Gunnison River basin: CPDHE orders U.S. Energy Corp. to clean up water from the Mt. Emmons mine

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From email from the High Country Citizens’ Alliance (Dan Morse, High Country Citizens’ Alliance/Jeff Parsons, Western Mining Action Project):

The State of Colorado has found US Energy Corp’s Mount Emmons mine site outside of Crested Butte exceeding state water quality standards for multiple heavy metal pollutants and is requiring the company to remedy the water quality issues or face further violation orders and penalties. In a letter sent to US Energy Corp CEO Keith Larsen on December 27, 2010 the Colorado Water Quality Control Division details possible violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act for discharges of Aluminum, Cadmium, Copper, Iron, Lead, Manganese, Zinc and low pH levels. The State’s letter requires a response from US Energy Corp by January 12, 2011 and requires a plan to be developed and implemented that would bring the discharges into compliance. The CDPHE letter is available here.

The revelations of contamination come just as the State of Colorado mining division is simultaneously in the process of reviewing and approving new mine development activity at the same Mt. Emmons site. The mine proponents are seeking permission to construct a new mine tunnel, produce waste rock and conduct drilling in the mine. The proposed operations would involve the handling of large volumes of water and ground disturbance in the Crested Butte watershed. Dan Morse, Executive Director of the Crested Butte environmental group High Country Citizens’ Alliance commented, “The State’s review process for a new mining tunnel at this site has so far avoided addressing these water quality risks including the need for substantial financial guarantees if new work is approved.”

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board will hear an appeal of the proposed mining activities on Wednesday January 12 at 9am at 1313 Sherman Street, Room 318, in Denver.

Morse added “We have had long standing concerns about the quality of surface water, ground water and water in the historic mine workings on Mt. Emmons. The state’s advisory letter to US Energy clearly confirms our fears and shows that water from this mine site is polluting Coal Creek as it runs through Crested Butte. We are deeply concerned for the protection of Crested Butte’s drinking watershed and the natural environment of Coal Creek.”

The Mt. Emmons Project is a proposed molybdenum mine located three miles west of Crested Butte on the flanks of 12,000 foot Mt. Emmons. The mine property is owned by US Energy Corp of Riverton, Wyoming and operated in conjunction with Denver based partner Thompson Creek Metals Company. The mine proposal is at the site of historic mining activity that resulted in severe mining pollution that is now treated in a water treatment plant. The state’s recent advisory letter addresses surface water runoff not captured in the treatment plant, instead flowing directly to Coal Creek. Coal Creek is the sole source of drinking water for the Town of Crested Butte.

Water quality monitoring by another local group, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, has shown elevated pollutant levels in the creek for the last five years, but the sources of the metals have remained unclear. Efforts to improve water quality in Coal Creek date back as far as the late 1970’s when AMAX, Inc. installed an industrial water treatment plant at the mine site at the requests of the Town of Crested Butte, State of Colorado, US Forest Service, and area residents. Although that plant improved water quality, Coal Creek continues to be listed as an impaired water body by state regulators.

Jeff Parsons, Senior Attorney with Western Mining Action Project stated, “These pollution problems are serious and deserve immediate attention. U.S. Energy should not be allowed to expand its mining activities and create more impacts until it can clean up the mess that’s already there.”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

CWCB: Draft Final SWSI 2010 Key Findings and Recommendations report — public comments due by January 21

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Eric Hecox):

Attached please find the Draft Final SWSI 2010 Key Findings and Recommendations. The CWCB would appreciate any comments that you have on the…document. CWCB will be summarizing feedback on the key findings and recommendations and will present and discuss this information at the Board Workshop on January 24, 2011. The workshop will be held starting at 1:00 p.m. More details on the workshop can be found here:

During the workshop, CWCB will also be accepting public comment on the Draft Final SWSI 2010 Key Findings and Recommendations. On Wednesday, January 26, it is expected that the Board will take action on SWSI 2010.

More CWCB coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: The General Assembly will start work on Wednesday

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From the Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

Water issues won’t be on his plate in the 2011 session, [House Minority Leader Sal Pace] said.

Here’s a recap of last week’s sit-down between Republican legislators and, “business groups, ” to discuss, “regulatory reform and [review] the Independence Institute’s proposals on how to solve the state’s budget woes,” from Marianne Goodland writing for the Colorado Statesman. From the article:

The contractors, represented by Mike Gifford of the Association of General Contractors, asked for changes in four areas: retention of payments for public projects, which affects cash flow; storm water regulations; sales and use tax expansion, much of it by local governments; and contractor licensing and registration, a problem that requires contractors to be licensed by multiple local governments and the state. “We need a common system of license and registration,” Gifford pleaded.

