding over three years, according to a draft proposal presented Friday to the Fountain Creek board. “The study would answer the questions of where to build and why to slow down the floods in the last five miles of the creek,” said Gary Barber, executive director of the district…

David Mau of the Pueblo USGS office explained that the new study would build on the work of previous research, including a $3 million Army Corps of Engineers report and the $600,000 Fountain Creek Corridor Master Plan that will be completed next year.

Barber said there are two reasons for moving ahead before all of the money is collected from Colorado Springs. The first is improvement of the creek. “When Fountain Creek decides to go, it goes,” Barber said, pointing to charts that show an increase of sediment that increases geometrically to the volume of flows. “We need to find out what to do when you go from moving 10,000 tons of sediment to 100,000 tons.”

The second is the district’s funding, which ends about one year from now. The $300,000 from Colorado Springs, along with $200,000 from the corridor plan (a joint venture of Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District), are the district’s primary sources of funding until the balance of Colorado Springs’ $50 million kicks in. That money is due in five annual installments of $10 million, less the money already paid, when SDS is completed — 2016 at the soonest.

In the meantime, the district is working on strategies to ask voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties for a mill levy in 2012. The district is working to complete projects such as the flood control study, a $1 million demonstration project on Fountain Creek in Pueblo County, a confluence park in Pueblo or a highway realignment on U.S. 24. Because it has little money of its own, the district has signed on as partners, managed grants or simply become a “cheerleader” for efforts to improve Fountain Creek, Barber said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Basin: Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy Authority irrigation rules public meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“When you look at the rules as they were written three years ago, it’s amazing how far we’ve come,” State Engineer Dick Wolfe told a group of farmers and other interested parties Wednesday at a meeting organized by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The rules are designed to keep improvements like sprinklers or drip irrigation and canal lining from reducing return flows to the Arkansas River in order to meet compact obligations to Kansas. Wolfe set up a committee of irrigators, water officials and lawyers to make the rules more acceptable…

One of the concerns was the cost of compliance, which led to the possibility of group plans like the one approved last week by the Lower Ark board. It allows farmers to pay a fee — not yet set — in order for Lower Ark engineers to determine water losses and find replacement water. Farmers could also provide their own engineering, or obtain a general permit in parts of the valley which do not have as direct an impact on flows to Kansas.

The rules are in Division 2 Water Court and most objectors are expected to settle before a scheduled trial in November.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Seep ditches intercept return flows and generally have water rights junior to other ditches above and below them. In Southern Colorado, the ditches have not been regulated for more than 100 years, but may be taking water from more senior water rights, Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte explained. Witte’s staff identified and met with 25 parties with 52 structures last year. Most are working the state to measure flows, install lockable headgates and curtail diversions. The state has filed six Water Court complaints, however.

That drew a strongly worded statement from U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., which was delivered at the meeting by his Pueblo staffer Loretta Kennedy. Representatives from other congressional offices also attended the meeting, but made no statements. “Agriculture is at great risk in Southeastern Colorado as well as the nation. The state of Colorado is penalizing farmers for farming and doing what they have done best for the past 100 years,” Salazar said in a statement. “The state of Colorado continues to assault the agricultural producers by implementing the irrigation efficiency rules as well as the seep ditch regulations.”

“It’s been like this for 100 years, and now you’re going to change things? That doesn’t seem fair,” said Bent County Commissioner Lynden Gill, also a member of the Lower Ark board.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Pueblo: Water use survey results

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Even as more accounts have been added, overall residential per capita water use has fallen by 12.5 percent, according to a new study by the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

The study built on a 2008 study that measured changes in water use following the drought of 2002. It found rate increases during recent years were not a significant factor in cutting back water use, said Seth Clayton, finance chief. “Although our rates are not as great as others on the Front Range, we wanted to know if they were a factor. We found there was no major swing in elasticity,” Clayton told the board at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Water use from 1996 to 2003 was compared with use from 2004 to 2009 in the study. Survey respondents were chosen from residents who have remained at the same address during that time and showed a greater conservation rate than all customers. The number of all customers has increased 5.4 percent, accounting for the difference in conservation rates…

