2010 Colorado gubernatorial election transition: John Stulp will lead the Interbasin Compact Committee

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The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board gives Governor-elect Hickenlooper a thumbs up for tapping John Stulp and John Salazar. From the editorial:

…Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper has named Mr. Stulp to the important position as chairman of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which has been developing plans on how to use the state’s limited water resources. As Mr. Stulp noted this week, “Water has always been a critical part of Colorado’s quality of life.”

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction files petition with EPA over the agency’s decision to grant Powertech an aquifer pumping test permit

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Here’s the release from Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction.

Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD) filed a Petition for Review with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C. The petition appeals the December 3, 2010 decision by the EPA’s Region 8 office to issue a final Class V Underground Injection Control permit to Powertech (USA) Inc.

The permit is required for the reinjection of water that would first be pumped out of the Upper Fox Hills Formation during a proposed aquifer pump test. The purpose of the pump test is to collect data on the hydrogeologic characteristics of the aquifer including the integrity of confining layers that isolate the Fox Hills aquifer from the overlying Laramie Formation, which serves as an underground source of drinking water. The data would be used to prepare permit applications for the proposed Centennial in-situ leach uranium mining project.

The integrity of the confining layers is critical because the groundwater in the Upper Fox Hills Formation contains concentrations of uranium, radium, antimony and iron that exceed federal water quality standards. The groundwater in the overlying Laramie Formation does not exceed these water quality standards.

The Appeal alleges that EPA was required to request from Powertech and review existing relevant information from previous pump tests performed by Powertech. The previous pump tests were conducted as recent as 2008 in the same geologic formation, one as close as 500 feet from the currently proposed injection well. This prior pump test data could show the extent of the confinement of the aquifers, including the effect of the thousands of historic (late 1970’s) uranium exploration bore-holes drilled in the direct vicinity. As detailed in the appeal, some of these historic bore-holes have been documented as improperly sealed and abandoned, raising concerns of cross-contamination of the aquifers which could be exacerbated by the pump test and injection activities.

“While on the surface the permit appeared complete, a detailed review showed that critical information was lacking,” observed Jay Davis, whose Mustang Hollow Ranch is located adjacent to the proposed Centennial project area, and a co-founder of CARD. “As we’ve said from the beginning, we want the EPA to apply a high standard to protect our groundwater, and that includes reviewing all relevant information.”

Powertech filed its permit application with the EPA on April 30, 2009. Because the first draft permit, issued on June 15, 2009, contained errors, a second draft permit was issued on November 20, 2009. The public comment period for the second draft permit ran from November 20 through December 24, 2009.

After extensive public comments were submitted, EPA did not issue the final permit until December 3, 2010. The permit would have become effective as of January 3 if no appeal had been filed.

The Environmental Appeals Board, which is part of the EPA but is established to provide independent review of permitting and other decisions, will decide whether or not it will review C.A.R.D.’s appeal. In the meantime, the permit is stayed. The board has several options; it can deny review, it can send the permit back to Region 8 for modification, or it can overturn Region 8 and deny the permit. Board decisions are subject to judicial review in federal court.

“Powertech has failed to provide and EPA has failed to review necessary and available information regarding the condition of the confining layers in the aquifer and the condition of improperly abandoned historic drill holes in the immediate area” explains Jeff Parsons, senior attorney with the Western Mining Action Project who filed the appeal on behalf of C.A.R.D. “It is critical that all relevant information be incorporated into any permit that will allow groundwater injection of fluids with levels of radioactive uranium and radium, along with antimony and iron, in excess of water quality standards” notes Parsons.

“Powertech and the EPA committed to adhering to the highest standard in protecting groundwater quality and this permit falls short” stated Ken Tarbett, nearest neighboring resident and owner of the closest domestic well due west of the proposed aquifer pump test site. “Not unlike Powertech’s decision to sue over groundwater protections at the state level, it appears this company is unwilling or incapable of living up to their repeated promises to do everything necessary to protect local water supplies.”

“Groundwater supplies in Northern Colorado and Weld County serve as the economic lifeblood of our region and are far too precious to risk” contends Tarbett, “My family and livestock depend on our well for clean water and we’re depending on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Appeals Board to protect our water resources.

