CWCB: The board unanimously declares its intent to appropriate an instream flow water right on a 16.5-mile stretch of the San Miguel River

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From The Telluride Watch (Karen James):

Both the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the US Bureau of Land Management recommended that the appropriation be declared one year ago when the CWCB met for its January 2010 meeting. At that time, however, the board voted to delay the action for another year in order to allow water users time to develop plans for off-stem water storage in the watershed.

The federal agencies made the recommendation primarily to prevent three dwindling species of native fish – flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub – from being listed for federal protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“That kicks off our notice and comment procedure,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, noting that any entity choosing to oppose the instream flow has until March 31 to file a notice to contest the action.

Here’s the list of streams for appropriations from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.

Energy policy — nuclear: The Sheep Mountain Alliance files lawsuit over the licensing procedure for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium/vanadium mill

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The lawsuit argues that Colorado regulators violated federal and state laws and ignored dangers to western Colorado’s clean air and water when they issued the permit.

“Sheep Mountain Alliance exhausted all remedies before we decided to file this lawsuit,” said Linda Miller, a member of Sheep Mountain Alliance’s board of directors, in a release. “We participated in the approval process but our concerns were not addressed. We’re disappointed that the state did not issue a decision that would have protected the public interest and we must now rely on the district court to uphold the law.”

The license permits Energy Fuels to construct a uranium/vanadium mill roughly 12 miles west of Naturita in Paradox Valley — a lonely valley of redrock walls where the Dolores River flows. The mill, which would be situated on roughly 17 acres of land, could process up to 500 tons of material per day. As planned, the facility would run 24 hours a day, almost every day of the year, with up to 85 employees, Energy Fuels has said.

Gary Steele, senior vice president of corporate marketing at Energy Fuels, said the company has not had a chance to fully review the lawsuit. “We’re reviewing it, and we’re highly confident that the record we’ve built over the last many months will see us through any challenges that come at us,” he said on Tuesday…

The complaint against the CDPHE alleges a spate of violations in the state agency’s decision, and seeks revocation of the license. Among its allegations:

• That the CDPHE violated state statutes meant to protect Colorado residents from carrying the financial burdens of cleaning up uranium mills by only requiring Energy Fuels to provide $11 million to cover future cleanup and decommissioning costs.

• That state regulators didn’t follow the provisions of the Colorado Radiation Control Act when they issued the license.

• That in not allowing the public or members of SMA to ask the CDPHE or Energy Fuels technical questions about the project, regulators violated the federal Atomic Energy Act.

• That despite the recently passed Uranium Processing Accountability Act, which prohibits the licensing of a uranium mill where groundwater has been shown to exceed state standards, regulators ignored data that revealed groundwater samples taken at the Piñon Ridge mill site exceeded allowable standards for both radioactive materials and heavy metals.

“If state regulators ignore basic federal and state law to permit this mill, how can we ever trust them to monitor the mill once it’s in production?” Miller said in the release.

More coverage from the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

The Sheep Mountain Alliance is heading back to court for Round 2 in its fight to stop a uranium mill from being built in the West End of Montrose County. Claiming Colorado regulators violated state and federal laws, the grassroots environmental group’s Feb. 4 suit seeks the invalidation of the radioactive materials license for Energy Fuels Resources’ Piñon Ridge Mill. The alliance further wants a finding that the state must reconsider the license and deny it.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

IBCC: 2010 SWSI Update

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Eric Hecox was kind enough to respond to two questions I had from the recent IBCC Committee meeting Here you go:

CG – Was there an attempt to identify water quality costs in the SWSI update?

EH – Water quality costs were only included on the supply side. We identified the quality of the source water and determined if it would need conventional or advanced treatment. However, we did not identify water quality costs on the discharge side so that would add to the cost projections.

CG – Does groundwater make up a wedge in the future supply curve?

EH – Groundwater is included in the water provider’s IPPs. Some providers are relying on developing groundwater and that is included to the extent they indicated in their plans. Water providers who are currently using nonrenewable groundwater from the Denver Basin aquifer face a different issue. They are trying to reduce their reliance on groundwater so replacement of groundwater with a renewable supply is also included in our projections.

More IBCC – basin roundtables coverage here.