“The initial decline in consumption due to conservation measures stemming from the drought of 2002 has remained, and it is unlikely that consumption levels will ever revert back to those experienced prior to 2002,” the report concluded. The report also suggests heavy precipitation in 2009 could have played a factor in reduced lawn watering. But despite dry weather and high temperatures this summer, water use is 2.16 percent below the five-year average, just slightly greater than last year.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Fountain Creek: Colorado Springs files motion for final judgement in lawsuit with Sierra Club

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The motion was filed earlier this month, asking U.S. District Court Judge Walker Miller to close the case pursuant to his findings and ruling in the case last year.

The Sierra Club, which filed the suit in 2005, does not plan to oppose final judgment.

The movement in the case will allow Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut to appeal his dismissal from the case in 2007, said Terry Hart, Thiebaut’s chief of staff. Thiebaut also filed a federal lawsuit in 2005, but was dismissed from the case in 2007 because a judge ruled he lacked state authority to file a federal lawsuit. “We’ve been champing at the bit for final judgment so we could file an appeal,” Hart said. “We feel the federal judge made a strained interpretation of state law, so this clears the way to appeal the dismissal of the case.”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Pueblo County will not have to pay Colorado Springs for fees it spent to defend the city against District Attorney Bill Thiebaut’s lawsuit over contamination of Fountain Creek. In a decision made public Tuesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Walker Miller denied the city’s request to recover fees paid to its attorneys and its expert witnesses.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Silt: Positive test for elevated trihalomethanes

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From the The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

The compound in question is known as “total trihalomethanes,” Pace said, adding that its formation in the water system is known as a “disinfection byproduct.” It comes about, Pace said, when chlorine comes in contact with organic matter and other sediment within the water system. The longer the chlorine and the sediments sit together, he said, the greater the production of TTHM, as it is known in water treatment circles. He said that is partly why the town, at the end of every summer, flushes its two-mile water line leading to the Coal Ridge High School, in order to bring fresher water to the taps there.

“In large quantities,” Pace said, the chemicals “could be cancer causing,” and the letter from the town advises residents that they might want to switch to bottled water, or some kind of water-hauling service, until the problem is fixed. That is not likely to be until late 2011 or possibly early 2012, because the town first must study the situation to come up with possible solutions, and then get state permission to go ahead with whichever solution is identified.

More water treatment coverage here.

Carbondale: The Colorado Department of Wildlife is ponying up $950,000 to protect access to the Roaring Fork River

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

The DOW is one of several entities that have put up funding for purchase of the $2.5 million Koziel property, located between the Roaring Fork River and Highway 82 just below the Highway 133 bridge leading into Carbondale. The division agreed to spend $950,000 on the purchase in order to preserve the established boat launch, which it has leased for many years from the property owners. Funding for the property purchase also includes $1 million of a larger $5 million Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Legacy Grant, which was obtained by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails in 2006 for a variety of projects, including the Crystal River Trail. In addition, the town plans to contribute $450,000 and Garfield County agreed to $100,000.

The 7.8 acres of riverfront land includes the boat ramp and a small parking area and turnaround. The upper bench was operated as the Sopris RV Park by the Koziel family. The RV park was vacated after the town put the property under contract earlier this summer.

More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.

River Access Dispute Task Force meeting recap

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

“We are going to try to get neighbors to meet with neighbors without having to have legislation,” said Bob Hamel, a member of the task force. Hamel is Colorado River Outfitters Association president and owner of Arkansas River Tours in Cotopaxi…

The rafting dispute came to a head on the Taylor River last year when a developer told commercial rafters they could no longer float through his property. State Rep. Kathleen Curry, an unaffiliated state representative from Gunnison, proposed a bill in favor of the rafters. But state lawmakers declined to intervene, and instead the 16-member Governor’s River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force was set up to resolve rafting disputes…

The task force also heard from Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Director Rob White, who said that the Arkansas River draws 42 percent of the state’s rafting business and called rafting a “huge economic machine” for the area. White said his agency hears disputes and issues warnings and tickets to trespassers. Greg Felt, who runs float fishing trips on the Arkansas River, said conflicts are often passive-aggressive. He said some private landowners have built rock diversions that force rafts to trespass because of low water. Others have hung big fish hooks or dead rattle snakes off of foot bridges to signal the rafters aren’t welcome.