The appeal petition can be viewed and downloaded from the Environmental Appeals Board’s Active Dockets page.

More coverage from Monte Whaley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

The petition appeals a Dec. 3 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 office in Denver to issue an underground injection-control permit for the proposed in-situ operation near Nunn in Weld County. The filing of the appeal stays the permit and keeps Powertech Inc. — developer of the Centennial Project uranium mine — from reinjecting groundwater from an aquifer-pump test at the site, according to CARD…

The appeal claims the EPA failed to gather relevant information from pump tests performed by Powertech in 2008 in the same geologic formation, one as close as 500 feet from the currently proposed injection well. Some of those bore holes have been documented as improperly sealed, raising concerns of cross-contamination of the aquifers that could be exacerbated by the pump test and injection, CARD wrote.

More coverage from the Associated Press via Bloomberg. From the article:

This week, James Woodward and a group called Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction filed petitions challenging the EPA decision. CARD argues the EPA didn’t review all critical information. Meanwhile Woodward, who lives near the proposed mine site, says the permit’s conditions should be more specific so drinking water is protected.

More Powertech coverage here and here. More nuclear coverage here and here.

Snowpack/precipitation news

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From the Cortez Journal (Paula Bostrom):

According to Cortez Meteorologist Jim Andrus, Saturday, Jan. 1, set a new record low temperature for that date at minus 13. The previous record was 11 degrees below zero on Jan. 1, 1991. Sunday, Jan. 2, also set a record low for that same date at a nosehair freezing 18 degrees below zero, breaking the record of minus 16 set in 1976. A third day of sub-zero temperatures continued on Monday, Jan. 3, with a temperature of minus 10, but didn’t break the record of minus 17 set way back on Jan. 3, 1937…

“This last storm on Dec. 29 through Dec. 31 brought a total of 14 inches of snow to the area,” Andrus said. Snowfall amounts for 2010 soared above the 18- to 24-inch average with a total of 77.4 inches for the entire year. Current snowpack levels for the Colorado Basin are hitting the average mark with 7.5 inches of precipitation, according to Snotel. Snowpack levels for the year 2010 were above average for the second year in a row with 17.5 inches of precipitation reported by Snotel on Lizard Head Pass between Rico and Telluride…

Precipitation amounts are taken from any rainfall and the liquid equivalent of snowfall. Overall, the region received 15.50 inches of precipitation in 2010, which is 117 percent of normal. Last year was an El Nino weather pattern, which means wetter weather, Andrus said…

Current elevation levels for McPhee Reservoir are looking good so far, according to Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. As of Monday, McPhee had a water elevation level of 6,897.69, which is about 5 percent higher than average for this time of year.

Arctic sea ice falls to third-lowest extent; downward trend persists

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Here’s the release from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (Katherine Leitzell):

This September, Arctic sea ice extent was the third-lowest in the satellite record, falling below the extent reached last summer. The lowest- and second-lowest extents occurred in 2007 and 2008. Satellite data indicate that Arctic sea ice is continuing a long-term decline, and remains younger and thinner than it was in previous decades.
“All indications are that sea ice will continue to decline over the next several decades,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. “We are still looking at a seasonally ice-free Arctic in twenty to thirty years.”

Over the summer of 2010, weather and ocean conditions in the Arctic ranged from warm and calm to stormy and cool. Overall, weather conditions were not extremely favorable to melt, but ice loss proceeded at a rapid pace. NSIDC Scientist Julienne Stroeve said, “Sea surface temperatures were warmer than normal this summer, but not as warm as the last three years. Even so, the 2010 minimum rivaled that in 2008—this suggests that other factors played a more dominant role.”

The amount of old, thick ice in the Arctic continues to decline, making the ice pack increasingly vulnerable to melt in future summers. While there was an increase this year in second and third year ice, which could potentially thicken over the next few years, the oldest and generally thickest ice (five years or older) has now disappeared almost entirely from the Arctic. This September, less than 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles) of five-year-old or older ice remained in the Arctic Basin. In the 1980s an average of 2 million square kilometers (722,000 square miles) of old ice remained at the end of summer. “While the total coverage of multiyear ice is the third lowest on record, the amount of younger multiyear ice has rebounded somewhat over the last two years. A key question is whether this ice will continue to survive over the next couple of summers, perhaps slowing the overall decline in multiyear ice area,” said James Maslanik, a research professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado, who provided the ice age data.

