North Fork of the Gunnison River ‘River Watch’ group update

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From the Delta County Independent (Ann Santo):

Because no baseline water quality data existed on the North Fork of the Gunnison River and its tributaries, River Watch began monitoring in 2001 with the support of the North Fork River Improvement Association (NFRIA) and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division (CWQCD). Over the past 10 years, more than 40 individuals have volunteered their Wednesdays to go out and monitor, come rain or shine, or snow. The volunteers include biochemists, farmers, teachers and retirees, and they all have different reasons for getting involved.

Phil Johnson of Paonia has been an NFRIA River Watch volunteer since it began. He said, “I look forward to River Watch every month . . . It gives me a chance to do something I wouldn’t normally get to do, out in the field and then in the lab. Also, it’s really good company.”

Bob Halley, a Cedaredge farmer, likes the technical and political aspects of water monitoring. “Monitoring programs that collect data for the long-term are essential,” he said. “Other monitoring programs are not capable of getting into specific areas with enough detail. A program like ours really helps fill that gap.”

Meanwhile, from the Delta County Independent:

Whether you have a PhD in water chemistry, or are just interested in learning about water quality in the North Fork River, NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center wants you to participate in the first ever North Fork Water Quality Monitoring Committee meeting. The meeting will be held at the Paonia Public Library at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4…

The purpose of this first meeting is to get you acquainted with the three water monitoring programs going on in the valley, and the 10 years of water quality data NFRIA volunteers have already collected. Things to be discussed in this meeting and at future meetings might include: Why and where are we monitoring? What questions would we like to answer with our monitoring? Do we need to change or add to our current monitoring programs? How are we using our monitoring data? How should we use it?

Email sarah@coloradowater.org or call 527-5307 x203 if you plan to attend the meeting, or would like to be included in future meetings.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here.

Partners Sign Gunnison Basin Selenium Management Program Memorandum of Understanding

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Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Hock/Steve McCall):

Reclamation announced today that a Memorandum of Understanding to form a Selenium Management Program in the Gunnison Basin was signed by federal and non-federal partners. The SMP is being formed based on the 2009 Gunnison River Basin Programmatic Biological Opinion released from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The PBO identifies a selenium issue in the lower Gunnison Basin and states “the ongoing operation of irrigation projects and other water uses in the basin will continue to contribute selenium to the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers at levels that adversely affect the endangered fishes and their designated critical habitat.”

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is required by all life at low concentrations. However, higher selenium concentration in streams and lakes can lead to reduced reproduction and deformities in fish and in waterfowl. Locally, selenium comes from the Mancos shale where it is picked up by water seeping from canals and ponds, and percolating through soils beneath irrigated fields and lawns. “Signing the MOU is important because it fulfills the first major milestone required by the PBO” said Carol DeAngelis, Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office manager. “The partners in the MOU have agreed to work together to find ways to reduce selenium in the Gunnison Basin.”

The goal of the SMP is to reduce adverse effects of selenium on endangered fish species in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. This goal will be achieved by incorporating and accelerating ongoing irrigation system improvement efforts and other programs in the Uncompahgre Valley and other portions of the lower Gunnison River Basin to reduce the amount of selenium in the river.

Partners of the MOU include: Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Pagosa Springs: Town officials are chasing USDA grant funds for new wastewater treatment plant

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Here’s a look at the complicated financing web that the town of Pagosa Springs in trying to spin to fund their new wastewater treatement plant from, Jim McQuiggin writing for the Pagosa Sun). Here’s an excerpt:

In early 2010, the town’s fortunes changed. Personnel changes at the USDA created a friendlier environment for the [Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District] and it was suggested that the board take a second bite at the apple. Submitting preliminary paperwork to the USDA last spring, both Mitchem and PSSGID Supervisor Phil Starks presented an optimistic picture to the board. Given details of a report that was seemingly positive as far as its potential return on investment, the board gave Mitchem and Starks the green light to renew the pursuit of USDA funding. Mitchem could not say how much money the USDA might provide for the new facility. When asked if the funding would meet the almost $6 million price tag previously estimated for the project, Mitchem responded, “The real answer is, we don’t know yet and we won’t know yet.”

More wastewater coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: Rio Grande River erosion mitigation project update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Heather Messick, an employee of the project, said it is designed to stabilize the river’s banks and stem erosion, which increases sediment in the river. More sediment can alter the river’s channel, heat up water temperatures to the detriment of fish and change the riparian habitat as the river eats more of its unstable banks. Gone are banks that resembled cliff faces and stood as high as 14 feet over the river in spots. In their place are sloping banks that gradually push back to the flood plain.

The project also includes a series of rock barbs that jut into the river channel. The piles of rock push the river’s current into the center of the channel and away from the banks. It’s expected they will keep the banks in place until willows can spread.

The shrubs carry an added benefit of being the primary habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species that makes its home along rivers in six other Southwestern states.

Unlike much of the Arkansas Valley, tamarisk invasion is not a threat to the exposed banks. Messick said researchers aren’t entirely sure why the invasive plant hasn’t taken root in the San Luis Valley, but hypotheses range from the valley’s cooler temperature to its higher altitude.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Douglas County: Colorado Congressional Delegation Supports Efforts for Chatfield Study

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Here’s a release from the Douglas County Water Resource Authority (Thanks to Mark Shively for the link):

A study process concerning how water can best be stored at Chatfield Reservoir will soon be moving forward to invite public comment. The effort at Chatfield has brought together farmers in northern Colorado, municipal water users in Douglas and Arapahoe Counties, as well as recreational and environmental users throughout the Metro Denver area. “This sort of cooperation is unprecedented”, said Jeff Shoemaker, Executive Director of The Greenway Foundation, an environmental advocate for Front Range water issues.

Colorado’s federal elected officials have been instrumental in the success of this process. All nine members of the delegation recently pulled together in signing a letter of support for the completion of the study in a timely fashion. Sen. Udall’s staff helped pull together this joint letter effort. Sen. Michael Bennet personally made telephone calls to help facilitate communication with Federal agencies. Congresswoman Betsy Markey directed her staff to attend meetings with the Chatfield supporters to talk out issues with federal agencies. Congressman Ed Perlmutter worked hard to make sure the Chatfield study is completed, not lost in the shuffle with other Federal initiatives. Congresswoman DeGette and Congressman Coffman directed their staff to participate in conference calls on important interagency cooperation. Congressman John Salazar and Congressman Doug Lamborn have been untiring in their support for good process and successful completion of the study effort. Without this support and teamwork from our Federal elected officials, this important cooperative study of a Front Range water project may not have been possible.

The state is the local sponsor of the effort. Special thanks to Gov. Ritter for his letters of support.

The study will determine if additional water can be stored at the existing facility, without having to perform any new construction on the existing dam facilities. The study will consider mitigation of environmental impacts as well as recreational modifications that will be required at the facility. “This is a Win-Win-Win situation for the environment, for recreational users, and for water users. It could be water supply for farmers to grow crops, and water for families along the Front Range” said Shoemaker, who also heads the Foundation for Colorado State Parks. The process is being directed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and water users with service areas that stretch from Park County, through the Denver Metro area, to Ft. Morgan. Invitation for public comment on the process is expected early next year.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

San Luis Valley: Now is the time for sandhill crane viewing

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From the Associated Press (Jan Nesset) via Washington Examiner:

Miller said the ducks and geese depart when temperatures consistently dip below freezing. Colonial waterbirds, such as the white-faced ibis, snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons, are already gone, he said, but sandhill cranes remain in abundance. Vocal birds, a spree of squeaky-wheel yawps from a congregation of excited sandhill cranes is unforgettable. In the fall, sandhill cranes use the San Luis Valley as a major stopover point on their migration from their breeding grounds in the greater Yellowstone area. From the valley, cranes fly to wintering grounds in New Mexico. “Right now, we have about the peak numbers that we’ll have in the fall,” Miller said. “We’d estimate about 18,000 to 20,000.”

