Energy policy — nuclear: Powertech gets the EPA go ahead for pump test

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

On Friday, the EPA approved a different permit for Powertech, a “Class V” permit to re-inject 43,000 gallons of water into Fox Hills Aquifer underneath the Centennial Project as part of a “pump test” that will help the company gather data about its uranium mining technique. The pump test approval needed to occur before the EPA can go forth with investigating Powertech’s plans to inject radioactive waste into the ground. Though Powertech has a green light from the EPA to drill the pump test well, state mining officials must also approve the test before it begins.

“One of the purposes of the pump test is to collect information about the hydrogeology at the (Centennial Project) location to inform the feasibility of ore recovery activities,” said EPA spokesman Richard Mylott. “During the pump test, water will be pumped out of the aquifer, held for a time and reinjected into the same location in the aquifer. It will not be altered.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Snowpack news

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From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“At least so far this year, things are setting up in that typical La Nina pattern, said Chris Pacheco, the assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRSC). “It is not surprising that the northern portion of the state is doing better than the southern part of the state.”[…]

And according to [the Ski West Report], snowpack around the Aspen area is at 123 percent of average, based on an average of readings from snow monitoring stations on Independence Pass, McClure Pass, North Lost Trail near Marble and Schofield Pass. The Independence Pass snow-monitoring station, at 10,600 feet, is at 113 percent of average…

The area around the Steamboat ski area is 178 percent of the 30-year average. The areas around Keystone, Arapaho Basin and the Loveland ski area is 157 percent of average, while the snowpack around Copper Mountain and Breckenridge is 139 percent of average. The NRSC shows Crested Butte at 127 percent of average, Vail at 119 percent and Powderhorn near Grand Junction at 103 percent. But then the numbers fall toward the south. The area around the Monarch ski area shows a snow depth of 103 percent of average, Purgatory near Durango is at 100 percent of average, Telluride is at 98 percent and Wolf Creek is at 84 percent…

Snowpack in the Colorado River basin — from the headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park to above Lake Powell — is 130 percent of average.

Silt: The town with the help of the Aspen Valley Land Trust acquires a 132 acre parcel next to the Colorado River for habitat and river access

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Hikers, boaters and fishing enthusiasts soon will have a new access to the Colorado River at the Silt River Preserve, a 132-acre riverfront parcel formally purchased on Nov. 30 by the Town of Silt for $1.2 million. The purchase from the Dixon Water Foundation was the culmination of a year and a half of effort by the town and the Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) aimed at preserving open space and riparian habitat along the river for public benefit.

More conservation coverage here.

Mesa State College seminar — ‘Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River’

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From email from Gigi Richard:

Our next presentation in the Fall 2010 Natural Resources of the West: Water seminar series a project of the Water Center at Mesa State College will be…

Mon 6 December, 4:00 pm
Saccomanno Lecture Hall, Wubben Science Building , Room 141 (WS 141)
Mesa State College

Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River
Jon Waterman
Author and National Geographic Freshwater Hero

In the spring of 2008, Jonathan Waterman, a National Geographic Society grantee, Sonoran Institute Fellow, and an award-winning author, began a journey by foot and boat down the iconic mother of all western American rivers, the Colorado. Standing at over 10,000 feet in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, he emptied his mother’s ashes into the headwaters and began a journey by foot and boat down the river, all the way to its last trickle in the Sonoran desert and down the parched Mexican delta to the Pacific Ocean. It would be the first time anyone had ever traveled from these headwaters 1,450-miles to Gulf of California and it would be a compelling, complicated, and hugely informative journey.

As part of his Colorado River Project, Waterman has undertaken a lecture campaign throughout the west to educate the public about the river’s challenges in times of climate change and population growth. He also chronicles his experience and the river in his new narrative book,Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River, a photo book, The Colorado River: Flowing through Conflict, and a National Geographic ColoradoRiver BasinWall Map. The Colorado, sometimes called the American Nile, supplies water for 30 million people and more than 3 million farm acres, across 7 western states and northern Mexico. But the demands made on the river have put its very future at stake. The river has not reached the sea for many years. It is the lifeblood of the American West, and as its waters dip to an all-time low, the economy, wildlife, people, and very landscape of this vast region are in jeopardy.

Mr. Waterman’s talk is presented with the generous support and funding of: The Water Center at Mesa State, Mesa State College’s Lectures and Forums Committee; The Land Policy Institute at Mesa State College; Mesa State College’s Academic Affairs Office; and the Grand Valley Audubon Society.

Seminars are free and open to the public, no registration necessary.
For the entire seminar series schedule, please see:
http://home.mesastate.edu/~grichard/WSS/Seminar2010.html
For more information please contact:
Prof. Gigi Richard, 970.248.1689, grichard@mesastate.edu
Prof. Tamera Minnick, 970.248.1663, tminnick@mesastate.edu

More coverage from the Grand Junction Free Press (Sharon Sullivan).

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Trout Unlimited and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District agree to settle Dry Gulch lawsuit and have worked out the terms for a proposed decree

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Here’s the release from email from Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Trout Unlimited announced today that it has reached settlement in principle with the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and the San Juan Water Conservancy District in long-running litigation on the districts’ claims for water rights for the so-called Dry Gulch Reservoir and Pumping Station project near Pagosa Springs. The settlement, which still needs to be written into a decree and approved by District Court Judge Gregory G. Lyman, sets significant limits on the amount of water the districts can divert from the San Juan River for the proposed project.

The settlement represents a dramatic downscaling of the Dry Gulch project. In 2004, the districts filed an application with the district court in Durango for water rights they claimed to need to serve future population growth in Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County. The districts claimed storage rights of 35,000 acre-feet in Dry Gulch Reservoir, a refill right for the reservoir of 35,000 acre-feet, and the right to divert 180 cubic feet of water per second from the San Juan River.