More whitewater coverage here.

Grand Lake: Sewer line repairs update

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

From Sept. 20 through the end of October in downtown Grand Lake at 12 to 15 points from Broadway to Hancock Streets and from Lake Avenue to West Portal Road, sewer line repairs will be taking place. The repairs, however, shouldn’t disturb traffic or sewer service, according to Three Lakes.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Steamboat Springs: Water and wastewater rates to increase

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From Steamboat Today (Mike Lawrence):

…Tuesday night, City Council unanimously approved water and wastewater rate increases that, along with increased tap fees for new construction, will extend through 2013 and help fund as much as $70 million of water and wastewater improvement projects facing the city. Red Oak Consulting, a division of the national environmental engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie, recommended the rate increases after its assessment of Steamboat’s infrastructure needs and costs. Red Oak’s report states the typical residential water bill — for a single-family home that uses 7,000 gallons of water per month — would increase 14 percent in 2011, from the current $28.43 to $32.42. Monthly wastewater rates would increase 8.8 percent in 2011, the report states, from the current $26.88 to $29.25. The new rates will take effect Jan. 1. City officials will update rates and infrastructure costs in 2013.

More infrastructure coverage here.

2010 Colorado elections: San Juan Citizen’s Alliance forum recap

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From The Durango Herald (Garrett Andrews):

It being a San Juan Citizens Alliance forum, the questions dealt with environmental and social-justice issues. Topics covered climate change, fracing chemicals, gas and oil regulations and air quality…

Billing himself as “hands-down, the water expert in the Colorado General Assembly,” [State Senator Bruce] Whitehead, a water engineer, said he’s worked toward “balance” in the Assembly.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Dust on snow

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From The Durango Telegraph (Will Sands):

Scientists have long known that dust was changing the reflective properties of snowfields and increasing the speed of runoff each year. However, this study is the first to measure the full impact of dust storms on snowmelt rates and basin runoff. The team examined run-off in the Upper Colorado River basin between 1915-2003 and then simulated conditions prior to the settlement of the region in the mid-1800s. Lake sediment cores show that dust deposits in the San Juan Mountains increased by between 500 and 600 percent since the Southwest was settled. Based on these values, the team discovered that the Colorado River basin is experiencing a 35-billion cubic foot reduction in water every year because of dust. That amounts to enough water to supply the City of Los Angeles for 18 months. “Actions to stabilize soils and minimize activities that disturb soils could potentially decrease dust emissions and the loss of runoff,” argued Tom Painter, the team leader and a snow hydrologist with NASA.

Ronni Egan, executive director of the Durango-based Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said residents of the Southwest should be taken aback by the numbers.

Energy policy — nuclear: Cotter Corp, Inc. is refusing to pay fines levied by Colorado over uranium polluted groundwater at the Schwartzwalder mine

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via the Grand Junction Free Press:

State regulators on Monday were moving to increase a $55,000 fine and schedule another enforcement hearing in November. They said unless emergency powers can be invoked, state law leaves few other options. “It’s the drinking water supply. We’re very concerned about it. We’re doing everything we can,” said senior environment protection specialist Tony Waldron of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources.