Meanwhile the San Luis Valley irrigation ditches will be turned off on Monday. Here’s a report from the Valley Courier. From the article:

The November 1 ending of the season applies to all irrigation ditches and canals that divert water from the Rio Grande or its tributaries in Water District 20, and it also applies to all irrigation wells in Water District 20, which is generally the drainage area of the Rio Grande above Alamosa.

More Rio Grande Basin coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: Water court judge Dennis Maes signs new surface water irrigation rules

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“The process worked,” said State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who filed the application for the rules. “That was our vision from the outset. Even after we filed the rules, we continued to work with the objectors, and that led to productive changes in the rules.” Settlements reached earlier this month with all of the objectors in the case avoided the need for a trial that was scheduled for November.

The rules apply only to the Arkansas River basin and are designed to prevent farm improvements such as sprinklers, drip irrigation or canal lining from increasing consumptive use, in order to comply with the Arkansas River Compact between Colorado and Kansas…

The rules become effective Jan. 1 and require anyone making an improvement to a surface irrigation system to file an application. Those who installed sprinklers or drip irrigation systems after Oct. 1, 1999, also must file.

The rules were first suggested in 2007 by Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte to address the possibility that farm efficiencies would increase consumptive use and deplete return flows — the water that drains off fields. That could violate a section of the Arkansas River Compact that prohibits developing “works” that increase the use of water in Colorado. Kansas sued Colorado in 1985, leading to a 24-year lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court…

There are three ways of complying with the rules: through direct engineering reports, under a general permit or through a compact compliance plan. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is developing a compliance plan, which would charge farmers for administration and allow those who show a gain in return flows under the model to claim a credit. The compliance plan would be for farmers in the areas below Pueblo Dam.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Southern Delivery System update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

SDS is still on course for completion by 2016, [John Fredell, SDS project director] said…

The first phase of SDS — pipelines, pump stations and a treatment plant — would cost $880 million and require $2.3 billion in financing costs. Colorado Springs water rates are expected to double by the time it’s built. Colorado Springs has spent $108.3 million on SDS so far and issued the first round of bonds to pay for the project. Money has been spent primarily on permitting, engineering, land acquisition and project management.

Growth is only one of the primary reasons for constructing SDS, Fredell said. “It’s also related to reliability of supplies, drought protection and the backup of our other pipelines,” Fredell said.

The Homestake system, which brings water from the Eagle River through a tunnel into Turquoise Lake and through the Otero Pipeline, has been taken offline seven times in the last 10 years, most recently for six months, he noted. “Reliability goes beyond that, however,” Fredell said. “We also have to take drought, climate change and Colorado River issues into account.”[…]

Colorado Springs and its SDS partners are still working out contract details with the Bureau of Reclamation for the storage and delivery contracts needed to make the project a reality. Public negotiations on the SDS contracts wrapped up in August, but the final contracts have not been prepared.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Aurora: Prairie Waters Project update

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From Water and Wastewater (Lori Irvine):

The city of Aurora recently celebrated the completion of the Prairie Waters Project, an innovative and environmentally friendly water system that was finished ahead of schedule and more than $100 million under budget.

A large Colorado crowd excited to see the completion of the $653 million project gathered Friday, Oct. 8, for the system’s formal dedication. Speakers included Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, Interim City Manager Nancy Freed, Aurora Water Director Mark Pifher, former Aurora Water Director Peter Binney and CH2M HILL Chairman and CEO Lee McIntire whose company provided design and program management services.

The project is the fastest, most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way to meet Aurora’s water needs and went from design to completion in just five years. Construction broke ground in July 2007. The system includes 34 miles of 60-inch diameter pipeline, three pump stations, a natural purification area and a new water treatment facility that is one of the most technologically advanced in the country.

More Prairie Waters coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is asking oil companies to develop baseline water data prior to drilling

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From the Fort Collins Coloradodan (Bobby Magill):

The tests, which will establish a baseline for water quality where oil and gas companies are rushing to buy up mineral leases so they can drill the potentially oil-rich Niobrara Formation, are a protective measure required in southern Weld County but not yet in far Northern Colorado. “It’s an area where we don’t have a lot of baseline information at this time, and where we are anticipating significant oil and gas development in the future,” said David Neslin, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director.

The information will help the state respond to residents’ complaints about suspected domestic water well contamination from nearby oil and gas development, he said.

The region between Grover and Wellington and around the Pawnee Buttes is becoming a hotspot for oil drilling after a new oil well in northern Weld County gushed 1,700 barrels of oil in one day last year.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

2010 Colorado elections: Scientist Scott Denning tells Ken Buck, ‘Quite simply, there is no hoax in studying climate change’

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From the Colorado Independent (John Tomasic):

“The basic science of the effect of human-produced CO2 on climate change is 150 years old,” said Colorado State University climatologist Scott Denning at the conference called by the League of Conservation Voters. ThinkProgress writer Brad Johnson followed up with Dennis Ojima, chair of Colorado State’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, who offered the rhetorical equivalent of burying his face in his hands, aghast.

“Quite simply, there is no hoax in studying climate change.”

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

This week, we have begun to cut back our releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River. Earlier this week, we began scaling down from the 730 cfs range. This morning, we cut back another 100 cfs from 500 to 400 cfs.

Energy policy — nuclear: Powertech is forging ahead with their in-situ project in Weld County

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From the North Forty News (Dan MacArthur):

Powertech president and chief executive officer Richard Clement recanted his earlier statement that the new rules would be “fatal” to in-situ leach uranium mining operations such as its proposed Centennial Project between Wellington and Nunn. “We can live with them,” Clement said in a recent telephone interview. “They are not fatal to the project.”[…]

Clement maintained that permitting work on the proposed Centennial mine is proceeding toward an anticipated application for a mining permit in 2011…

Clement said most of the pre-application work is completed and data is being collated. “We have the majority of information needed,” he said. A required pump test remains to be completed, Clement said. The test is necessary to determine whether Powertech’s recently proposed “aquifer enhancement” is viable. The plan calls for injecting fresh water into the aquifer beneath the mine site to facilitate extraction of the uranium ore. Clement blamed the delay on the Environmental Protection Agency, which must approve the test…

Based on an independent primary economic assessment to determine the project’s viability, Clement in an Aug. 20 press release asserted that “the project is one of the best undeveloped uranium deposits in the (United States).” “Centennial is the centerpiece of a new (in-situ recovery) uranium district and has all the earmarks of becoming a new large production center around which many other uranium deposits will be developed,” he continued.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

2010 Colorado elections: Gubernatorial candidates sound off on environmental issues

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Water

Water presents a major challenge, Tancredo and Hickenlooper agreed. But they clash on how to meet future needs.

Hickenlooper cited Denver’s 19 percent reduction of per-capita water use since 2001. Urban providers can cooperate with farmers, perhaps paying them not to plant fields every fifth year so that cities could claim unused water, he said. “Until we really look at where water conservation takes us, we need to be careful about getting too excited about new projects,” Hickenlooper said. “I’m not saying we don’t need some more storage, but it might not be as much storage as people think.”

Tancredo contends new supplies are needed statewide. “We must expand our existing storage capacity, look for opportunities to construct new storage capacity and improve our conservation efforts,” he said. State leaders must review proposed projects, consulting with stakeholders and affected communities, Tancredo said. Enlarging Pueblo Reservoir and the Northern Integrated Supply Project are projects he supports.

