2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1286 (Clarify State Engineer Nontributary Rule Authority) sails through the state House

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Click here for Joe Hanel’s analysis of the bill from The Durango Herald.

More coverage from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Under HB1286, Water Court would be the last line of appeal for decisions by the state engineer. The bill arose in response to a 2009 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that found oil and gas wells are subject to the tributary water permitting process. Supporters of the bill have said it would streamline the permitting and appeal processes. In a committee hearing, an opponent objected that it represents legislative side-stepping of the high court. Next, the bill will be heard by a Senate committee.

More HB 11-1286 coverage here.

South Platte River basin: Morgan County Economic Development Corp. economic roundtable recap

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

It was an economic disaster when another part of the state saw its water rights bought up to provide water for big cities, and almost every local ditch company is now partly owned by one municipality or another, said Heath Kuntz of LeonardRice Engineers Inc. Fortunately so far, very little of the water which was once used for agriculture has been used for cities, but it will happen eventually, said Fort Morgan City Councilman Brent Nation, who owns Nation Engineering…

Lack of water in the future would mean little chance for industry to expand, and little chance for economic growth, she said. One of the difficulties is that the large cities can pay big bucks to speculate and hold water rights, and smaller rural areas cannot afford as much, Kuntz said.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: Mark Udall, Colorado’s Senior U.S. Senator, ‘I’m a realist, and if you want to substitute electricity for petroleum in transportation, nuclear has to be part of the equation.’

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From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

In the wake of the Japan’s ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo, more than just the so-called “dirty front end” of nuclear power – Colorado’s rich but sometimes toxic uranium mining history – is being called into question. The issues of waste storage at the state’s only nuclear power plant – the now-defunct Fort St. Vrain – and a lack of water to cool future reactors also are being hotly debated.

Still, Udall remains resolute in his support of increased nuclear power as a means of reducing the amount of carbon-spewing fossil fuels being burned to generate electricity and as a way to convert the nation’s transportation system from gas-powered to electric vehicles. In a statement last week to the Colorado Independent, Udall urged caution in moving ahead on nuclear power but reiterated his determination to do so.

“Our need to tackle climate change hasn’t gone away,” Udall said. “I’m a realist, and if you want to substitute electricity for petroleum in transportation, nuclear has to be part of the equation. However, any new nuclear power plants that are built — be they in Colorado or elsewhere in the United States — must involve lots of input from the local community and include robust permitting requirements, safety protocols and oversight.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Coyote Gulch turns 9 years old today

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Wow, 9 years. Here’s the link to the post where I dubbed the weblog Coyote Gulch.

I caught some momentum covering the municipal elections in Denver in 2003 where now Governor Hickenlooper was elected mayor of Denver in a runoff against Don Mares.

Later in the year Governor Owens tried to pass Referendum A and I found my “beat.” Readers kept sending me links and I was off and running on a labor of love.

It’s hard to know how many posts I created on the old software and Coyote Gulch — somewhere around 15,000. I’m up to 4,461 posts here on WordPress since February 12, 2009.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for the links. And thanks for the kind words when I’m lucky enough to meet you in person.

Water and the western U.S.: John Wesley Powell was correct

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From Huffpost Green (Brian Fagan):

In 1893, John Wesley Powell of Grand Canyon fame, Director of the US Geological Survey, addressed an irrigation conference in Los Angeles about water in the American West. He flatly stated that there was insufficient water in the American West to support widespread irrigation agriculture. Powell was shouted down, forced by hostile interests in Congress to resign from the Geological Survey. But history has shown he was right, for our reckless consumption has taken us far beyond the point of sustainability…

No question, our grandchildren and great grandchildren will live in a very different hydrological world. Quite apart from renegotiating the now-obsolete Colorado River Compact, we will have to break the habits of our lifetimes and use water very differently. If, for example, we reduced agricultural allocations and the amount of city water going to landscaping from 50% to 5%, we would save nearly 20% of the annual flow of the Colorado River alone.

Groundwater is also vanishing further to the east, from Colorado and New Mexico to Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, where the vast Ogallala aquifer under the Great Plains supports hundreds of communities, also large cities and major agricultural and mining activities. The Ogallala supplies about a third of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation. US Geological Survey experts have calculated that irrigation alone sucked about 21 million acre feet (260 cubic kilometers) of water from the Ogallala in 2000, a figure slightly larger than the historic annual discharge rate of the Colorado River. Some hydrologists believe that the aquifer will dry up in about 25 years.

More Colorado water coverage here.

Snowpack/streamflow forecast news

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten informed water users recently that the river forecast for this year is less than last season, and the snowpack in the mountains surrounding the San Luis Valley is less than average. As of last week, when Cotten presented his report at the Rio Grande Water Users Association annual meeting, basinwide the snowpack stood at 80 percent of average, but that averaged 90 percent for the Upper Rio Grande Basin with 56 percent for the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. On Monday, March 28, the Upper Rio Grande Basin was sitting about the same, at 91 percent of average, while the Sangre side of the Valley had dropped to 53 percent. “It is not looking real good,” Cotten told water users. He said a recent storm helped some but not much…

He said the Natural Resources Conservation Service and National Weather Service are forecasting stream flows this irrigation season (April-September) at lower levels than normal, as well. They are forecasting 420,000 acre feet of stream flow through the Del Norte gauge on the Rio Grande for the April-September time frame, or about 83 percent of average. Adding in about 90,000 acre feet that runs through the gauge during the off season, the forecast for the Rio Grande at Del Norte would be about 510,000 acre feet for this calendar year, Cotten explained. He said the current forecast could drop even more if the mountains do not collect some spring moisture. Last April 1, the forecast called for 590,000 acre feet on the Rio Grande at Del Norte, and by May 1 that forecast had dropped to 570,000 acre feet. The river ended the year with substantially less than that, 539,300 acre feet. Of the 510,000 acre feet currently predicted for the Rio Grande this year, about 130,400 acre feet of water will have to be sent downstream to New Mexico and Texas to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations. Considering the state’s credit status, estimated flows from the Closed Basin Project, return flows to the river and other factors, water users are looking at a 7-percent curtailment to meet that compact obligation.

On the Conejos River system, the current annual forecast is for 250,000 acre feet, with 75,000 obligated downstream to meet the compact. That means water users on the Conejos River system are looking at 17 percent curtailments, according to Cotten.

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

A spring storm dumped 12 inches on Vail and 10 inches on Beaver Creek, with more snow expected later this week…Aspen, meanwhile, got 5 inches…

The Natural Resources Conservation Service keeps track of it, and they don’t really look at snow depth when they measure water. They’re looking for moisture content, said Diane Johnson with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. We’re still ahead of snow water equivalent for this winter, running slightly ahead of the historical averages and way ahead of the 2002 drought levels, Johnson said…

The Vail Mountain site is at 108 percent of the historical average, Fremont Pass is 123 percent and Copper Mountain is 130 percent, according to Monday’s report. The Copper Mountain site has already exceeded its average high for the year, Johnson said.