CWCB: Water Availability Task Force

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Below are my notes from today’s meeting:

Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi announced that the state drought plan is finished and was approved 2 weeks ago by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (along with the flood mitigation plan). The documents have been forwarded to the Colorado Division of Emergency Management for approval then on to Governor Ritter.

Ms. Hutchins-Cabibi reported also that the task force is looking for a mechanism to bring long-term forecasts back into the agenda.

State Climatologist’s Report

Nolan Doesken reported that the temperature for the last couple of months has been, “cheating more and more on the warm side,” and that, “for most of the state the summer has been warm.”

In September Colorado saw a, “drying out to the point of no precipitation in some areas,” he said.

The Southwestern Monsoon, “Doesn’t always cover the whole state, Doesken added, but, “Overall for the water year we’re seeing a near average water year through August.”

Grand Lake, “will not have its driest year on record,” after all, according to Doesken, but it is close. He added that he wonders how the location of the weather station is affecting readings and are they still representative of the area at that site.

Karen Rademacher from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District echoed the concern saying that, “We’re not seeing the same situation,” in Grand County. In fact, she said, if, “we have anywhere near a normal snowpack Lake Granby will spill next year.”

Montrose has had near average precipitation for the water year. Mesa Verde has seen average precipitation as well thanks to a good monsoon season. The Rio Grande Basin will end the year below average.

Burlington however has experienced the second “extraordinarily wet year,” in a row, he said. They’ve received 25 inches this water year and 20 inches last water year. This dovetails with a short report from the Colorado Department of Agriculture representative (I didn’t catch his name) saying that it has been a fantastic year for agriculture on the eastern plains.

Fort Collins should end up right at the long-term average for precipitation, according to Doesken. Boulder will have an above average water year with a, “very dry ending,” he said. He showed last week’s U.S. Drought Monitor which is showing an, “expansion of dry areas,” in northern Colorado.

Natural Resources Conservation Service report

I thought we were going to get a very short report when Mike Gillespie started his presentation by saying that there is, “still no snow to report.” He did however have a report on precipitation totals, trends and reservoir storage from around the state.

The Yampa-White precipitation is sitting at 92% of average. The Upper Colorado River Basin reservoir storage is at 92% of the long term average, he said, adding that they are, “going into the new water year in good shape.”

In the South Platte Basin precipitation is at 92% of average and reservoir storage is 112% of average which is 98% of the total in water year 2009. The basin is, “going into the new water year in good shape as well,” he said.

Down in southwestern Colorado they have a long way to go to get back to average after a, “couple of below average water years back to back,” but reservoir storage is, “slightly above average,” according to Gillespie.

The Rio Grande basin needed a good monsoon to get to precipitation up to 93% of average while reservoir storage is 84% of average. The Arkansas Basin precipitation stands at 90% of average and reservoir storage is 94% of average, he said.

Statewide water year precipitation is 92% and will not improve since, “September has definitely been a dry month,” said Gillespie. Statewide reservoir storage is 103% of average.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead

Just for grins the task force likes to keep an eye on the two big reservoirs on the Colorado River downstream from the “Rooftop of America”. Ms. Hutchins-Cabibi reported that Lake Powell is sitting at 65% of capacity while Lake Mead is at 39% of capacity and dropping. The system is at 56% of capacity which is, “slightly lower that last year at this time.”

More CWCB coverage here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Later this afternoon, Monday September 27, we will drop the release from Ruedi Reservoir to the Fryingpan River by 50 cfs. That will put flows in the ‘Pan by the Ruedi Dam gage at about 165 cfs.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

Trout Unlimited volunteer awards

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Congratulations to Sharon Lance of Centennial, the winner of Trout Unlimited’s top volunteer honor recently. Here’s the post from their weblog. They write:

During her 20-year involvement in TU, Lance has held numerous volunteer leadership positions, including president of the Cutthroat Chapter, located in suburban Denver. She has served as Colorado Trout Unlimited’s treasurer, vice president and president. She has, for the last five years, served as a trustee on TU’s board of trustees…

… [Lance] was a driving force in creating Colorado Trout Unlimited’s River Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp, a camp that teaches conservation and fly fishing to children ages 14 to 18. She was instrumental in bringing the Trout in the Classroom program to Colorado, an educational curriculum that teaches children about trout and conservation by having students raise trout in their classrooms.