Meanwhile the Colorado Conservation Victory Fund is still running radio spots blasting Tom Tancredo for his support of Referendum A in 2003. Here’s a report from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Colorado Conservation Victory Fund first launched the Dr. Seuss-inspired radio spots last week, with its rhyming slam of Tancredo running on 34 stations in 18 counties an average of 5-6 times a day. Now, according to Colorado Conservation Voters Executive Director Pete Maysmith, the spots are back by popular demand and will run through Tuesday’s election. And, actually, Maysmith said he was more inspired by Ed Quillen’s Sept. 30 column in the Denver Post entitled “The Curse of Ref. A.” Quillen’s column detailed the political misfortunes of Republicans who backed the measure, including GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck, who is the subject of a League of Conservation TV ad (video below) on his backing of Referendum A. The poetic tone of the CCV radio spots was just an attempt to counter the doom-and-gloom cacophony of the current election advertising cycle.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

R.I.P. John Sayre

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From The Denver Post (Virginia Culver):

John Sayre, considered a national expert in water law, died Oct. 19. He was 88. He died of natural causes at his home in Bend, Ore., where he and his wife, Jean Sayre, had moved a few years ago. “He was definitely an expert and one of the leading attorneys of his time in Colorado water law,” said Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We appreciate the willingness of Aurora and the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority to take the long view for the benefit of their communities and ours,” Super Ditch President John Schweizer said. “We knew that if we could find a way to meet the city’s needs that also allowed farmers to keep on farming, we would have a good answer for both sides.”

The Pikes Peak group includes Fountain, Cherokee, Donala, Monument, Palmer Lake, Triview and Woodmen Hills water districts in El Paso County. The price of water in the two contracts is identical — $500 per acre-foot escalating according to a utilities price index over 40 years — but the conditions under which water would be purchased vary significantly.

The Pikes Peak group agreed to purchase up to 8,020 acre-feet annually — enough for about 20,000 homes in El Paso County — beginning at 2,000 acre-feet next year. The water would replace overworked groundwater supplies for most of the communities, and would be required annually. Right now, the only way to move the water is by exchange, but the Pikes Peak group is working toward using the Southern Delivery System that Colorado Springs is planning to construct. An environmental impact statement from the Bureau of Reclamation would be required to move water through the pipeline from Pueblo Dam…

Aurora already has the storage and exchange potential to move water, through the Homestake Project with Colorado Springs. Water stored at Twin Lakes is moved through the Otero Pumping Station, and Aurora’s share is delivered to Spinney Mountain Reservoir along the South Platte River…

The biggest hurdle could be the approval of ditch companies. Meetings are planned in early November to inform shareholders of all seven ditches of the details of the agreements. The Super Ditch is a private corporation of individual shareholders from the Bessemer, Catlin, Fort Lyon, High Line, Holbrook, Otero and Oxford ditches. Each ditch would have to look at changing bylaws to allow participation in the leases.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Beautiful snow

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Its the time of the year when irrigators and water supply folks keep one eye on the sky hoping for a walloping snowpack in Colorado’s mountains. This week we saw the first big statewide mountain storms of the year. Here’s a report from the Associated Press via The Denver Post. From the article:

About 18.5 inches of snow fell at the Eisenhower Tunnel on the road west of Denver, said Frank Benton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder. Weather spotters reported 19 inches near Silverthorne in Summit County.

From The Aspen Times (Janet Urguhart):

Winter arrived quickly in Aspen on Monday, shutting down the airport and Highway 82 over Independence Pass, and dumping about 9 inches of fresh snow on the upper ski slopes by early afternoon…

The first round of snow tapered off after depositing 6 to 7 inches of snow in town on Monday morning. The slopes of Aspen Mountain were covered, though the tall grass was poking through the blanket of white. Snowmass was sporting 18 inches of snow on the Big Burn by early afternoon — 9 inches that fell Monday morning and 9 inches from previous snowfall, according to Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman. Aspen Mountain had 13 inches on top, including 3 or 4 existing inches.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The storm dropped more than 8 inches new snow in some places in the Gore Range and Rabbit Ears Pass, and on Tuesday afternoon Winter Park Resort reported 18.5 inches in the past 24 hours and 22.5 inches total for this storm at mid-mountain. Granby and lower elevations saw 3-4 inches of snow on the ground.

Grand County: Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District plan to coordinate efforts to manage the impacts of the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Moffat Collection System Project

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Here’s a report from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

The news that Colorado’s largest utility companies Denver Water and Northern would be working together to manage impacts of their respective firming projects was a small victory for West Slope residents, who’ve feared either project could be approved without factoring in river depletions from the other. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is charged with working with each water provider to “create a healthy system downstream of Windy Gap,” said Ken Kehmeier, the Division of Wildlife’s senior biologist of northeast Colorado, speaking of the threatened upper Colorado River. “We hope the workshops with stakeholders can be a give and take, to come up with the most viable plan we can for the river.”[…[

“We need to be very diligent and thoughtful about what we put together,” said John Singletary, a Pueblo rancher and one of three Wildlife Commissioners who were present at the SilverCreek Convention Center in Granby on Oct. 28, “because too often in Colorado’s past, mistakes were made that can’t be corrected. And so I hope we are very diligent … I for one am delighted to hear the Northern District and Denver are going to work together on this thing, because I don’t know how we could ever make a decision on the future of the Colorado River without having that … The Colorado is a special place, and if we don’t treat this right, this will truly be the river of no return.”

Representatives from both Northern and Denver say the pledge to approach river health jointly is simply a continuation of what the agencies have already been doing…

Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project Manager Jeff Drager maintains that the “accumulative impacts” of the two projects already have been addressed in the district’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement and in the joint proposal of April 2009. But if working with Denver on the DOW’s plan “alleviates the fears from West Slope friends, then we’re fine with it,” he said…

Northern anticipates its Final Environmental Impact Statement will be released by this January, and Denver Water is planning for a mid-2011 release of its Moffat Final EIS, presently under review by the Army Corps of Engineers.

At its public meeting in Grand County, before individuals went to the microphone for the chance to voice their views, the Colorado Division of Wildlife presented its own data of East and West Slope impacts along with data from the Windy Gap draft EIS. The DOW highlighted a long list of river threats, such as decreases in trout populations, increased water temperatures, reduction in flows and decreases in fish food such as stoneflies and mayflies below Windy Gap, increased sedimentation, lower levels in Granby Reservoir and increased nutrient loading in Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs and Grand Lake. With the firming projects, the impacts would also affect kayaking and rafting on the Colorado River, create limited access to boat ramps on locations of Lake Granby, and create a detriment to fishing guide businesses — all hurting the local economy.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here. More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

2010 Colorado elections: The Glenwood Springs Post Independent endorses Kathleen Curry for state house

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

And, while incumbents of all political stripes are finding it hard to hold on to their seats in this season of political discontent, it’s Curry’s brand of common sense politics, as opposed to toe-the-line partisan politics, that makes her a breath of fresh air, even as an incumbent. We feel Curry’s move to leave the Democratic Party last year and become an unaffiliated independent legislator, as bold and risky as it was, is exactly what voters are desperately seeking in their elected representatives and candidates this election. In addition, Curry can be counted on to take a consistent and thoughtful stand on the issues that are important to the constituents in her district, not some prescribed platform that may not necessarily serve those interests. She also brings an educated and persuasive point of view on the water issues that affect Colorado as a whole, and, in turn, relate to so many other important issues, from agriculture and energy development to recreation and tourism. Her voice in these matters is invaluable.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Brush: City council approves wastewater treatment plant construction contract

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From the Brush News-Tribune (Jesse Chaney):

The approval of the $8,663,916 bid is contingent on the Oct. 29 closing of the loan between the city and the Colorado Water Resource and Power Development Authority. It is also contingent on the resolution of a possible patent infringement that has arisen with one of the subcontractors supplying a piece of equipment to the plant…The council approved a second motion granting Brush Administrator Monty Torres authority to issue a notice to proceed to Moltz Construction when the two contingencies identified have been resolved to his satisfaction.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Aurora inks deal with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The board sees the move as a way to preserve water rights ownership in the Lower Arkansas River basin while providing Aurora with the certainty it needs in water resource planning. “The reason we started working on the Super Ditch was because of the reality that the cities have water needs, part of which was going to come from agricultural water,” said John Schweizer, Super Ditch president. “These leases will allow us to spread the effects of moving water over a number of ditches and avoid the bad effects of buy and dry. These leases will provide farmers with another crop with a guaranteed price and help them manage their risk and their business.”