Arctic sea ice extent on September 19, the lowest point this year, was 4.60 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.90 million square kilometers (1.89 million square miles) (Figure 1). This places 2010 as the third lowest ice extent both for the daily minimum extent and the monthly average. Ice extent fell below 2009 and was only slightly above 2008.

After September 10, ice extent started to climb, apparently signaling the end of the melt season. However, uncharacteristically, it then declined again, until September 19. “The late-season turnaround indicates that the ice cover is thin and loosely packed—which makes the ice more vulnerable both to winds and to melting,” said Walt Meier, NSIDC research scientist.

Arctic sea ice follows an annual cycle of melting and refreezing, melting through the warm summer months and refreezing through autumn and winter. Sea ice reflects sunlight, keeping the Arctic region cool and moderating global climate. While Arctic sea ice extent varies from year to year because of changeable atmospheric and ocean conditions, ice extent at the end of the melt season has shown a significant overall decline over the past thirty years. During this time, September ice extent has declined at a rate of 11.5 percent per decade during September (relative to the 1979 to 2000 average), and about 3 percent per decade in the winter months.

More Information

For further analysis and images, please see the related October post on Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis Web site (http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/)

For a full listing of press resources concerning Arctic sea ice, including previous press releases and quick facts about why and how scientists study sea ice, please see “Press Resources” on the NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis Web page.

Here’s an animation that shows the decline in September sea ice extent over the thirty-year satellite record.

Thanks to the Summit County Citizens Voice for the link.

Central City: Water meters going in for residences, water rates to go up

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From the Weekly Register Call/Gilpin County News (Lynn Volkens):

Following public hearings, with no one from the public speaking either for or against, the Council approved Ordinance 10-15 and 10-16. The first ordinance amends Chapter 13 of the Municipal Code to require all residential units to install water meters and all commercial units to replace water meters. Commercial meters in use now have been found to be inaccurate. The City is purchasing all of the meters at an approximate cost of $281,000. Meter installation will begin in January. Residents will be billed for half of the cost of their meters (approximately $100) by adding about $2 to the monthly billings over a four year time period. Billings will go to the monthly format beginning in January 2011. The City will pick up the other half of the residential meter cost and pay for installation. Commercial water users must pay the full cost of meter replacement and installation and will also have their payments spread out via their water bills over a four year period. Once water use is being metered, the City will be able to accurately track water usage and bill accordingly. Leaks and other problems will also be identified more easily. Residents will be responsible for maintaining the meters in good working order and should contact the City for a list of contractors who can make repairs when needed. The meters are warranted for ten years.

The second ordinance (10-16) adopts water rates and fees. The 2011 water rates reflect an increase of 20% for all water users and may increase by that much each year for the next five years. Once the data from the meters is sufficient to determine actual usage, the City may find it does not need to increase the rates that much. A tiered system will also be developed at a later date so that those who use more than the base allowance of water will have steeper payments. For 2011, the residential base-rate will be $135.50 (Senior rate, $108) per quarter (but will be billed monthly). The current quarterly rate is $112.50. The commercial base-rate for 2011 will go from the current $180 to $216. The rate increases are designed to generate approximately $59,247 in annual revenue with the result of making the Water Fund self-sufficient in five years.

Each residential or commercial unit is to have its own tap, water line and meter-i.e. there is no sharing of this equipment, although there is some provision in the code for integrated units. If the City finds multiple users, the situation will be corrected and, once the water mains are laid in the street in front of those properties, the “new” water users will have to pay for their own tap, water line and meter. Water users are responsible for repairs and maintenance of the water line from the curb or property line to the structure being served.

The City plans to send brochures to water users and hold meetings so that citizens can learn more about the meters and rates. Those meetings are tentatively scheduled for the last two Wednesdays of January and the first Wednesday in February.

More infrastructure coverage here.