More coverage from Marianne Goodland writing for The Fort Morgan Times. From the article:

[First-time legislator Rep. Jon Becker…who represents House District 63], like any legislator, can carry five bills in the session, and he`s looking at a bill to reduce the size of government by combining departments. He`s also interested in legislation on water storage, and is looking for funds from the Division of Wildlife that would go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

“Getting these departments to play well together on this issue will be the hard part,” he said, but the state is way behind in dealing with water storage issues. And he believes that using DOW money for water storage matches its mission. “I don`t want to hurt hunters, [or have people think he`s taking DOW money for agricultural purposes] but as long as we benefit wildlife with water storage, that can be another purpose” of those dollars, he said. The bill carries a sunset provision that will end the transfer in 10 years, which he says will be standard in his bills…

[Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg,…of HD 65 has been tapped to play several leadership roles in the 2011 session. Sonnenberg is the new chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. also plans to carry a sunset review bill that applies to weather modification in water conservation districts.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress’ 53rd Annual Convention January 26-28

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From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Doug Kemper):

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth. Emerging from one of the most devastating droughts in recent memory and faced with long-term water crisis, Australia’s approach to water management has undergone radical change. Is the American West following close behind?

Join a delegation of eleven top Australian water experts as they meet with Colorado water professionals to review key water issues faced in Colorado and the West, and compare and contrast those issues with the Australian experience. If you think water management Down Under is so different from our approach in the arid U.S., consider the following:

Ø Australia recently completed a number of long-range (2050) visioning projects on the local, regional, and national levels.

Ø The Murray–Darling River Basin supports some three million people and 40 percent of the Australia’s agricultural production. But the Murray River no longer reaches the sea, and 90 percent of the basin’s wetlands have been drained.

Ø Australia has more than 500 large dams and more than a million farm dams and other small storage reservoirs. Most major rivers have a least one dam.

Australian Trade Commission USA Water Tour

Australian speakers at the CWC Convention are part of The Australian Trade Commission’s national water tour. This tour is a highlight of the G’Day USA program designed to strengthen the relationships between Australia and the United States in business, innovation, and culture. The USA Water Tour is a two-week program which highlights the depth of Australia’s experience in climate change and their unique approaches to water policy, management, distribution and efficiency. The total size of the delegation coming to our convention from Australia will be approximately 30 people and 5 corporations.

Advance registration will remain open until Friday, January 21.

Aspinall Unit operations meeting January 20

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The January 2011 Aspinall Operations Meeting will be held on January 20th at the Holiday Inn Express, 1391 Townsend, Montrose, Colorado. The meeting will begin at 1:00 p.m. and last about 2 hours. Topics include: Review of recent operations and discussion of projected operations; results of last year’s Division of Wildlife Fish Survey in the Gunnison Gorge; South Canal Hydropower project update; Aspinall Operations EIS update; and Crystal powerplant maintenance and related flow requirements. This is an opportunity for those interested in activities related to Aspinall Operations and the Gunnison River to share information.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Environmental groups send letter to CPDHE over license for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

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Here’s the letter from the Colorado Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

The approval of this mill would likely lead to degradation of the environment, economy and health of the region. And as the developers of the mill recently told the state’s major newspaper, uranium mined in the region and processed at the mill will likely be shipped abroad to Asia – leaving Colorado taxpayers and local residents to cope with problems that will certainly come from this new mill.

We do not believe that the short‐term benefits of a uranium boom will outweigh the abundant agricultural and recreational economic opportunities in the Dolores River Canyon.

In the past the uranium industry has proved itself to be an unreliable engine of economic progress, vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the energy market and prone to boom and bust cycles that leave behind destitute communities saddled with an additional burden of environmental cleanup. The development of this mill and mining activity in the region will undermine the sustainable economic engines that have been increasing the quality of life in southwest Colorado since the last uranium boom of the 1970’s.

The recent Gulf Oil Spill provides an illustration of the disastrous consequences when a corporate entity fails to analyze and prepare adequately for a “worst‐case‐scenario.” We ask that you deny this mill based on the lack of worst‐case scenario analysis in its planning and the clear examples of the toxic, destructive legacy of the uranium industry in Colorado, which demonstrate that this industry is neither able nor willing to manage the impacts it leaves behind.

The uranium industry in Colorado has placed a huge financial burden on the taxpayers of Colorado and the United States. Close to $1 billion has been spent on cleanup efforts in Colorado alone, but the radioactivity of these sites will be with us forever. The negative economic impacts of this mill would far outweigh its benefits.