Under agreements reached with other water users in the Arkansas Valley, Aurora can lease water only three years of every 10. The leases are confined to years when Aurora’s water supply is at less than 60 percent capacity, as a way to make up for lost yield from the Arkansas Valley water rights it owns in Crowley, Lake and Otero counties…

Major provisions of the agreement between the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and Aurora:

– Aurora could buy up to 10,000 acre-feet of water per year until 2048 for any three years in a 10-year period up to a maximum of 145,200 acre-feet, provided that Aurora may lease more frequently in the final 15 years. The terms are the same as in Aurora’s 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which was reaffirmed in a six-party intergovernmental agreement in 2004.

– Aurora would pay $500 per acre-foot annually, which would be adjusted according the Colorado Municipal League index of Colorado utility costs.

– The Super Ditch, in cooperation with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, will provide legal counsel, engineering and other services to change water rights on the participating ditches. Aurora may participate as a co-applicant.

– Aurora is responsible for storage and exchange above Lake Pueblo. Aurora has obtained a contract from the Bureau of Reclamation for storage in Lake Pueblo and exchange to Twin Lakes for 10,000 acre-feet of water annually until 2048.

– Aurora agreed to support in concept legislation that would allow administrative approval of long-term temporary water transfers by the State Engineer.

– Aurora agreed to work with the High Line Canal board of directors and shareholders to sustain support of the Super Ditch water leasing program. Aurora reached a similar leasing agreement with the High Line board in 2008.

– The agreement is contingent on the signup of a sufficient amount of water, since water right owners in the Super Ditch are not required to participate in any specific lease agreement.

– Bylaws of participating ditches must be amended by Feb. 1, 2011.

– Aurora must comply with its 2009 agreement with the Lower Ark district, which stayed a federal lawsuit by the Lower Ark district against Reclamation over the Aurora contract. That agreement would extend restrictions on moving water out of the valley past the current 2048 date.

– County 1041 permits and Aurora City Council approval are required.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Colorado State University Study: Beavers Played Key Role in Rocky Mountain National Park History

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Around Coyote Gulch coyotes are our favorite western mammal, of course. Running a close second are beavers. Their role in the riparian environment is astonishing. Here’s a release from Colorado State University (Kimberly Sorenson) about the shaping of Rocky Mountain National Park and the influence of beavers there:

Scientists at Colorado State University who are studying different sites in Rocky Mountain National Park say that beavers may have played a key role in the formation of park valleys. Why is this important? By better understanding what the park’s ecological make-up was before European impacts were made in the early 19th century, researchers can provide historical context to park staff as they consider various restoration strategies.

“We are examining the characteristics of river corridors in Rocky Mountain National Park at different times in the past and then looking at what has changed since then,” said Ellen Wohl, professor of geosciences in the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. “Is it possible to restore the park to what it was prior to 1800 AD? What are the constraints on restoration? By taking a time machine approach, we can provide data to park staff on ways to return the park to its biologically diverse state.”

To answer these questions, CSU doctoral geosciences student Lina Polvi and geosciences master’s student Natalie Kramer are using diverse techniques to characterize the natural variability in geomorphic systems before European impact in sites around Rocky Mountain National Park, including Beaver Meadows.

“We are interested in whether post-glacial sediment accumulation has been gradual or episodic, and part of that is to understand the role of beaver dams and ponds on valley alluviation; the natural processes by which sediment accumulates,” Polvi said.

Today few, if any, beavers are in Beaver Meadows in part due to the extensive fur trapping in the 19th century that nearly wiped out the park’s beaver population and the previous heavy browsing of willow and aspen by elk; however, Rocky Mountain National Park is considering reintroducing beavers into suitable areas of the park.

Beavers create a unique dynamic in the valley ecosystems because they build dams, which in turn cause the formation of small ponds across the valley bottom, Wohl said. By spreading out water across a valley bottom, wetlands are created which provide habitats for plants and lots of organically rich “muck” that store carbon. These wetlands thus provide habitat that support food and shelter for beavers and other wildlife that depend on these biologically diverse systems.

“If we take away beavers, dams go away and we lose flooding in the valleys. Groundwater drops and dries out the valley bottom. Then hillside plants migrate to the valley bottom, creating a sort of xeriscaping of the mountain valley, and that is not good for biodiversity or carbon storage,” Wohl said.

“While some scientists may be skeptical of the validity and usefulness of historical range of variability, we firmly believe that in order for researchers to help make scientific recommendations to park management, we must know the full historical story of the park,” Kramer said. “And getting a better grasp on how beaver affected sedimentation in the park is just one piece of the puzzle.”

Sara Rathburn, associate professor of geosciences at Colorado State, is conducting similar research using historical range of variability tactics in the Upper Colorado River Valley on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rathburn and her students are using near-surface geophysical techniques and other methods to examine the relative importance of debris flows, fluvial sedimentation and beaver dams in post-glacial sedimentation of the Upper Colorado River Valley. This project was specifically initiated in response to the 2003 debris flow triggered by the breach of the Grand Ditch. The research is being conducted as a way to help park staff develop a restoration strategy to repair the damage caused by the breach.

All of this research will be presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. About 6,000 scientists are expected to attend.

Energy policy — nuclear: Proposed Piñon Ridge mill review on track

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Matthew Beaudin):

Right now, the CDPHE is wading through an application from Energy Fuels, Inc., that would erect a uranium mill at the bottom of western Colorado’s Paradox Valley, a high trench that cuts through red-rock walls between Telluride and Moab…

State officials are examining plans for the acreage, radiation protection protocols, decommissioning plans, financial assurances and environmental impacts. The state has repeatedly asked Energy Fuels to fill in blanks in its application — something CDPHE spokesperson Warren Smith said is a normal part of the review and not any indication of a poor proposal. In one correspondence between the state and Energy Fuels, state regulators are told by the company that they will beef up tailings protections, with deeper coverage and a liner with a radon barrier. “As you can see, there’s lots of clarifying questions that we ask throughout the process,” Smith said. “There’s a broad scope of information that we require.”

Colorado is an “agreement state,” meaning the state has an agreement with the federal Department of Energy that transfers reviewing authority to the state itself. “Our statutes and regulations must be at least as stringent as federal regulations,” Smith said. State rules can exceed federal ones, “and in some cases, they do.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

2010 Colorado elections: Michael Bennet narrows the polling gap

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Of course the only poll that matters is next week. Here’s a report from The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

A poll released Sunday by SurveyUSA showed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Ken Buck tied. A Pulse Opinion Research poll showed Buck led by 1 point, and a Reuters/Ipsos survey called Buck the leader by 3 percentage points. Each of those polls was conducted in mid-October, around the same time Rasmussen Reports released its most recent update on the race. The Rasmussen poll released showed Bennet had narrowed Buck’s lead to well within the margin of error. Buck led that poll 47 percent to 45 percent.