Custer County: Commissioners agree to give a fresh look at the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District’s proposed augmentation plan for the county

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From the Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

On Jan. 19 commissioners Lynn Attebery, Jim Austin and Allen Butler recapped the water forum held here on Jan. 15, and decided to meet with the county’s planning commission chair and co-chair to discuss the viability of the planning commission investigating the feasibility of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District bringing a water augmentation plan to the county and making a recommendation to that effect to the commissioners. That meeting with the two county planning commission members – chairman Vic Barnes and vice-chair Keith Hood – took place during the Jan. 31 commissioners’ regular meeting. Following a lengthy discussion, with Barnes and Hood agreeing that the planning commission’s role should be to gather data only, the county commissioners decided to discuss the matter with county attorney John Naylor before making a final decision regarding the planning commission’s role, if any. Also during the Jan 19 meeting, commissioner Austin made a motion to send a letter to the UAWCD stating the county commissioners were not to blame for UAWCD’s recent decision to pull its proposed blanket water augmentation plan for Custer County from water court. Instead, said Austin, the commissioners objected because the UAWCD did not honor its agreement with the former county commissioners. That agreement, noted Austin, was that the commissioners be allowed to review the water augmentation proposal before UAWCD submitted it. “That didn’t happen,” said Austin.

More Custer County coverage here and here.

Reclamation Seeking Partners for WaterSMART Basin Studies

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From email from Reclamation (Dan DuBray):

The Bureau of Reclamation is seeking eligible non-federal entities interested in participating in a Basin Study under the WaterSMART Program. Those entities interested in proposing a Basin Study to Reclamation must submit a letter of interest to their respective Reclamation regional office by March 16, 2011.

Basin Studies are comprehensive studies that define options for meeting future water demands in river basins in the western United States where imbalances in supply and demand exist or are projected. Reclamation will work cooperatively with state and local partners to conduct the study.

A Basin Study is comprised of four main elements:

1. Projections of water supply and demand, including the risks of climate change
2. Analysis of how existing water and power infrastructure and operations will perform in response to changing water realities
3. Development of options and mitigation strategies to improve operations and infrastructure to supply adequate water in the future
4. Trade-off analysis of the options identified, findings and recommendations as appropriate

Information regarding the risks and impacts of climate change may be developed as part of the Basin Studies, or may include baseline analyses developed through the West-Wide Climate Risk Assessments, another activity under the WaterSMART Program.

The non-federal entities interested in participating in a Basin Study must contribute at least 50 percent of the total study cost as cash or in-kind services. Basin Studies are not a financial assistance program; therefore Reclamation’s share of the study costs may only be used to support work done by Reclamation or its contractors.

Proposed letters of interest for Basin Studies will be reviewed by Reclamation regional office staff. Those selected for further consideration will work with Reclamation technical experts to develop a joint study proposal for evaluation and prioritization by a Reclamation-wide review committee. The committee will develop a group of final recommendations to be considered for funding within existing budget parameters.

To learn more about proposing a Basin Study or to learn more about the WaterSMART Program, visit To determine the Reclamation region in which your specific basin is located, visit

More Reclamation coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Snowpack in the high-elevation mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 111 percent to 170 percent of the 30-year average (1971-2001). Last-year snowpack at this time was only about 65 percent of average. “We’re just lucky this year,” said Mark Volt of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office…

Snow density is averaging 25 percent, which means that for a foot of snow, there are 3 inches of water. “This is pretty dense snow for this time of year,” Volt said.

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat:

According to the latest snow surveys, conducted by the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado’s statewide snowpack decreased from 136 percent of average on Jan. 1 to 117 percent of average on Feb. 1. Decreases in snowpack percentages were measured in all of the major river basins of the state, according to Allen Green, state conservationist with the NRCS. While this year’s snowpack is considerably better than last year at this time, the current statewide percentage ties that measured on this date back in 2009. Those basins across southwestern Colorado experienced the driest conditions during January, recording only about one quarter of their normal precipitation for the month. Snowpack percentages decreased by 38 percentage points in the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins, declining from 144 percent of average on Jan. 1, to 106 percent of average on Feb. 1. Similar decreases were also measured in the Gunnison Basin, decreasing from 158 percent of average a month ago, to only 125 percent of average…

Even after experiencing a dry January, the current snowpack remains well ahead of that measured a year ago at this time. With the exception of southwestern Colorado, the 2011 readings are consistently well-above those of last year. Statewide totals are currently tracking at 137 percent of those from a year ago.

Montezuma County: The McElmo Creek Flume named to Colorado Preservation Inc.’s 2011 Most Endangered Places list

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The McElmo Creek Flume, an irrigation flume located three miles east of Cortez near the Montezuma County Fairgrounds, was named to Colorado Preservation Inc.’s 2011 Most Endangered Places list last week. The flume is the first site of its kind to gain such recognition. “This nomination was really interesting for us because I don’t know if anyone on our staff was familiar with the flume when it was first nominated,” said Patrick Eidman, Endangered Places program manager. “We like to see diversity, not just a list of homes in Denver, but all the different historic resources, and this was the first water conveyance site that was nominated.”[…]

The local site was nominated for placement on the list by the Cortez Historical Preservation Board, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners, the Montezuma County Historical Society, and the Dolores Water Conservancy District. The flume was one of six sites chosen from a list of 44 nominees. It is the first site in Montezuma County to garner recognition as an endangered place. “Our water history is so important in this state,” Eidman said. “You can’t separate the development of Colorado from water history. Having a water resource on the list speaks directly to that importance. It is a really interesting resource, and I loved its story and recognized right away it would be a cool site for us. It is very evocative for people in Colorado when you start talking about water.”

