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.

Water treatment: What will new fluoride rules mean for Colorado water suppliers?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Loretta Sword):

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday announced a proposal to lower its fluoride recommendations to 0.7 milligrams per liter, down from a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. Based on a recent study showing adverse dental and health impacts from higher levels and long-term consumption, the HHS also is reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency’s stance that up to 4 milligrams per liter is safe. HHS officials believe that level may be too high.

Don Colalancia, division manager for water quality and treatment at the Whitlock Water Treatment Plant , said natural fluoride levels of Pueblo’s water average about 0.4 milligrams per liter “and we feed fluoride to arrive at a 1.0 final concentration. We measure the raw water and then add enough to get to 1 milligram per liter.” Colalancia said he was aware of potential new guidelines and is awaiting word from state health officials before reducing target fluoride ranges at the Whitlock treatment plant. “Whenever the state says it’s OK to reduce the level, we’ll do that,” he said, adding that the state’s current recommendations mirror the federal guidelines that are under review. Adjusting the fluoride level is “very easy to do, and in fact we’ll save money by doing it,” Colalancia said.

Steve Harrison, director of utilities in Pueblo West, said the metro district does not add fluoride to the community’s water, and that periodic monitoring shows natural levels average about 0.5 milligrams per liter — just under the lowest level that is part of current guidelines as well as the proposed new recommendation of 0.7 milligrams per liter.

From The Greeley Tribune

[Jon Monson, water director for the City of Greeley] said Mother Nature helps Greeley fulfill that fluoride threshold because it’s naturally occurring in the water the city pumps from its Bellvue Water Treatment Plant and from Boyd Lake Treatment Plant. Both contain from 0.4 to 0.5 milligrams per liter, which the city boosts with chemical additions. Reducing that will save the city $10,000 a year in chemical costs, Monson said…

Monson said the city could use that money instead to buy activated carbon, which it uses typically in the late summers, when algae in Boyd Lake grows. That algae has a tendency to stink up the water, prompting calls from residents complaining about the smell and sometimes the taste.

From Denver Water:

On Jan. 7, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed changes to the standards and guidelines on fluoride in drinking water. Addition of fluoride to drinking water supplies is recommended by Centers for Disease Control, HHS, and the American Dental Association to help prevent tooth decay, particularly in children. It was recognized by the CDC as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.

The agency is lowering the recommended concentration of fluoride from a range of 0.7–1.2 mg/L to a flat 0.7 mg/L.

More water treatment coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: State Senator Gail Schwartz to sponsor bill that will allow the State Engineer to approve groundwater sub-district management plans as substitute water supply plans in the San Luis Valley

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Steve Vandiver, manager for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District that is sponsoring the water management sub-districts in the Valley, explained the pending legislation to Rio Grande Roundtable members during their meeting on Tuesday…

He said the state engineer’s office and attorney general’s office requested the bill, which adds a phrase or two to existing legislation regarding substitute water supply plans. Vandiver said the current statute allows the state engineer to approve temporary operation of an augmentation plan or rotation crop management contract that has been filed with the water court, but the court has not yet issued a decree. The state engineer can approve the temporary operation of those plans until the decree is completed, Vandiver explained. The proposed legislation would add wording allowing the state engineer to do the same thing with sub-district water management plans. Under the proposed legislation, the state engineer could approve temporary operation of a groundwater management plan as a substitute water supply plan as long as the state engineer has approved the groundwater management plan application, judicial review of that approval has been filed with a water court and the court has not issued a decree…

Otherwise, [Vandiver] explained, the groundwater rules the state engineer is currently finalizing could become effective while water management plans are hung up in court, and all of the people who were relying on those plans to cover them might suddenly find their wells shut off.

Several proposed water management sub-districts, separated by Valley hydrology and geography, are in various stages of development. The sub-districts are designed to make up depletions to surface water rights and the aquifer as a whole, at least in part through reduction in irrigated acreage within the sub-district boundaries.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline update

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the chief federal agency in charge of reviewing and approving the project, plans to issue a draft environmental impact statement on the project in 2016, with a final version and possible approval to follow in 2018.