Meanwhile in the governor’s race John Hickenlooper is still leading according to a report from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Depending on which poll is to be believed, Democrat John Hickenlooper is either running away with the race for governor or American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo continues to close the gap. Tancredo’s campaign on Monday spotlighted a new survey by the Public Policy Polling group that showed Hickenlooper’s support at 47 percent and Tancredo’s at 44 percent. Only 5 percent supported Republican nominee Dan Maes. A Denver Post/9News poll, also released Monday, showed Hickenlooper to be comfortably in front, with 49 percent supportcomparedwith39 percent for Tancredo. That poll measured Maes’ support at 9 percent. A Magellan poll released Friday showed 44 percent support Hickenlooper, 43 percent support Tancredo and 9 percent support Maes.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear meets oil shale: Low water use liquid metal-cooled reactors key to proposed process

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From Shale and Sands Oil Recovery LLC via PRNewswire:

The method, invented by Thomas O’Brien (Shale and Sands Oil Recovery LLC), utilizes a high temperature nuclear reactor since the output temperature is over 500 degrees Celsius. The types of reactors that produce this heat level are liquid metal-cooled reactors (which use negligible water to operate) and high temperature gas-cooled reactors. With this level of heat production, supercritical material, such as small amounts of water, can be injected into the shale formation initially causing a much higher degree of permeability then forming a reservoir of crude oil that can be pumped from the formation using conventional drilling methods. Thomas O’Brien, a geoscientist with over 30 years of experience and expertise, developed the method by studying and working in the reservoir analysis area then on the use of supercritical materials in concert with experts on oil shale.

Here’s the lowdown on liquid metal-cooled reactors from Wikipedia. From the article:

Disadvantages include difficulties associated with inspection and repair of a reactor immersed in opaque molten metal, and depending on the choice of metal, corrosion and/or production of radioactive activation products may be an issue.

More nuclear coverage here and here. More oil shale coverage here and here.

CSU Water Center and the Colorado Water Institute: September/October 2010 issue of the Colorado Water newsletter

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Here’s the link.

More Colorado water coverage here.

Colorado Water Protective and Development Association open house in Ja Junta

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From the Ag Journal:

Colorado Water Protective and Development Association is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to protect and develop underground and surface waters of the Arkansas River Basin.

The CWPDA Board of Directors and office staff would like to invite the public to attend a Fall Harvest Open House the week of Oct. 25 – 29 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Refreshments will be served and there will be a door prize drawing. CWPDA, members are invited to stop in and say hi. For those interested in CWPDA or for those looking for a water association to help manage their augmentation needs, come in and see what CWPDA is all about.

The CWPDA office is located at 15 W. 4th Street in La Junta. For more information go to www.cwpda.org or call (719) 384-2754.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Climate change: A warming Arctic is pushing the jet stream further south

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice:

As the Arctic warms, changes in air pressure and circulation are pushing the jet stream farther south, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Arctic report card, released last week. The changes were especially noticeable inDecember 2009,when the normal climate pattern reversed. Higher pressures over the Arctic eliminated the normal west-to-east jet stream winds. That allowed cold air from the Arctic to penetrate all the way into Europe, eastern China, and Washington DC. As a result, December 2009 and February 2010 exhibited extremes in both warm and cold temperatures with record-setting snow across lower latitudes…,/p>

The changes in circulation include an unprecedented southerly wind flow from the Bering Strait across the North Pole. The Arctic Dipole Anomaly, as it’s been dubbed, was evident for the first time in 2007, when Arctic sea ice was at an all-time record low. The same wind pattern developed again in May and June 2009 and 2010. The NOAA scientists were cautious to say that individual weather extreme events cannot be directly linked to larger scale climate changes. But recent data analysis and modeling suggest a link between loss of sea ice and a shift to an increased impact from the Arctic on mid-latitude climate. “With future loss of sea ice, such conditions as winter 2009-2010 could happen more often, the report card concludes. “Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations.”

Trout Unlimited’s Kerber Creek Project receives U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s 2010 Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The BLM award is given to organizations that highlight environmental stewardship and acknowledges exceptional track records of meeting or exceeding federal, state or local reclamation requirements. “This project would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of our project partners at the BLM and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as from local landowners who are invested in restoring the creek from the effects of mining,” said Elizabeth Russell, Trout Unlimited’s manager for the project.

Since 2008, TU and its partners, including the federal agencies and local partners, have spent more than $1.3 million to restore Kerber Creek, a stream at the north end of the San Luis Valley. They have restored more than 40 acres of mine tailings. The impacts of mining led to metals pollution and a degraded stream channel along a 17-mile stretch of the creek, requiring it to be placed on the list of Colorado’s most impaired waterways.

More restoration coverage here. More Kerber Creek coverage here and here.

Upper Arkansas Valley: Lake Fork Watershed Working Group update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The watershed encompasses 86 square miles and includes Turquoise Lake as well as the former Sugarloaf Mining District. The elevation of the watershed ranges from 9,400 to 14.433 feet, and includes Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. The mining district was heavily mined and logged from the 1880s through the 1920s.
It drains into the Arkansas River south of Leadville. The goal of the program is to reduce the discharge of heavy metals such as zinc, lead, manganese and cadmium into the streams from old mine tailing piles…

A core of landowners who helped form the working group are still active but do not attend meetings as often as in the past, said Cathy Patti, CMC contract administrator. Federal agencies include the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. State agencies include the Department of Public Health and Environment, Division of Wildlife and the Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety. Local government, landowners and Trout Unlimited are also connected to the process. So far more than $1 million has been spent in restoration projects.

One of the pressing needs last year was to plug the Dinero Tunnel, which drains into Sugarloaf Gulch. Last week the group viewed three-dimensional maps that showed how water levels within old mining tunnels is backing up. New seeps are being tracked to determine whether water that once flowed out of the Dinero Tunnel is finding new ways out of the ground. Wetlands in the drainage also are maintained and monitored…

[Tor Parker and Rich Silky] were lining ditches with limestone above the Tiger Mine drainage to move water around tailings piles and to reduce acidity in water that drains off the piles. In addition, a large tailings pile at the mouth of the Tiger tunnel was moved and capped, and replanting has begun. Sulfur reduction ponds are being constructed where the tailings pile once sat. The progress of the work is judged by measuring the levels of contaminants in both the water and in fish tissue.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Republican River Water Conservation District board meeting recap

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From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The fate of Bonny, located in extreme southeastern Yuma County between Idalia and Burlington, was a topic of conversation during the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors meeting, last Thursday, October 14, in Wray. The fate of Colorado’s proposed compact compliance pipeline also was a conversation piece. Arbitrator Martha Pagel presented her findings October 7, from the pipeline trial held in Kansas City…

The board elected to hold off on making any decision until January’s quarterly meeting in regards to whether or not to move forward with the pipeline. There is hope Colorado and Kansas can continue to negotiate following Pagel’s ruling, and reach an agreement in which Kansas will approve the pipeline plan. The crediting issue is a key sticking point as Colorado had hoped to get 100 percent credit for all the pipeline water sent down the North Fork of the Republican River. Kansas had argued Colorado should receive 80 to 90 percent credit due to the negative impact of pumping water from the underground aquifer to feed the pipeline. The arbitrator had suggested the two states find a middle ground.