The McElmo flume was one of roughly 104 flumes constructed throughout Montezuma County to transport irrigation water across canals and arroyos in the region. The original flume system was conceived in the late 1800s, according to Les Nunn, manager of Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. from 1978 to 2006. “The flumes were built to deliver water throughout the Montezuma Valley,” Nunn said. “In 1920, MVI started using the flumes when they bought out Montezuma Valley Irrigation Water District. At that time, there were 104 flumes on the system.”

More Montezuma County coverage here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: EPA Submits Draft Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan to Independent Scientists for Review / The draft plan is open to public comment

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

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today submitted its draft study plan on hydraulic fracturing for review to the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group of independent scientists. Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing that vital resource. EPA scientists, under this administration and at the direction of Congress, are undertaking a study of this practice to better understand any potential impacts it may have, including on groundwater. EPA announced its intention to conduct the study in March 2010 and use the best available science, independent sources of information, a transparent, peer-reviewed process and with consultation from others. Since then, EPA has held a series of public meetings across the country with thousands attending and the agency has developed a sound draft plan for moving forward with the study.

The scope of the proposed research includes the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced or used water and its ultimate treatment and disposal.

The SAB plans to review the draft plan March 7-8, 2011. Consistent with the operating procedures of the SAB, stakeholders and the public will have an opportunity to provide comments to the SAB during their review. The agency will revise the study plan in response to the SAB’s comments and promptly begin the study. Initial research results and study findings are expected to be made public by the end of 2012, with the goal of an additional report following further research in 2014.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressures to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations. The process creates fractures in formations such as shale rock, allowing natural gas or oil to escape into the well and be recovered. Over the past few years, the use of hydraulic fracturing for gas extraction has increased and has expanded over a wider diversity of geographic regions and geologic formations.

For a copy of the draft study plan and additional information:!OpenDocument&TableRow=2.1#2

More information on hydraulic fracturing:

More coverage from The Huffington Post (Nicholas Kusnetz). From the article:

Drillers have been fracking wells for decades, but with the rise of horizontal drilling into unconventional formations like shale, they are injecting far more water and chemicals underground than ever before. The EPA proposal notes that 603 rigs were drilling horizontal wells in June 2010, more than twice as many as were operating a year earlier. Horizontal wells can require millions of gallons of water per well, a much greater volume than in conventional wells.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: The Colorado State Land Board yanks two Park County parcels near Antero Reservoir from proposed lease sale

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From the Associated Press via Bloomberg:

A spokeswoman for the Colorado State Land Board said Friday that staffers have removed the land near Antero Reservoir from the list of parcels to be auctioned. The announcement follows concerns raised by a citizens group. Be the Change pressed for a moratorium on leases in the area until more is known about how drinking water might be affected by hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting oil and natural gas.

Meanwhile Be the Change USA is hosting Fracking and Our Water on February 19. Click here for here for registration information. There will be a Denver Mayoral candidate forum and a screening of the film Gasland.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1150 would transfer wildlife fees to the Colorado Water Conservation Board construction fund

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From The Denver Post (Karl Licis):

[House Bill 11-1150, Concerning Additional Revenues for Water Storage Projects], sponsored by Rep. Jon Becker, with Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg as co-sponsor. The bill, assigned to the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, proposes to transfer $5 million per year for the next 10 years from the wildlife cash fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s construction fund, to be used for water-storage projects. Such a project ostensibly would have to enhance, create or preserve wildlife habitat, and the CWCB would need to determine that doing so would not violate federal law…

Recent appropriations of the wildlife cash fund have been about $85 million a year. The potential annual loss of $5 million represents about a 6 percent decrease in funding for the DOW, but that could merely be the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The DOW also receives about $20 million a year in federal excise-tax returns through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson acts. That money has specific guidelines for how it can be spent. The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service already has indicated to the legislature that HB 1150 would be an inappropriate expenditure of such money. Consequently, if the bill became law, the DOW stands to lose some $25 million a year, or $250 million over the 10-year life of the bill. Such an impact no doubt would be devastating to the DOW’s efforts in serving license-buying hunters and fishermen and all others who value the state’s wildlife resources.

With a loss of federal dollars likely, HB 1150 could be dead on arrival. Even so, with those “goose eggs” in the nest, it’s a reminder to be ever vigilant.

From email from Colorado Trout Unlimited:

Urgent! Please take action now! Call your State Senators and Representatives today at 1-800-811-7647 and urge them to stop the $260 million raid on your fish and wildlife license dollars!