Here’s the full list of volunteer awards.

CWCB: Alternative Agricultural Water Transfer Grant Program

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is pleased to announce an additional round of grant funding under the Alternative Agricultural Water Transfer Grant Program. The purpose of this grant program is to advance various agricultural transfer methods as alternatives to permanent agricultural dry-up, including but not limited to: interruptible water supply agreements, long-term agricultural land fallowing, and water banks.

At its meeting on September 15th, the CWCB approved the program’s criteria and guidelines intended to provide guidance to those interested in applying for grant funds. Approved projects should provide usable and transferable information that will increase our understanding of how to successfully design transfer programs that provide a long-term, reliable water supply while sustaining meaningful agricultural production. The grant program was initiated in 2007 and to-date, the CWCB has awarded $1.5 million in grants to further alternative methods to the permanent dry up of irrigated lands. While these projects are still underway, valuable findings have been made. The project sponsors have identified areas where more work may be necessary before alternative transfer methods are more fully accepted by irrigators and cities. It is expected that these monies should fund projects that build upon work performed in the initial funding round. It should be emphasized that projects throughout the State of Colorado are eligible for funding whereas the first round of grant funding was limited to projects located within the Arkansas and South Plate river basins. An overview of the program, the criteria and guidelines and the grant application can be found on the CWCB website at: http://cwcb.state.co.us/LoansGrants/alternative-agricultural-water-transfer-methods-grants.

The Board has $1.5 million available for grants and will consider applications at its January 25-26, 2011 meeting. Applications must be delivered to the CWCB offices no later than November 26, 2010.

For more information about this program, please contact Todd Doherty at 303-866-3441 x 3210.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update

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From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Bette McFarren):

[Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Manager Jim Broderick] and his staff have figured out a financial model which will be affordable for the “Big Eight” participants: La Junta, Lamar, Las Animas, Rocky Ford, May Valley, Fowler, St. Charles Mesa, and Crowley County Water Association and also all other conduit participants. “It’s better than I thought it would be,” said Joe Kelley, director of [La Junta] water and waste water…

This year the master contract participants and the conduit project agreed to share expenses for the Environmental Impact Study, saving money for both entities. The study is in progress and will be completed by December 2012. The expected date for the conduit project to be online is 2021, said Broderick. This is very close to the payoff date for La Junta’s reverse osmosis plant, 2023, which will free up money for operation and maintenance. Water from the conduit will be much freer from contaminants than the water presently processed, saving on the plant operation and maintenance costs, plus providing better water to the city.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Elevated Nitrogen and Phosphorus Still Widespread in Much of the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater

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Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey.

Elevated concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and human health, have remained the same or increased in many streams and aquifers across the Nation since the early 1990’s, according to a new national study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“This USGS report provides the most comprehensive national-scale assessment to date of nitrogen and phosphorus in our streams and groundwater,” said Marcia McNutt, USGS Director. “For years we have known that these same nutrients in high concentrations have resulted in ‘dead zones’ when they reach our estuaries, such as during the spring at the mouth of the Mississippi, and now we have improved science-based explanations of when, where, and how elevated concentrations reach our streams and aquifers and affect aquatic life and the quality of our drinking water.”

“Despite major Federal, State and local efforts and expenditures to control sources and movement of nutrients within our Nation’s watersheds, national-scale progress was not evident in this assessment, which is based on thousands of measurements and hundreds of studies across the country from the 1990’s and early 2000’s,” said Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nutrient pollution has consistently ranked as one of the top three causes of degradation in U.S. streams and rivers for decades.

USGS findings show that widespread concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus remain two to ten times greater than levels recommended by the EPA to protect aquatic life. Most often, these elevated levels were found in agricultural and urban streams. These findings show that continued reductions in nutrient sources and implementation of land-management strategies for reducing nutrient delivery to streams are needed to meet EPA recommended levels in most regions.