As for Bonny, its fate seems sealed after Pagel upheld Kansas’ point that the pipeline to the North Fork cannot make up for Colorado’s shortages on the South Fork. “Until Bonny Reservoir is drained, Colorado will not meet this test,” RRWCD engineer Jim Slattery told the board during its meeting last week, referring to the South Fork Sub-basin Impairment Test. The surface water at Bonny works against Colorado in regards to its allocation on the South Fork. When asked later in the meeting, Slattery said draining Bonny should solve the South Fork issue forever. If so, that would leave little left for Kansas to object to in regards to the pipeline. Attorney David Robbins asked Pete Ampe of the Attorney General’s Office if the arbitrator’s ruling forced a decision on Bonny. Ampe said it does, and the Department of Natural Resources was talking to the federal Department of the Interior about that issue. The RRWCD has been pushing for the draining of Bonny the past few years. Robbins noted that Pagel’s ruling actually helps with getting that done.

More Republican River basin coverage here.

2010 Colorado elections: The Fort Collins Coloradoan editorial board endorses Ken Buck over Michael Bennet

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

While it is irrefutable that Buck, a Republican, has offered some bone-headed sound bites, e.g., high heels, alcoholism and homosexuality, etc., voters are encouraged to take a little more time to hear where he stands on health-care reform, reducing the deficit, higher-education loans, Social Security and growing the economy. Frankly put, Buck excels beyond appointed incumbent Michael Bennet in articulating a clear path toward solutions.

The race for U.S. Senate is too close to call according to a report from The Denver Post via the Boulder Daily Camera. From thea article:

Colorado`s U.S. Senate race has clenched into a dead heat days before polls close, as incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet climbed to meet GOP hopeful Ken Buck`s early lead, each man garnering 47 percent support among likely and actual voters, according to a Denver Post/9 News poll…

According to the poll, 53 percent of respondents supporting Buck are men and 53 percent of respondents supporting Bennet are women. That means about 40 percent of Buck`s supporters are women while 42 percent of Bennet`s supporters are men.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Animas River watershed: Lightner Creek sediment is fouling the river

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Here’s a call to action from Buck Skillen writing in The Durango Herald. From the article:

Why is this sort of turbidity – what I choose to call the Lightner Creek problem – happening at this time of year? One possible cause of the current problem is a substantial rain event back on Sept. 13 that dumped upwards of an inch of water on Durango and the Perin’s Peak area.

The Perin’s Peak geology is predominately Mancos shale, which is easily eroded. This area drains into Lightner Creek predominantly through Perin’s Canyon, where there is a 4-foot-diameter culvert delivering the canyon’s flow into Lightner Creek.

The storm on Sept. 13 delivered a huge volume of sediment to the creek, damaging the culvert and depositing a substantial amount of sediment in the creek bed. Since that time, and especially after the more recent storms, we are seeing the slightest amount of current in Lightner Creek pick up the fine sediment and transport it to the Animas River.

Why should we care? The Animas River is the city of Durango’s crown jewel. It’s a playground for all of us, visitors and locals, both in the water and walking along the River Trail, and a source of revenue from recreation. A good portion of our drinking water comes from the intake structure downstream of Lightner Creek and just above Smelter Rapids, although I am told this is not a big concern for the water treatment plant.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.

2010 Colorado elections: John Hickenlooper leads gubernatorial race by a wide margin according to new Denver Post/9News poll

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From The Denver Post via the Boulder Daily Camera:

With 49 percent of those surveyed backing him, Hickenlooper now has more support than Tancredo and Republican candidate Dan Maes combined. Tancredo, a former Republican congressman, continues to peel off GOP voters, garnering 39 percent, while Maes continues to slide, coming in at 9 percent. Only 1 percent of those polled said they were undecided.

“It`s hard to see how Tancredo changes this game. Even if Maes drops to 5 percent, it isn`t enough,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. “Hickenlooper has had the benefit of not having to deal with just one Republican opponent and has kept a low profile, eliminating the chances of making mistakes and starting controversies.”

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Colorado River: Two books, one message about the future of the river basin

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Here’s a long background piece from Scott Condon writing for The Aspen Times. The article highlights the work of Peter McBride and Jonathan Waterman and their photographs and book that tell part of the story of the state of the Colorado River and its future. Click through, read the whole thing, and check out more of McBride’s photos. Here’s an excerpt:

While writing the book “Running Dry,” Carbondale author Jonathan Waterman mixed stories of his personal adventures paddling the Colorado River with a flood of facts that demonstrate how imperiled it is from over-allocation. Here are some of his eye-catching points.

• 30 million people depend on the Colorado River and its tributaries for their water. The population is projected to grow another 10 million in the next decade. The river’s supply will be hard-pressed to keep pace with that growth.

• The 1922 Colorado River Compact that divvied up use of the river’s water by seven western states was based on assumption that the river provides 17.5 million acre feet in the average year. Recent modeling shows it averages closer to 14.5 million acre feet.

• The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation calculates that the river could run short of water 58 to 73 percent of the time by the year 2050.

• Roughly one-fifth of the 1,450 miles of the river is “impounded” by dams. One of the grandest and most controversial dams, the Glen Canyon Dam, buried more than 2,000 Native American sites when it was commissioned starting in 1963.

• Las Vegas is known for gambling, but its casinos account for only 7 percent of the city’s water consumption. Residential uses account for half, and 70 percent of the water used by residences is for landscaping.

• One acre of Kentucky bluegrass requires 1,007,352 gallons of water per season.

• While most of the water tapped from the river goes to agriculture, industry’s needs loom large. There are 395 uranium claims along the river corridor and 800 pending new claims. If oil shale extraction takes off in western Colorado, the big oil companies with holdings have accumulated water rights that equal the current yearly allocation for the four states in the Upper Basin — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. In other words, oil shale production will trump and potentially suck down the remaining water.

• The Colorado River last reached the Sea of Cortez in 1998.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

2010 Colorado elections: 2003’s Referendum A surfaces in gubernatorial attack ad

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Most Colorado water watchers remember Referendum A back in 2003. It was an attempt by Governor Owens and others to set aside $2 billion for unspecified water projects. It was the “unspecified” nature of the referendum that stirred up labels like, “Water Grab,” over on the west slope — the rainy side of Colorado. It was defeated in all Colorado counties by a wide margin.

Move on the the governor’s race in 2006. Bill Ritter knew that Referendum A was widely unpopular so he hung the issue around his opponent neck — Bob Beauprez had supported it — and cruised to victory.

Here we are a couple of weeks out in the 2010 gubernatorial contest and lo and behold Referendum A has surfaced again. This time, a group named the Colorado Conservation Victory Fund is running a radio spot on the west slope reminding voters that Tom Tancredo supported the referendum. Here’s a report from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The ad is notable because it appears to be the only negative ad against Tancredo from an array of liberal groups that have come out swinging against other conservatives, like U.S. House candidate Scott Tipton and U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck. Democrat John Hickenlooper remains the frontrunner in the governor’s race, but some recent polls have Tancredo within five points of the lead, and his campaign released a poll Friday that showed the race is tied…

The commercial is a series of rhymes that begins with a play on a line from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” “Tom Tancredo loved Ref A, and thus it was to our dismay to Denver lawns and pools he’d send our water on its way,” the male narrator says in the ad.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Basalt: ‘Stunning environmental photo show’

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Basalt photographer Pete McBride is showing some of his 15,000 photographs from up and down the Colorado River. Here’s a report from The Aspen Times (Scott Condon). Click through for the cool photo. Here’s an excerpt:

Some of the most stunning shots will be displayed at the gallery of the Wyly Community Arts Center in Basalt in an exhibit that opens Friday with a receoption from 6-8 p.m., and continues through Nov. 22. The Wyly is in its new home at the former Basalt library building in Lions Park.

McBride concentrated on getting images while flying over the river corridor because of the different perspective it offers. The aerial shots allow the river to be viewed more as a living entity, he said. When you try to absorb a tree, you don’t just look at a leaf; and when trying to understand what’s going on with the Colorado River and its major tributaries, it helps to get that bird’s eye view.

