San Luis Valley closed-basin salvage project update

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Update: More coverage from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Some farmers and ranchers near Moffat argue the project has lowered the unconfined aquifer — the shallower of the valley’s two underground water formations and one upon which a number of them depend…

Ken Beck, who manages the project for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, doesn’t deny the project may be affecting its neighbors. But there are 132 monitoring wells on the project’s boundaries that are designed to show when the project is causing harm. He brought data that showed no change to many of the wells in the Moffat area and said other project wells that did have a negative effect had been shut off. Beck also said the development of roughly 4,000 acres of groundwater-irrigated private land north of the project since it was authorized also may be affecting the area.

While the north end of the valley got to vent its frustrations at the meeting, the project also has been a disappointment in other parts of the valley because of its low production. Beck said the project has never lived up to initial projections that envisioned pumping as much as 117,000 acre-feet in some years. Currently, it produces between 8 percent and 12 percent of that amount…

After the project’s authorization by Congress, five water user groups in the valley signed an agreement concerning how the project’s water would be used. The 1985 pact, known as the “60/40 Agreement,” called for using project water to lessen the burden on surface water users whose rights often were curtailed to meet the demands of the Rio Grande Compact. Under the agreement, roughly 60 percent of the project’s water would be credited to the Rio Grande’s contribution to the compact and 40 percent would be credited to the Conejos.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The project was designed to capture — through a system of 170 salvage wells, 115 miles of pipeline laterals and a 42-mile long PVC-lined canal — water otherwise going to waste through evapotranspiration. The water would then be used to help the state meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations, water delivery obligations to Mexico and other purposes. Bureau of Reclamation Alamosa Field Division Manager Ken Beck made a presentation about the Closed Basin Project to the Northern San Luis Valley Conservation Roundtable group on Thursday. He discussed the history, purpose and efficiency of the project, which is under the bureau’s jurisdiction…

Beck said he understood the Closed Basin Project was controversial, and he was not there to debate its merits but to explain how it came to be, how it has changed over time and how it is operated now. He told the group of about 50 people that if they were interested in decommissioning the project, they would have to talk with those who have the authority to do that, namely legislators, because it took an act of Congress to construct it, and it would take something of that nature to take it out of commission.

He said the project, which sits on about 125,000 acres, was originally designed to yield 117,000 acre feet of water a year through the pumping of 170 salvage wells, each drilled to between 59 and 123 feet deep. The project has never reached that yield capacity, and the closest it has gotten to it was 43,520 acre feet in 1997. The project yields 15,000-20,000 acre feet of water a year, Beck said. That is with pumping going on 24/7. He said the project is permitted to pump as much as 80,000 acres a year. He said one reason the original yield was off was because the initial estimate for snowpack runoff from the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range was 8,000 acre feet a year…

The number of salvage wells being pumped does not total 170, Beck said. The number of wells pumping at any given time is generally around 90, he said. Beck explained that some of the wells are not being used because of problems with water quality. The water coming out of the wells must meet standards for total dissolved solids that are higher than drinking water standards, Beck said…

In 2001, the bureau began re-drilling wells that were not functioning properly, and this time the wells were constructed more appropriately and more efficiently, Beck said. For example, the original wells were powered by 40 horsepower pumps, which are now being replaced by pumps with .5-7.5 horsepower motors. The project is now realizing nearly half-a-million dollars a year in energy savings, Beck said. When asked where that saved money was now going, Beck said other costs have gone up, so it has been absorbed in other areas.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

RIP Dick MacRavey

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

Richard MacRavey Tribute/Memorial

Two services have been set for the celebration of Dick’s life. The first one will be at the Colorado State Capitol. The second at Christ’s Episcopal Church.

Celebration of the Life of Richard MacRavey
Friday, March 25 from 12:30 to 2:00 pm

Colorado State Capitol
1st Floor, South Side of the Rotunda

Memorial Service for Richard MacRavey
Saturday, March 26 at 2:00 pm

Christ’s Episcopal Church
615 4th Street
Castle Rock, CO 80104
phone: (303) 688-5185

Here’s an obituary from The Denver Post (Virginia Culver).

Cheesman Dam maintenance and repair update

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Lori Peck):

Cheesman Reservoir will be closed to visitors this year, as Denver Water completes essential upgrades to the dam, which was built in 1905. Upper and lower Gill Trail will remain open to hikers who want to access Cheesman Canyon throughout the closure period.

The reservoir has been closed to visitors since Jan. 1, 2010, during the first phase of the project, in which crews completed upgrades to valves inside the dam. Though the utility had planned to open the reservoir this spring, the amount of heavy equipment, site logistics and security needs for the second phase of valve upgrades necessitated a prolonged closure. Cheesman will reopen to visitors May 1, 2012.

“Completing this project is vital to maintaining dam safety, providing a viable water supply and ensuring smooth operations,” said Tom Roode, assistant chief of engineering. “Cheesman is more than 100 years old, and the underwater valves we are replacing were installed in 1905 and the late 1920s. We look forward to opening the reservoir to recreationists next year.”

More Denver Water coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Will Japan’s reactor problems put a damper on the new plant planned for Pueblo County?