As the regulatory authority for granting uranium mill permits in Colorado you have the authority to consider a broad range of factors in your decision. We ask that you weigh all of the possible impacts from this mill in your consideration. It is the responsibility of the applicant, Energy Fuels to provide technically and scientifically sound evidence that this proposal will not harm the public health or the environment and to adequately plan for worst‐case scenarios. From the independent analysis submitted and the lack of adequate information presented by the applicant, we feel that you have substantive cause for the denial of this proposal and ask that you do so.

More Piñon Ridge coverage here. More nuclear coverage here and 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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From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (C.A.R.D.) filed an appeal with the EPA alleging the regulatory agency didn’t look at Powertech pump tests from 2008 before issuing a permit to allow another pump test out of the Upper Fox Hills Formation to collect hydrogeologic information needed to ultimately approve the Centennial project. The proposed mine is about 15 miles northeast of Fort Collins. C.A.R.D. insists those tests will reveal the true integrity of the underground layers that separate the Upper Fox Hills Formation — which contains uranium, radium, antimony and iron exceeding federal water quality standards — from the overlying Laramie Formation, which doesn’t contain unsafe levels of minerals and is used as a source of drinking water. The in-situ leach mining process of extracting uranium uses large quantities of water, which then must be reclaimed. “While on the surface the permit appeared complete, a detailed review showed that critical information was lacking,” said Jay Davis, a C.A.R.D. co-founder whose Mustang Hollow Ranch is next to the proposed Centennial project. “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.”

It’s also hoped EPA review of Powertech’s 2008 tests before allowing more pump testing will reveal the extent to which thousands of uranium exploration bore holes drilled in the area in the late 1970s might have degraded the containment layers between the two water aquifers…

A Powertech attorney at the time [when Powertech filed their lawsuit against the new regulations spawned by H.B. 08-1161] told The Colorado Independent that the company’s legal challenge had nothing to do with higher costs. “If you want to narrow it down, it’s a resource issue in terms of utilizing more water resources to make sure that you meet the mandate and bring water quality back to background or better, which is what the rule states, and of course that’s what the legislation states,” said John Fognani of Fognani and Fought law firm. “At the end of the day it’s really the water resource issue.”

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

Snowpack news

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Here’s a release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Mike Gillespie):

Although recent weather conditions across lower elevations may appear to be dry, Colorado’s high country has received above normal snowfall this winter in most basins. According to the latest snow surveys, conducted by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Colorado’s snowpack is well ahead of the long-term average. In addition, the current snowpack far exceeds that measured last year at this same time in most basins. As of January 1, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 136% of average and was 159% of last year’s readings, according to Allen Green, State Conservationist, with the NRCS. This is the highest January 1 snowpack measured since 1997, when the state boasted an overall snowpack of 160% of average.

For portions of the state, this season’s snowpack began building slowly. Accumulations across southern Colorado were at disappointing levels just a few weeks ago. With the San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins at only 57 percent of average back on December 16, 2010, it appeared that southern Colorado would be facing a dry winter which would have been a major concern for water users in those areas. Then, the Pacific storm track shifted further south and brought a series of moisture laden storms across California and the southern tier of states. In a matter of just a couple of weeks, snowpack percentages increased from well below average to well above average across southern Colorado. In the San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins, snowpack percentages increased to 140 percent of average by December 31. At one automated snow measuring site (SNOTEL) on Coal Bank Pass north of Durango, these storms delivered an additional 16.7 inches of liquid water equivalent. The snow depth at this site increased by 78 inches during these storms.

Although northern Colorado didn’t benefit from the December storms as much as the southern basins, the storm track has been much more consistent and productive throughout the season. Snowpack totals in these basins are consistently above average, ranging from 126 percent of average in the South Platte Basin, to 147 percent of average in both the Colorado and North Platte basins.

The current snowpack far exceeds that measured last year in all of the state’s major river basins. This is especially true across northern Colorado where this year’s snowpack has almost doubled last year’s readings on January 1. “This is a welcome start to the year for Colorado’s water users, and we’re hoping these conditions remain with us for the next few months”, said Green.

Reservoir storage remains in good condition across most of the state. Only the Rio Grande Basin has dipped significantly below average for this time of year.

[Click on the thumbnail graphic above and to the right for a table of] Colorado’s snowpack and reservoir storage as of January 1, 2011.