“Getting above things, that perspective highlights the human footprint,” McBride said.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Crested Butte: Town council approves water and sewer fee increases

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

The Town Council agreed to a rate increase for both water bills and sewer bills. Look for a 10 percent increase in the water bill and a 3 percent increase in the wastewater side of the equation. The final decision will come when the council adopts the 2011 budget…

“We are proposing increases for the water the sewer, the tap fees and the availability fees,” [Town finance director Lois Rozman] said. “If we don’t do a rate increase we’ll have an operating loss of $110,000 for water and $26,000 for sewer.” Rozman said times have changed. “In the past, we’ve lived on tap fees,” she said. “We knew we couldn’t do that forever and we are now at that time when new taps don’t bring in enough money anymore.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

Paonia: Town council awards bid for water treatment plant membrane filtration upgrade

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From the Delta County Independent (Kathy Browning):

Public works director Scott Leon said after talking with their engineer, checking company references, verifying the contractor and subcontractors, and finding everything in order, he was recommending low bidder Eco Contracting LLC. The winning bid was $496,225.50, which was substantially less than the engineer’s bid of $527,640…David Weber moved to award the contract to Eco Contracting of Hotchkiss because they are qualified to do the job, they submitted the low bid and their bid was lower than the engineer’s bid. Blake Kinser seconded, and the council voted unanimous approval.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Forecasting water supplies in a La Niña year

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Our friends at NOAA have released a precipitation forecast graphic. Click on the thumbnail to the right for a larger view. It illustrates the usual La Niña pattern. This year’s event set up quick and big. Here’s their release (James Peronto). Here’s an excerpt:

Regional highlights include:

Pacific Northwest: colder and wetter than average. La Niña often brings lower than average temperatures and increased mountain snow to the Pacific Northwest and western Montana during the winter months, which is good for the replenishment of water resources and winter recreation but can also lead to greater flooding and avalanche concerns;

Southwest: warmer and drier than average. This will likely exacerbate drought conditions in these areas. All southern states are at risk of having above normal wildfire conditions starting this winter and lasting into the spring;
Northern Plains: colder and wetter than average. Likely to see increased storminess and flooding;

Southern Plains, Gulf Coast States & Southeast: warmer and drier than average. This will likely exacerbate drought conditions in these areas. All southern states are at risk of having above normal wildfire conditions starting this winter and lasting into the spring;

Florida: drier than average, with an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures. Above normal wildfire conditions;

Ohio and Tennessee Valleys: warmer and wetter than average. Likely to see increased storminess and flooding;

Northeast and Mid-Atlantic: equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and precipitation. Winter weather for these regions is often driven not by La Niña but by weather patterns over the northern Atlantic Ocean and Arctic. These are often more short-term, and are generally predictable only a week or so in advance. If enough cold air and moisture are in place, areas north of the Ohio Valley and into the Northeast could see above-average snow;

Central U.S.: equal chances of above-near-or below normal temperatures and precipitation;

Hawaii: drier than normal through November, then wetter than normal December through February. Statewide, the current drought is expected to continue through the winter, with several locations remaining on track to become the driest year on record. Drought recovery is more likely on the smaller islands of Kauai and Molokai, and over the windward slopes of the Big Island and Maui;

Alaska: odds favor colder than average temperatures with equal chances of above or below normal precipitation. The interior and southern portions of the state are currently drier than normal. A dry winter may set Alaska up for a greater chance of above normal wildfire conditions in the spring.

From The Denver Post (Kieran Nicholson) via the Grand Junction Free Press:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today long-term weather outlooks for the nation. A current La Nina pattern is expected to get stronger, bringing colder wetter weather to the Pacific Northwest and the north, with warmer drier weather across the southern United States. In Colorado “temperatures will tilt toward a warm winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. As for precipitation this winter in the state, “Colorado if anything should be drier,” Halpert said in a conference call. In general, NOAA forecasters are leaning toward a warmer and drier winter for Colorado this year, Halpert said.

Orchard City: Town trustees award contract for waterline project

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From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

Williams Construction’s bid for the pipeline work was $2.14 million…

With the selection of the Norwood contractor’s low bid last week, the Orchard City trustees are piling up the savings on their West Side water line project. Orchard City is considered a “deprived area” under a federal EPA designation which qualified the town for a $2 million grant on its water line replacement project. When the project went out to bid, Williams submitted an estimate for a mile more water line than required for a $2.3 million price tag. The mistake was explained as a confusion over specifications in bid documents. Nevertheless, Williams Construction agreed to honor the unit cost of their bid, a move that shaved an additional $156,707 from the project estimates for the first phase work. That saved money was earmarked to come directly out of the town’s own $750,000 contribution to the project. Now instead, the money will stay in the town’s bank account along with the Orchard City’s other $3.9 million in cash reserves. In addition, the town will get its entire seven-plus miles of new water line laid in the project’s first phase, eliminating the need for a second phase to complete the work. That cuts another $1.65 million off the original estimated project cost. And, Williams Construction senior estimator, Phillip Leopold, said that recent declines in the price of resins used to manufacture the HDPE polymer pipe lines will give the town “the best price I’ve seen in ten years” on materials. All told, the town was expecting to pay $4.1 million for the project, and to take on 30-plus years of new debt. Now, the project is expected to be completed for $2.7 million, or less, with no new town debt.

More coverage from the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

During the bid acceptance at the town board’s Oct. 13 meeting, Phillip Leopold, senior estimator for Williams Construction, told the trustees that his pipe supplier can begin delivery on-site in two weeks from contract signing. That, hopefully, will allow the company to begin laying line this fall, at the top end of the project near the town water treatment plant, Leopold said. When weather turns bad at the higher elevations, pipeline crews hope to switch their focus and begin working uphill from the town’s Eckert water tank. That construction schedule has slipped significantly since last spring when a September work start date was set. Project engineer Larry Reschke said the contract specifies that the work be completed by next August at the latest. But, he added that “we expect it to be completed a lot sooner than that.” Some estimates call for a five-month time frame for completing the water plant-to-Eckert tank work. Weather is a wild card factor in the time table guesstimating…

The pipeline will be buried with three-feet of cover. The original project specifications called for four to five feet cover depth. The change to the shallower bury will save on cost. The builders will bore under paved roads, eliminating pavement cuts. The new pipeline will be pressurized for its entire length. Only part of the existing West Side line is pressurized. The new line will have a half dozen or more pressure relief valves along its length.

More infrastructure coverage here.

San Juan Basin: The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District restructures taps fees

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From the Pagosa Sun (Chuck McGuire):

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors voted Tuesday night to rescind Capital Investment Fees (CIF) imposed on new construction, in favor of collecting a $3,000 deposit per Equivalent Unit (EU) for connection to each of the water and wastewater systems. The move potentially reduces total CIF assessments by more than $1,800 per EU. As discussion during the five-hour PAWSD board meeting turned to consideration of district fees, director Roy Vega proposed a resolution placing an immediate moratorium on both the existing water and wastewater CIFs. Together, those fees equaled $7,831, with $3,579 going to the water enterprise fund, and $4,252 to the wastewater enterprise fund.

More Pagosa Springs coverage here.