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From the Colorado Indpendent (David O. Williams):

The Pueblo County Commissioners Tuesday and Wednesday will hold hearings on a proposed clean energy park southeast of the city that a local attorney wants to see contain a 3,000-megawatt nuclear power plant. That proposal, first floated in July, was sure to draw big crowds and heated debate both evenings beginning at 5 p.m. in the Jackson Ballroom of the Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center, but in the wake of partial meltdowns at two Japanese nuclear reactors and problems at two other facilities in the wake of Friday’s devastating earthquake, the proposal will likely bring even closer scrutiny. The Japan disaster has sent shockwaves through the world’s resurgent nuclear industry that could impact Colorado’s uranium-mining revival.

Meanwhile, from 9News.com:

Water levels dropped precipitously Monday inside a stricken Japanese nuclear reactor, twice leaving the uranium fuel rods completely exposed and raising the threat of a meltdown, hours after a hydrogen explosion tore through the building housing a different reactor…Water levels were restored after the first decrease but the rods remained exposed late Monday night after the second episode, increasing the risk of the spread of radiation and the potential for an eventual meltdown.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

The High Country Citizens’ Alliance and the Western Mining Action Project file lawsuit over prospecting activities at the Mt. Emmons mine

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

HCCA, along with the Western Mining Action Project, filed the suit in Denver District Court on Wednesday, March 2. “We firmly believe the mining company needs to put up a bond that should address water treatment issues,” explained HCCA executive director Dan Morse.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, which oversees all mining decisions in the state, granted final approval for the proposal in January 2011, but failed to require any bonding amount for the treatment of polluted water from the Project.

According to a HCCA press release, “The approved activities include the construction of a mining drift that would be 8 feet wide by 10 feet high generating as much as 15,000 cubic yards of waste material, which is described as having the potential to generate acid mine discharge. This mining drift would be used to conduct a program of delineation drilling of the ore body. Many of the residents of the Town of Crested Butte are concerned about the project’s impacts because the activities would take place within the town’s municipal drinking watershed.”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Arkansas River basin dam report

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Repairing dams that have been restricted by the State Engineer’s office and/or dredging silted in reservoirs could provide storage for Colorado at a low cost. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

As state engineer, [Jeris] Danielson battled with lawmakers over funding for inspectors. The catastrophic failure of the Teton Dam in 1976 renewed interest in the safety of dams program, which has been a responsibility of the state engineer for more than a century. Now, some of the dams that have been restricted over the years might be brought back to life. In fact, there are efforts to revive the two largest restricted reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin.

The Two Rivers Water Co. — Barber is president of the company — is trying to bring back Cucharas Reservoir in Huerfano County by building a new dam downstream of a dam that breached in 1987. The dam, on the Cucharas River in Huerfano County, has a capacity of more than 40,000 acre-feet, more water than Pueblo water customers use in a year. But filling it is problematic because there is rarely enough water in the river at the right time of year. Constructed in the early 1900s, the reservoir was used to irrigate Pueblo County farmland. Two Rivers’ stated goal is to bring at least some of that land back into production. The original dam is restricted to about 7,500 acre-feet of storage because of poor overall construction and movement along the embankment. The new owners intend to construct a new dam downstream to overcome the problem. The cost could reach $30 million — about $1,000 an acre-foot for recovered storage.

The Two Buttes Reservoir straddles the Prowers-Baca county line on Two Buttes Creek, and once had a capacity of 41,000 acre-feet. It is restricted to less than 10,000 acre-feet by dam safety issues, and like Cucharas rarely has water available to fill it. The Division of Wildlife, which has a wildlife area at the Two Buttes site, has been working to remove restrictions on the dam. Plans are not far enough along to estimate costs.

Those two sites, with restrictions totalling more than 64,000 acre-feet, make up 83 percent of the storage lost to restrictions in the Arkansas River basin, said Mark Perry, dam safety engineer for the Division of Water Resources. Overall, there are 44 reservoirs, out of 310 in the Arkansas River basin, that have restrictions. Most amount to a few hundred acre-feet of lost storage each. In total, about 77,500 acre-feet have been lost to restrictions…

Far more common is the unavailability of water at the right time in the right place. In theory, there is massive storage available in the Great Plains Reservoirs, between Eads and Lamar. Fed by ditch canals, five reservoirs in the system could hold 265,000 acre-feet. But, as a presentation by CDM Engineering at last week’s roundtable meeting pointed out, the lakes have been dwindling for the past 10 years because the junior water rights they live on are not in priority…

Lake Henry and Lake Meredith in Crowley County are used by Colorado Springs, Aurora and ditch companies in the winter water program, so maintain higher levels. The cities use the storage to exchange water upstream. The Holbrook Canal stores water in its lakes, under contract, to allow cities to recover water that has been bypassed under a 2004 agreement to maintain flows through Pueblo.

Reservoirs also fill quickly with sediment downstream from Pueblo. Blue Lake, a Fort Lyon Canal reservoir north of Las Animas on Adobe Creek, once was 30 feet deep in places, but now is just 12 feet deep. Crews were able to dig out about 4 feet of sediment before it began to refill again in 2005 after four years of drought. In 2008-09, the Army Corps of Engineers hydraulically dredged John Martin Reservoir to break through 50 years of accumulated sediment — roughly 90,000 cubic yards. In some places, the sediment was 20 to 25 feet deep.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.