This post is number 4,000 since I switched to WordPress on February 12, 2009. I think that it is fitting that it turned out to be a snowpack post.

Thanks to all you readers. Your kind encouragement keeps me going.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Is there micro-hydroelectric potential in Telluride?

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The town plans to complete two micro-hydro projects in 2011. One is a feasibility study of its wastewater and water systems to determine if there are opportunities to install turbines in the town’s existing structures. The other entails installing a discharge monitoring station upstream of the Jud Wiebe Bridge to obtain data necessary in determining the financial feasibility and environmental impacts of a micro-hydro project at Stillwell Tunnel.

The town has identified two other micro-hydro projects it would like to investigate — a project at the yet-constructed Pandora water treatment plant and a power purchase from the Bridal Veil power station — and hopes to get to those a year or so down the line. A work plan drawn up by public works project manager Karen Guglielmone details the projects…

[Mayor Stu Fraser] said the hydrology studies need to happen before the town goes out looking for grants to fund the actual installations.

The first project involves looking for opportunities for micro-hydro in the town’s existing water plant and wastewater treatment plant. Fraser said this will involve determining if the town can insert mini micro-hydro turbines into pressure release valves. This could represent easy and relatively cheap opportunities for the town, because it already owns the infrastructure.

The second project will accomplish a recommendation that came out of the 2009 Stillwell Micro-Hydro Feasibility Study — installing a discharge monitoring station up-stream of the Jud Wiebe Bridge. The goal is twofold: to determine if a project would dry up a portion of Cornet Creek and Cornet Falls during part of the year, and to determine information necessary for a cost-benefit analysis.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Valley: Test bed for water transfers

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Most methods of alternative water transfer listed in a draft state report has real-life examples in the Arkansas River basin. The basin also has served as a proving ground to measure the effects of permanent sales of water rights from farms to cities. The state has funded $1.5 million in studies to look at alternatives to the buy-and-dry deals of the past. Included in those studies were reports that looked at legal and technical issues for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District ($349,650) and a similar plan by the High Line Canal to market water ($70,000). Also in the mix was an $80,000 study by Colorado State University to look at the costs of bringing fallowed ground back into production. Reading through the draft report, it’s apparent the Arkansas Valley’s history has textbook examples of new alternatives.

– Interruptible supply agreements, where cities make arrangements to use agricultural water supplies in dry times, were pioneered by Aurora and the High Line Canal in 2004-05.

– Rotational fallowing agreements, which would provide water on a routine basis by drying up some acreage, are being suggested by the Super Ditch.

– Water banks were first tried in the Arkansas Valley in 2003, under the sponsorship of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. While that pilot program had limited use, the concept is seen as an answer to protecting water supplies against downstream calls in the Colorado River basin.

– Purchase and lease-back agreements are being used by the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the Bessemer Ditch and Tri-State on the Amity Canal. In both cases, the water rights have been purchased, but the water is still being used by farmers.

Another idea being tested under the state grant program is changing irrigation practices to reduce the water needs of crops, either by improved efficiency of irrigation, which would reduce waste of water, or by reducing the actual consumptive use, which could lead to marketable water.

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

State water leaders will continue to wrestle with the central question of future water development in 2011: How will water be provided to new residents without sacrificing agriculture? The question has preoccupied the water community for nearly a decade, after the historic drought of 2002 showed water supplies were not sufficient to maintain the current landscape of farms, lawns and wildlife habitat…

Soon after, in 2004, the Colorado Water Conservation Board developed the Statewide Water Supply Initiative that identified how much agricultural water would have to be converted to municipal use to meet the needs of growing urban population…

The Interbasin Compact Committee formed in 2005 to attempt to deliver a framework that would make water transfers less damaging. The 27-member panel was formed by a “grass-roots” process that included representatives from nine basin roundtables. Early last year, the IBCC was charged by Gov. Bill Ritter to accelerate its discussions. Last month, the IBCC delivered its report to Ritter and Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper that looked at solutions beyond simply drying up farms through purchases by urban water users…

Hickenlooper has named John Stulp, a Lamar farmer and rancher who was Ritter’s agriculture commissioner, to head the IBCC as part of his duties as special adviser for water policy. The roundtables will begin considering how that approach could be implemented beginning this month. A summit of roundtables is planned in Denver on March 3 to give all of the 300-or-so roundtable members from throughout the state a chance to comment.

In the meantime, the CWCB is anticipating completion of a series of technical reports. The reports look at updating numbers for municipal water use, alternative ways of using ag water to meet urban demands, agricultural demand and nonconsumptive needs for wildlife, recreation and the environment.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.