Since April, Cotter, a subsidiary of San Diego-based General Atomics, has faced repeated state orders to pump and treat toxic water filling the mine, northwest of Golden along Ralston Creek. The creek, which flows into Denver Water’s Ralston Reservoir, contains uranium levels as high as 310 parts per billion — more than 10 times the 30 ppb health standard for drinking water. State officials had offered to suspend all but $2,500 of current fines if Cotter would comply by Aug. 31…

A pumping operation begun in July removes contaminants from surface alluvial ponds along Ralston Creek, he said. But water in the 2,000-foot- deep mine shaft is untouched. Cotter contends water in the mine shaft is not connected to groundwater. State mining regulators argue that water in the mine is connected to both groundwater and the creek. The mine water contains uranium at levels more than 1,000 times state and federal standards. A state inspection this month found the water had risen to 14 feet below the rim of the mine, from 29 feet below it in May.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

According to letters (pdf) obtained by the Colorado Independent, Cotter Corp. – which owns the Cotter Mill near Cañon City – has declined to pay a $55,000 fine for uranium pollution 1,200 times state standards contaminating Ralston Creek, a feeder for Ralston Reservoir, which is Denver Water and City of Arvada drinking water supply. “Cotter reserves all of its rights to administrative and judicial review as provided under Colorado law, and Cotter has exercised and will continue to exercise such rights as necessary,” the company wrote in a Sept. 10 letter to the state Mined Land Reclamation Board (MLRB). “Accordingly, Cotter respectfully declines to remit the penalty under the MLRB Order.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

“Cotter is playing political football with our health by refusing to test for the rate of radon pollution entering our community,” said Sharyn Cunningham of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.

Cotter employees still test for abundant limits or radon concentrations being released from the facility at numerous gauges stationed around the entire mill facility, [John Hamrick, mill manager] said…

Hamrick said the difference of opinion comes from changes to 1989 Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing uranium mill tailing impoundments — both active and those under reclamation. EPA rescinded the under-reclamation standards in early 2000 because they were nearly identical to Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards, Hamrick said. When Cotter declared it would no longer operate using the secondary impoundment, the company felt it no longer needed to test for radon flux because the impoundment is in reclamation. According to an EPA letter dated Aug. 25, Deborah Lebow Aal, chief of the indoor air, toxics and transportation unit, said Cotter needs to submit an application for approval of modification before it can stop radon flux testing. Aal also pointed out, “We also have not yet received an annual report for the 2008 radon flux testing from the secondary impoundment.”[…]

Cotter’s mill is licensed but has been inactive since 2005. The company is in the process of tearing down old mill buildings to make room for new construction, should studies indicate a new mill would be feasible. “We have been doing lots of operational studies to see if we can get back into operation. The old equipment needs to be disposed of so we can build an all-new mill,” Hamrick said.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste filed the lawsuit in Denver District Court against the state health department and others. It says the department has estimated it will cost at least $43 million to decommission and decontaminate Cotter’s mill, which is a Superfund site, but that the state let Cotter set its financial surety at just $20.2 million.

More coverage from The Denver Post (Tom McGhee):

Cañon City-area residents have sued state regulators, accusing them of cutting a deal that slashed the amount Cotter Corp. must set aside for cleanup of a uranium mill. The suit by Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste names Steve Tarlton, manager of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s radiation control program, and the agency…

The 19-page suit claims the health department estimated that the cost of cleaning up and remediating groundwater contamination at the mill outside Cañon City would top $43 million, but it required Cotter to post a bond of about $20.2 million. “The resulting deficiency leaves the state of Colorado, and the local citizens . . . at significant financial and environmental risk, as the funds necessary for decommissioning and decontamination of the facility are insufficient to accomplish these required closure activities,” the suit states.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

The Uranium Processing Accountability Act passed last legislative session calls for public notice and comment periods when state regulators – in this case officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) – negotiate the amount of money companies must post against future cleanup costs or pay for ongoing cleanup efforts. As revealed by the Colorado Independent in June, Cotter Corp. disagreed with state estimates that it would cost $43.7 million to clean up the Cotter Mill near Cañon City. CDPHE officials reportedly agreed to just $20.2 million in cleanup costs at the EPA Superfund Cleanup site. The lawsuit (pdf) claims the deal lacked transparency as required by the new law.

More nuclear coverage here and here.