Recently introduced by Reps. Becker, Sonnenberg, and Sen. Jahn, HB 1150 would gut funding for the Colorado Division of Wildlife and is this year’s most serious attack on Colorado’s fish and wildlife – and the state’s hunters and anglers.

HB 1150 will take your hunting and fishing license dollars away from the intended purpose – fish and wildlife management and conservation. INSTEAD, these fund will be transferred from your pocket and the Colorado Division of Wildlife to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop water storage projects.

If passed, HB 1150 will result in a $260 million net loss of funding for fish and wildlife conservation and management in Colorado over the next ten years – $50 million in funds directly transferred, and $210 million in lost federal matching grants.

Please call your State Representative today and urge them to vote NO on HB 1150. You can reach the Capitol by calling: 1-800-811-7647. If you don’t know who your State Representative is or how to reach them, you can look them up and find their contact information by clicking here and entering your zip code…

Interested in speaking out at the Capitol? HB 1150 is scheduled for hearing in the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, February 21 . This is an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns. Please contact Erica Stock if you would like to attend.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Lower Arkansas Valley: The Caitlin and Fort Lyon canals file applications to add shares to the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association augmentation plans

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Applications by a group of shareholders on the Fort Lyon Canal and by the Catlin Canal Co. were made in January to allow use of water for augmentation plans by the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association. Formed in 1965, CWPDA provides augmentation for about 600 members and 1,336 wells in the Arkansas Valley. It serves municipal, industrial and agricultural users. Under 1996 well rules adopted for the Arkansas Valley, groups that provide augmentation are allowed to use plans administered by the state engineer’s office for up to 10 years. Augmentation supplies provide replacement water for depletions caused by wells that were put into operation after the 1948 Arkansas River Compact…

“CWPDA really didn’t get into the business of using water rights they own as a source of augmentation until later,” said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer. “After the drought in 2002, more operators began bringing in their own shares.”[…]

Under an appendix to the Kansas v. Colorado case, state engineers from both states agreed to require Colorado water rights owners to file for a change of use, when needed, after the third year a supply was used under an administrative water plan. Part of that decision also was driven by the 2003 Empire Lodge state Supreme Court decision, which curtailed some of the authority previously assumed by the state engineer. This year, Witte notified the CWPDA that change of use applications for water rights used in 2011 augmentation plans had to be filed by Jan. 31, prompting the filings from the Fort Lyon and Catlin canals.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

A look at the economics of Colorado’s agricultural sector

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Here’s an in-depth look at the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Update forecasts and the possible effects on Colorado’s agricultural sector, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Two top-ranking state officials brought that message home last week. Continuing to dry up agriculture could amount to a hit of more than $1 billion to the state’s economy. John Stulp, who is advising Gov. John Hickenlooper on water issues, made a case for leaving water in the areas where it has historically been used. “You can use and reuse water, but once you ship it out, it’s gone,” Stulp said. “If we double our population in 40 years, think of how long you’ll be sitting in traffic on Interstate 25.”

Stulp’s replacement as Colorado Agriculture Commissioner, John Salazar, called for more attention to the impact of costs to rural communities if land is dried up. “Agriculture is the second-largest contributor to the state economy,” Salazar said. “The next 10 years are supposed to be good for agriculture, but the only way for us as a state to benefit is to have the water available to produce crops.”[…]

State agricultural revenues in 2007 were $6 billion, according to the Census of Agriculture, and irrigated acres were far more productive than dryland acres.

Worst-case scenarios:

– In the Arkansas River basin, the five counties with the largest production from irrigated acreage generated ag revenues of $616.9 million. If 17 percent of the farm land were dried up, that could amount to more than $100 million from farm income alone.
– In the South Platte basin, where there are nine of the 10 largest ag production counties, up to one-third of irrigated farm land could be dried up. That would mean a drop of about $1.25 billion in an annual $4 billion farm economy.
– In the Rio Grande basin, ag revenues totalled $320 million, and a 14 percent drop would mean a loss of $58 million.
– The losses statewide from continued dry-up could be close to $1.5 billion, just in the value of products sold. That would not take into account the impacts on communities…

The actual value of crops grown in the state was examined in a 2005 study by Colorado State University. Values ranged from $350 to $1,100 per acre. The study found the highest per-acre values in the San Luis Valley and the lowest in the Arkansas River basin. When results of the study were published, many farmers in the Arkansas Valley told The Chieftain the numbers were too low. “We haven’t updated the land value study, but have been working on analysis for the changes to the ag sector if lands are retired,” said James Pritchett, professor of economics, who led the 2005 study. “We’ve also been doing work on limited-irrigation economics.”[…]

Colorado residents need to be better educated on where their food comes from, Salazar said. “A lot of folks think our food comes from a grocery store,” Salazar said. “Once people understand, they’ll see the relationship to agricultural businesses in the rural communities.”