Umcompahgre Valley Water Users forum recap

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From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

Mike Berry controls the valves to a lot of the drinking water in the Uncompahgre Valley. He’s the general manager of the Tri-County Water Conservation District. He’s a numbers guy. “We’re a local government entity, not a utility,” Berry told the crowd at the Holiday Inn Express conference room. TCW has a 15-member, state court-appointed board, and taxes property at 1.502 mils, generating $1.3 million annually. “We were born in 1957 to sponsor the Dallas Creek Project. Congress authorized us in 1968; 1978 was the groundbreaking for the [Ridgway] dam. In 1990 the reservoir was full, and Tri-County took over. “The lake receives 100,000 acre-feet of water every year. We exchange a 28,000 AF ‘pool’ of water in the reservoir one-for-one for Gunnison canal water, which goes into our distribution system. “The distribution system currently has 7500 taps, 610 miles of pipeline, 43 pumps and 21 tanks over a service area of 350 square miles. We sell 800 million gallons of water per year.”[…]

“We’re water rich,” he said. But he did talk about limits. We’re using only about half of the water available in the reservoir. But the population of the three downstream counties, Ouray, Montrose and Delta, is expected to double to about 150,000 by 2035. “And climate change, if that means hotter and dryer, can’t be a good thing on a water supply,” Berry said. But, he concluded, “Unlike Las Vegas, or anywhere south and west of us, I don’t think many people here go to sleep worrying about their water.”

Maybe they should, said State Senator Bruce Whitehead, himself a water engineer for 25 years with the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Whitehead wanted to talk about a bigger, more complex picture, the Colorado River Compact, and how increasing demand might change a lot of things. This year for the first time Colorado River water consumed (by agriculture, industry, and by 30 million people in seven states) exceeded the annual flow. The Southwest has been in a protracted drought – 11 years and counting. Lake Mead has shrunk to 40 percent capacity, an all-time low. Bad news, yes, for Nevada and California. But how does this affect Colorado, at the top of the water chain? Colorado’s share of the compact is 3.88 million acre-feet of water. We have, Whitehead said, perhaps half a million AF unused now. That’s enough to supply at least a couple million more people in the state. But here’s the problem: Colorado is linked to the water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. If the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada cannot get their allocated water from the reservoirs, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are obligated to curtail use until the Lower Basin allocation is met. This was the deal struck in 1922. This is the potential “call” on Colorado’s water. This, Whitehead said, is the dreaded “compact curtailment.”

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.

Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board agreed Friday to send the proposed [dam] study by the U.S. Geological Survey to its technical advisory committee in November. The board could approve the study at its next meeting on Dec. 10. The proposed study would cost $570,000 and would be used as a tool for where to build future flood control projects, most likely a series of smaller dams. It also could be used to show the effectiveness of a large dam on Fountain Creek, according to David Mau of the Pueblo USGS office…

The goal of the study would be to determine what measures could be taken to ensure the effectiveness of a levee system through Pueblo that was built in response to the 1965 flood. It also would look at how erosion and sedimentation could be best controlled. “We’re taking the next step to answer the question of, ‘Does it make more sense to build one big structure or several smaller dams or diversions on Fountain Creek?’ ” said Gary Barber, executive director of the district.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley: Seep ditch enforcement met with consternation on the part of farmers

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“It has been OK for 100 years. It does not seem right. It does not seem fair,” said Lynden Gill, a Lower Ark board member and Bent County commissioner, at the Lower Ark’s monthly meeting Wednesday. “In my mind, it brings up a lot of questions and concerns about how the state engineer has approached this.”[…]

Seep ditches intercept return flows — water that drains from other fields — and have water rights that are generally junior to the major ditches. Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said he is enforcing the rights to bring them into compliance with the priority system.

The owners of the seep ditch rights argue that they have used them — for more than a century in some cases — without complaints from downstream senior water rights holders. At last month’s meeting, Witte and Wolfe said the enforcement is taking place to protect rights in Colorado, rather than to guard against more legal action by Kansas on the Arkansas River Compact…

[State Engineer Dick Wolfe] defended the action as working within the law to protect all water rights holders. “That’s the way our system has developed. If people want to change the law, we need to hear that, but this is embedded in the state Constitution,” Wolfe said at the September meeting. The Lower Ark plans to bring Wolfe back to meet with some of the affected farmers in November, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Annual maintenance work continues across the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. As a result, portions of the project remain off-line.

We are bringing a limited amount of water from the West Slope. We are moving some water through Marys Lake and generating a little power at the Estes Plant. This means that we are bringing some water into Lake Estes. By this evening Lake Estes should be close to full. It will drop a little over the weekend.

Releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River have increased slightly to about 75 cfs. They will remain near that flow rate through the weekend and drop back down to around 35 cfs by Monday.

Pinewood Reservoir remains drawn down to an elevation of about 6543–about 37 feet from full capacity. It will remain this low well into December while work is being completed in the Bald Mountain Pressure Tunnel.

Carter Lake Reservoir is currently at an elevation of 5687, approximately 72 feet down from full capacity. The North Pines and North boat ramps are both still well under water. The water elevation is anticipated to drop a few more feet next week. The water year ends on October 31.

Horsetooth Reservoir is currently sitting at an elevation of 5385–45 feet from full capacity. A few boat ramps are now out of the water, but the main six-lane ramp in South Bay is still in service. Like Carter, we anticipate the draw on Horsetooth will continue through the month when the water year ends.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Brush: City council approves construction management contract for new wastewater treatment plant

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From the Brush News-Tribune (Jesse Chaney):

During a special meeting Monday evening, the Brush City Council approved a motion to hire Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. to administer construction management services for a project that will bring a new wastewater-treatment facility to Brush. Stantec designed the new wastewater plant itself, and the council recently approved another motion to seek a bid for construction management services from the Denver-based company alone.

More wastewater coverage here.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District approves IGA with Otero County that will keep water from the Larkspur ditch in the Arkansas Basin

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Ark board approved the agreement Wednesday, after county commissioners held a hearing and approved the agreement earlier this month…

Water from the Gunnison basin is imported through the mountain ditch in Saguache County above Poncha Creek, and traditionally was used by Catlin Canal irrigators as a supplemental water source. Typically, it diverts less than 500 acre-feet annually, and is only a small part of the Catlin’s supply. The Lower Ark wants to change the water right to use for purposes within the basin. Under the agreement, the water first must be offered to any water user in Otero County, but there are further limitations.

They include:

– No permanent transfers off the main stem of the Arkansas River.

– No more than one-third of the water produced by Larkspur over any 10-year period could be used outside the mainstem of the Arkansas River by any means, including trades and exchanges.

– The main stem, as defined in the agreement, includes the Arkansas River and tributaries below Pueblo Dam, excluding Fountain Creek.

– The Lower Ark district is also asking the Otero County commissioners to maintain conditions at least as restrictive as in the agreement, or to amend the agreement if other agreements get more lenient conditions.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Bureau of Reclamation determined there was a need to improve the safety at Pueblo Dam, even though it posed no imminent danger, in 1997. After design work in 1998, a 20-foot concrete “doorstop” was put in the stilling basin in front of the dam. Rock bolts were also drilled to prevent possible slippage of the concrete buttresses that make up the central portion of the dam. There were restrictions on the level of water in the dam in 1998-99 while work was in progress. The project was completed in 1999…

In other action, the board:

– Set budget hearings for its 2011 budget at its Nov. 18 meeting.

– Voted to recommend revenues from Fry-Ark Project excess-capacity contracts be applied to repayment of the South Outlet Works at Pueblo Dam and the Fountain Valley Conduit until payments start on the future Arkansas Valley Conduit. Federal legislation this year allows revenues to be applied to debts owed by the Southeastern district. Reclamation makes the decision.

– Approved a proposal to put 100 percent of water designated for the Arkansas Valley Conduit into the proposed conduit when it is built. At a conduit committee meeting, the recommendation was made as an equitable way to pay costs, even if some communities deciding on using water outside the conduit for purposes such as augmentation.

– Heard a presentation from Todd Doherty of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on a statewide water needs assessment which is entering its final phase. The CWCB will discuss ways to address potential gaps in water supply at its November meeting in preparation for adopting the assessment next year.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.