Whether Million’s pipeline could actually produce as much hydropower as Million suggests and whether the energy needed to pump the water over the Continental Divide will cancel out the benefits of producing hydropower are two of a host of unknowns about the project that the public won’t be able to learn until the environmental review is released in five years, said Stacy Tellinghuisen, an energy and water policy analyst for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, a critic of the project…

Barry Wirth, spokesman for the Utah office of the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees Flaming Gorge, said it’s unclear how the pipeline would affect hydropower at Flaming Gorge, and he did not know if the bureau had studied the matter.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Water Quality Control Commission affirms the state Water Quality Control Division’s decision for 401 certification for the project

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The certification is needed before work on SDS may begin…

At a hearing in December, lawyers for the coalition and Thiebaut argued that numeric standards are needed to determine how SDS will affect levels of contaminants such as selenium and E. coli in Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Colorado Springs and state lawyers argued for an adaptive management plan, which was described in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Environmental Impact Statement for SDS, that would provide flexibility in dealing with future problems…

Colorado Springs lawyers also defended the city’s 2009 decision to eliminate a stormwater enterprise that figured heavily into protection of Fountain Creek, assuring the state that other provisions were in place to control stormwater.

“It’s pretty clear to me that the division and the commission have bent over backward to accommodate Colorado Springs and its SDS partners,” said Ross Vincent of the local Sierra Club, a member of the coalition. “Without seeing the written decision, it’s inconceivable to me that the commission can justify supporting the division’s decision.” Vincent pointed to a budget briefing by the division last month, which acknowledged that the division does not have adequate funding to perform all of the duties required by the Legislature. The Dec. 22 memo claims the division would need more than 30 additional employees to keep up with the current workload of permits and inspections. The adaptive management plan relies on Colorado Springs to monitor itself, in much the same way that other compromises have been negotiated, Vincent said…

[Pueblo County District Attorney Bill Thiebaut] said he will wait until a written decision is issued before deciding how to proceed. “Our office is disappointed with the decision and direction of the Water Quality Control Commission. We will assess our legal options after receiving the written decision,” Thiebaut said. “The Bureau of Reclamation’s study showed that the SDS project will further degrade water quality in Pueblo County. Yet again, Colorado Springs will benefit from the project and Pueblo will be harmed,” he said. Thiebaut also questioned the state’s ability to enforce water quality laws. “I am concerned that the Water Quality Control Division does not utilize adequate information when making their decisions, and they fail to effectively respond to the current and future challenges of protecting and restoring the integrity of Colorado’s water bodies, including our Fountain Creek and Arkansas River,” Thiebaut said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Snowpack/storage news

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Statewide snowpack was at 125 percent of average Tuesday as parts of the state received a foot or more of new snow.

Wolf Creek Ski Area reported a base of 94 inches, with 13 inches added Sunday and Monday. Monarch had a base of 63 inches, while Ski Cooper was at 42 inches.

In terms of water supply, the Arkansas River and Rio Grande basins were at average levels, while the Colorado River watersheds were anywhere from 125-146 percent of average Tuesday. The South Platte River basin was at 115 percent. At Snotel sites maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snow depths in the Arkansas River watershed ranged from 8-46 inches, with moisture content anywhere from 1-10 inches.

Statewide, Snotel sites in some places are now close to 100 inches, with more snow added to last week’s totals. Snow water equivalent was almost 2 feet at the higher elevations, and most sites ranged between 10-20 inches.

The NRCS also reported that as of Jan. 1, snowpack was 159 percent of last year’s totals statewide, with the biggest gains in the Colorado River and tributary watersheds…

In the Roaring Fork basin, which supplies the bulk of water imports for the Arkansas River, sites were at 139 percent of average. Reclamation is moving about 150 cubic feet per second of water from Turquoise Lake to Lake Pueblo in order to make space for imports once runoff begins. That’s about one-third of the water in the river above Lake Pueblo. Flows are lower below Lake Pueblo as winter water storage continues. As of Dec. 31, about 15,600 acre-feet of winter water were stored in Lake Pueblo, with about twice that amount stored in reservoirs downstream. The amount of water in winter storage was about 85 percent of normal.