Nutrients occur naturally in water and are needed for plant growth and productive aquatic ecosystems; however, in high concentrations nutrients often result in the growth of large amounts of algae and other nuisance plants in streams, lakes and estuaries. The decay of these plants and algae can cause areas of low dissolved oxygen, known as hypoxic, or “dead,” zones that stress or kill aquatic life. Some forms of algae release toxins that can result in health concerns.

The study also found that nitrate is a continuing human-health concern in many shallow aquifers across the Nation that are sources of drinking water. In agricultural areas, more than one in five shallow, private wells contained nitrate at levels above the EPA drinking water standard. The quality and safety of water from private wells—which are a source of drinking water for about 40 million people—are not regulated by the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act and are the responsibility of the homeowner.

Because nitrate can persist in groundwater for years and even decades, nitrate concentrations are likely to increase in aquifers used for public drinking-water supplies during at least the next decade, as shallow groundwater with high nutrient concentrations moves downward into deeper aquifers.

“Strategies designed to reduce nutrient inputs on the land will improve the quality of water in near-surface parts of aquifers; however, decades may pass before quality improves in deeper parts of the aquifer, which serve as major sources for public-supply wells,” said Neil Dubrovsky, USGS hydrologist and lead scientist on this study. “Unfortunately, similar time delays for improvements are expected for streams that receive substantial inputs of groundwater”

A variety of sources can contribute nutrients to surface and groundwater, such as wastewater and industrial discharges, fertilizer and manure applications to agricultural land, runoff from urban areas, and atmospheric sources. USGS findings show that nutrient sources and resulting concentrations vary across the Nation. For example, concentrations of nitrogen generally are highest in agricultural streams in the Northeast, Midwest, and the Northwest, which have some of the most intense applications of fertilizer and manure in the Nation.

Differences in concentrations across the Nation also are due to natural features and human activities. For example, concentrations of nitrogen in streams draining parts of the agricultural Midwest are increased by contributions from artificial subsurface tile drains that are used to promote rapid dewatering of poorly drained soils. Conversely, concentrations of nitrate in streams draining parts of the Southeast appear to dissipate faster as a result of enhanced natural removal processes in soils and streams.

“This nationwide assessment of sources and natural and human factors that control how nutrients enter our streams and groundwater helps decision-makers anticipate where watersheds are most vulnerable to contamination and set priorities and management actions in different geographic regions of the country,” said Dubrovsky.

More water pollution coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Health effects of the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site public meeting recap

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

Representatives from ATSDR’s Atlanta and Denver offices were in Cañon City to meet with members of the public about the assessment. Teresa Fowler, environmental health scientist and one of the authors of the document said the agency used data gathered during the last 30 years by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, Cotter and Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste.

Fowler and her co-author, Michael Brooks, senior health physicist, looked at various pathways of contamination, including groundwater, local produce, sediment, soil, surface water and air. The officials explained their findings and answered citizens’ questions about the document and the process. “The main point is, if they have a private well in the contamination area, the water should not be used domestically,” Fowler said. She said as a precaution, the water should not be used to water vegetables either.

The agency made four main conclusions in the document:

— Drinking water for many years from contaminated private wells could have harmed people’s health. ATSDR recommends people do not use contaminated well water for household use.

— Accidentally eating or touching soil and sediment near the Cotter Mill property or in Lincoln Park will not harm people’s health. However, ATSDR cannot make conclusions about soils near Cotter Mill if the properties closest to the facility are developed for residential or other non-industrial uses in the future.

— Residents should limit their use of contaminated well water to irrigate their vegetables. Exposure to molybdenum through locally-grown vegetables irrigated with private well water is not thought to be at levels that would harm people’s health; however as a precaution the vegetables should be thoroughly cleaned prior to eating them. Residents who eat many locally-grown fruits and vegetables could be at higher risk for arsenic exposure. This exposure is thought to be a regional concern.

— Air emissions of particle-bound radionuclides have not resulted in exposures to the public at levels that could cause health effects.

More coverage from Rachel Alexander writing for the Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste has filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over the amount of the surety of Cotter Uranium Mill. The suit charges that the radiation control regulators within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ignored state law, including requirements of the Uranium Processing Accountability Act, which Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law in June.

More nuclear coverage here and here.