Under their original application, the water districts could have diverted as much as 128,400 acre-feet of water per year from the San Juan. Under terms of the settlement, the utilities can take no more than 11,000 acre-feet from the San Juan River in any one year and no more than 9,300 acre-feet per year on a 10-year rolling average.

Moreover, the districts are prohibited from diverting water if doing so will cause flows in the San Juan River to drop below minimum flow thresholds designed to protect fish and the environment. These flow thresholds are double the amount of the existing Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow water rights.

“This is a victory for the San Juan River,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “The original application could have been devastating to fish habitat and the river ecosystem, but now we have a settlement that balances the districts’ need for water with the health of the San Juan.”

In 2006, TU appealed the decision of the district court awarding the utilities’ 2004 water rights application. Citing concerns that the districts were speculating in water and claiming more water than they needed, in 2007 the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the water court decision and remanded the case. In so doing, the Supreme Court established new, stricter standards for public utilities claiming water rights for future population growth.

In 2008, the district court issued another decree awarding the utilities water rights for a 25,000 acre-foot reservoir and diversions of 150 cfs. Trout Unlimited appealed to the Supreme Court again, arguing that the revised water rights were still speculative and not consistent with credible future water demand projections.

In November 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with TU, again reversing the water court decision. The Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier ruling that public utilities must base the size of their water rights on credible evidence of future water needs.

“The settlement underscores that municipal water projects must be based on well-founded, substantiated data about future growth and water needs,” Peternell said. “In a time of water scarcity, Colorado must embrace water solutions that meet a range of needs, including municipal growth, agriculture and wildlife and recreation. No water user can take more than its fair share.”

Here’s Part One of Bill Hudson’s series Dry Gulch gets a little dryer running in the Pagosa Daily Post. From the article:

Evan Ela had been representing both PAWSD and SJWCD since 2004 in their joint attempt to secure new water rights sufficient to fill that crucially necessary 35,000 acre-foot reservoir. That water rights application was approved by Durango judge Greg Lyman, but was then challenged by national fishing organization Trout Unlimited — twice. Both Trout Unlimited challenges were essentially upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court, sending the case back to judge Lyman for further hearings.

Over the past year, PAWSD, SJWCD and Trout Unlimited have been engaged in settlement discussions.

The essential question was this: Would PAWSD and SJWCD be willing to reduce the size of the requested new water rights — and as a result, reduce the size of the Dry Gulch Reservoir — in order to help preserve a free-flowing, wildlife-supporting San Juan River?

One year ago, I would not have expected either the PAWSD board or the SJWCD board to even consider backing down on their requested water rights. But over the past year, a couple of significant changes occurred on the PAWSD board. New directors Roy Vega and Allan Bunch joined that board — and then WSCWG member Jan Clinkenbeard was appointed to a seat left vacant by resigning member Bob Huff. Those changes created a completely new majority on the PAWSD board.

Meanwhile, the SJWCD board also saw a couple of changes to its nine member board, as three resignations led to new members Pat Ullrich, Larry Ash, and Diane Bower being added to the board.

And maybe, everybody was just tired of arguing about Court Case 04CW85.

More Dry Gulch Reservoir coverage here and here.

Cache la Poudre River: Lawsuit to be filed by conservation groups over the Arapahoe snowfly

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The environmental groups filed their petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service in April, but the agency did not make a decision about whether the snowfly was threatened enough for the service to consider protecting it. The Fish and Wildlife Service “gave the standard response: They have other things to do,” said Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians, who sent a letter to the agency Wednesday informing it that the environmental groups intend to sue if it doesn’t act within 60 days.

“They haven’t given us an indication of when they’ll come out with a finding,” Rosmarino said. “The only way to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue decisions on petitions is to go to court. This is the first step toward going to court over the Arapahoe snowfly.”

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Diane Katzen-berger said the agency is working on its decision about the snowfly, and it is due to be published in the Federal Register in April. She said the agency is cash-strapped and short-staffed, and it hasn’t been able to get around to fully evaluating the snowfly’s status until recently.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Fraser: Town may move to use-based water rates

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Armstrong):

Town Manager Jeff Durbin along with the town’s water-wastewater committee has proposed treating businesses and residences the same under a new fee structure. “I don’t see any reason to multiply the rate for businesses just because they are businesses,” Durbin said. “Businesses carry more of the burden already, and without them, we won’t have services.”[…]

Under the proposed system, businesses and residences would be charged based on the size of the pipe coming into their building rather than on the square footage of the business or the number of bedrooms in the house. The new system is expected to “flatten out inconsistencies,” Durbin said. Many businesses are expected to pay less for water and sewer under the proposed fee structure than they did in 2010. Larger, newer residences are also likely to see rates drop with the new fee structure since they are typically second homes that use less water.

But, with the switch from a flat rate to a use-based system comes some risk, explained Durbin. If the plan works and customers really start conserving water, the town stands to lose much-needed revenue…

Most of Fraser’s single-family residential customers currently pay a flat rate of $119 per quarter for water and $121 for sewer, regardless of use. The proposed base rate drops to $115 per quarter for almost all residences, including those who have larger homes. But, the town is also proposing a usage fee of $1.50 per 1,000 gallons. The average homeowner who uses 4,000 gallons per month will only see their bill increase by about $6 or 5 percent, Durbin said. Wastewater rates are proposed to increase from $121 per quarter to $129.

The board will discuss the proposed rate changes when it meets at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 in Fraser Town Hall.

More infrastructure coverage here.