Fort Morgan: City council approves Colorado-Big Thompson water lease renewal

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

The council may approved a resolution allowing city officials to apply to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to renew the city’s right to use Colorado-Big Thompson project water. The city of Fort Morgan will apply for 87 acre feet primarily for domestic, irrigation and industrial use within the city. Fort Morgan Director of Water Resources Gary Dreessen said that it was 87 acre feet, not 80 acre feet as indicated in the council’s agenda packet. Renewing the right to use Fort Morgan’s allocation of Colorado-Big Thompson water is an annual event, he said.

More Morgan County coverage here and here.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board upholds the approval additional prospecting for the Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine near Crested Butte

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From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via Bloomberg. From the article:

Riverton, Wyo.-based U.S. Energy Corp. won state approval last year of a revised plan to build a mine tunnel at Mount Emmons. The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board voted 4-1 Wednesday to uphold the approval and reject an appeal from the High Country Citizens’ Alliance.

The group’s executive director Dan Morse says the High Country Citizens’ Alliance still has concerns about water quality for Crested Butte.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

EPA Issues Guidance for Enhanced Monitoring of Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water

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Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Jalil Isa):

Several weeks ago, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson committed to address hexavalent chromium (also known as chromium-6) in drinking water by issuing guidance to all water systems on how to assess the prevalence of the contaminant. Today, the agency is delivering on that promise and has issued guidance recommending how public water systems might enhance monitoring and sampling programs specifically for hexavalent chromium. The recommendations are in response to emerging scientific evidence that chromium-6 could pose health concerns if consumed over long periods of time.

“Protecting public health is EPA’s top priority. As we continue to learn more about the potential risks of exposure to chromium-6, we will work closely with states and local officials to ensure the safety of America’s drinking water supply,” said Administrator Jackson. “This action is another step forward in understanding the problem and working towards a solution that is based on the best available science and the law.”

The enhanced monitoring guidance provides recommendations on where the systems should collect samples and how often they should be collected, along with analytical methods for laboratory testing. Systems that perform the enhanced monitoring will be able to better inform their consumers about any presence of chromium-6 in their drinking water, evaluate the degree to which other forms of chromium are transformed into chromium-6, and assess the degree to which existing treatment affects the levels of chromium-6 in drinking water.

EPA currently has a drinking water standard for total chromium, which includes chromium-6, and requires water systems to test for it. Testing is not required to distinguish what percentage of the total chromium is chromium-6 versus other forms such as chromium-3, so EPA’s regulation assumes that the sample is 100 percent chromium-6. This means the current chromium-6 standard has been as protective and precautionary as the science of that time allowed.

EPA’s latest data show that no public water systems are in violation of the standard. However, the science behind chromium-6 is evolving. The agency regularly re-evaluates drinking water standards and, based on new science on chromium-6, has already begun a rigorous and comprehensive review of its health effects. In September 2010, the agency released a draft of the scientific review for public comment. When the human health assessment is finalized in 2011, EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information to determine if a new standard needs to be set. While EPA conducts this important evaluation, the agency believes more information is needed on the presence of chromium-6 in drinking water. For that reason, EPA is providing guidance to all public water systems and encouraging them to consider how they may enhance their monitoring for chromium-6.

More information on the new guidance to drinking water systems:

More information on chromium:

More information on the status of the ongoing risk assessment:

More EPA coverage here.

Restoration: Biochar for mine cleanups?

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From the High Country News weblog The Range (Heather Hansen):

[A] possible solution, currently being field-tested by a non-profit based in Carbondale, may change the reclamation landscape entirely. Since 2007, the Flux Farm Foundation has been working on reclamation with a promising substance known as biochar. Biochar is made by burning biomass (like wood, animal and crop waste) in an oxygen-limited environment, resulting in a stable form of carbon that has superior water- and nutrient-retention abilities.

These characteristics make it an ideal candidate to restore moonscape-like mine sites, where vegetation (that could capture toxic metals leaching out of abandoned mines and into waterways) is long gone.

Using biochar to reduce metal toxicity and to boost the fertility of compromised soil isn’t a new concept, but using it clean up mines is. The Mountain Studies Institute, based in Silverton, has done some small-scale biochar trials on mine lands in the San Juan Mountains, but Flux Farm’s Hope Mine Project is the first time an entire mine has been taken on.

More restoration coverage here. More biochar coverage here.

Wastewater: Cargill Fort Morgan beef plant is getting a $6 million bacteria-based system to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus releases to the South Platte River

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From Environmental Leader:

The system will use bacteria to break down nitrogen and release nitrogen gas, thus preventing emissions into the South Platte River. Work on the project is expected to complete by the third quarter of 2012, at an estimated cost of over $6 million.

Cargill says it has already reduced nitrogen discharges at the plant by 65 percent in the past four years, and the new initiative should help the plant reach 80 or 90 percent. The company says the facility is compliant with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment’s requirements for discharge into the South Platte River…

Most of Cargill’s meat plants use methane from wastewater lagoons to help fuel operations. Biogas now displaces at least 20 percent of natural gas demand at Cargill’s North American beef processing plants, while reducing GHG emissions by more than 1.3 million metric tons over the past four years. By the end of fiscal year 2010, Cargill obtained 11 percent of its energy from renewables, exceeding its 10 percent goal.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Here are the notes from the Colorado Climate Center.

One interesting note. The Bureau of Reclamation is planning a “balancing flow” release of over 9 million acre-feet from Lake Powell this season. The representative told webinar participants that if the Upper Colorado River Basin streamflow forecast holds with early indications that Reclamation may increase the release to over 12 million acre-feet.

Many are trying to help out the water levels in Lake Mead. Arizona is considering passing on some of their Colorado River allocation this year in an attempt to keep the Lake Mead water level above the level (1,075 feet above sea level) that would trigger the 2007 drought management plan for Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Mexico plans to store 300,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water in Lake Mead due to their not being able to utilize the water in their earthquake damaged irrigation system.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.