Drought news: Kansas Governor Brownback wants to modify state water law abandonment provisions to help decrease depletions from the Ogallala (High Plains) aquifer

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From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

“The main recharge to the Ogallala in the Southern Plains are the small playa basins that dot the landscape,” [Carmon McCain, who handles information and education for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District in Lubbock, Texas] said. “When you don’t get rain, you don’t have any water in those basins going into the aquifer.”[…]

Average annual recharge rate for the aquifer is half an inch per year, but the depth of withdrawal in some areas is many times that. In the Texas Panhandle, the water table was drawn down one and a half feet in 2009-2010 but only one 500th of a foot in 2010-2011, when hurricanes brought monsoon-like summer rains to the region. In western Kansas, the rate of decline had been diminishing since the 1960s, but that changed after 2000, when the latest drought cycle hit, and farmers began pumping more water. In southwest Kansas, where the drought has been particularly pronounced, well tests in January showed the water level in some parts of the aquifer had dropped more than 5 feet in the last year, according to the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas.

Around 400 geologists, water managers, ag producers and other stakeholders attended last week’s special Governor’s Economic Summit on the future of the Ogallala, hosted by Gov. Sam Brownback and held in conjunction with the annual Kansas Water Congress. The primary topic of discussion was how to preserve the aquifer without sacrificing economic growth…

One of Gov. Brownback’s priorities is reforming the state’s so-called “use it or lose it” water requirement that allows water rights to lapse if they go unused over a certain period of time, which many now view as a disincentive for conservation.

[Wayne Bossert’s, longtime manager for Kansas’ Groundwater Management District No. 4 in Colby], priority is making it easier to enforce water use restrictions in high priority areas where groundwater declines are most dramatic. Currently, the process of designating “intensive use control areas” is hard to implement, and he wants to see laws changed to make the system more “user friendly.”

At the summit, municipalities expressed concerns about how to get access to affordable water rights. “It’s problematic for them,” Bossert said. “But it’s supply and demand at the most fundamental level.”[…]

In Texas, concerns about the future of the aquifer prompted the High Plains district in Lubbock to adopt new rules recently aimed at cutting back the rate of depletion. “We know the Ogallala is a mined resource,” McCain concedes. “It’s been used continuously since the 1930s. What we are doing is trying to extend the life of the Ogallala for another 50 years.” The new rule amendments establish the first-ever production limit for groundwater pumping within the 16-county High Plains Water District service area. That level will drop in successive years, to eventually reach a level of 1.25 acre-feet, or 15 inches per year, in 2016. The district is also requiring annual reports on water use and a meter on every well beginning in 2012…

“Efficiency and conservation are not the same thing,” [Jim Conkwright, the district’s general manager] asserts. “Efficiency might allow you to irrigate more acres, but you might still be using the same amount of water.”

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.

Lamar-Elbert County Pipeline: Developers face the challenge of finding water rights for the project along with Arkansas River Compact constraints

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the biggest obstacles could be the Arkansas River Compact, which led to a 24-year U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit between Kansas and Colorado. The Arkansas River Compact Administration would have to approve any transfer of water from Water District 67 in Colorado, said Steve Witte, Division 2 Engineer and operations secretary for the compact…

Assuming the backers of the Lamar-Elbert County pipeline are willing to risk the expense, there would be the problem of finding enough water to make the venture profitable. GP, in a news release, says it plans to develop water rights it owns in the Lamar area, which apparently are on the Lamar Canal. The Lower Arkansas Well Management Association owns about one-third of the canal, and while the ditch has some senior water rights, the majority of its rights are fairly junior in the area’s priority system. So other water rights may have to come into play to make the project successful.

The owner of the largest collection of water rights in the Arkansas Valley says he is not involved in GP’s proposed pipeline. “I met with Karl (Nyquist) more than a year ago,” said Mark Harding, president of Pure Cycle. But he did not sign any agreements to participate. “If there was something tangible, we’d take a look. I didn’t think they had anything to offer.”[…]

“We are looking to develop our asset down there in a partnership with agriculture and municipal interests,” Harding said. “Non-participating water rights still need to be protected, and we are still interested in doing rotational fallowing.” Harding does not rule out a pipeline to the Front Range at some point, and said one is probably needed for the Super Ditch to realize its full value. “If we’re wildly successful, we’ll keep the water on 300,000 irrigated acres and bring in another source of income for farmers,” Harding said.

But, he said he thinks any pipeline proposal would have to move through the basin roundtable process set up in 2005 to resolve interbasin transfer issues. He sits on the Metro Roundtable. “I’m a firm believer in the cooperative framework we have set up,” Harding said.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

[Public meetings in Lamar] are planned for 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 16 and 23 at the Lamar Community Building, according to a news release from Karl Nyquist of GP Resources, a farming and natural resources firm. Additional meetings are planned in Elbert County…

GP plans to use the water transfers template developed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable to address community concerns about the project, he said. In the news release, he outlined the approach GP plans to use to developing water:

– Investments to increase efficiencies of GP farms in Lamar, which would remain in production after the project is completed. The news release did not indicate how much farmland is owned, but Nyquist has water rights on the Lamar Canal. The water rights would have to be changed for municipal use in Water Court, but GP does not plan to change the point of diversion.

– Investments in GP’s water rights and systems in Elbert County, involving an upgrade of the capabilities of a local water district to allow transmission of GP’s privately owned and adjudicated water on an interim basis to an unspecified water district in the greater Colorado Springs area.

– Long-term investments in water storage, treatment and delivery systems to serve other Front Range communities.

More Lamar-Elbert County pipeline coverage here. More Pure Cycle coverage here and here.

Kayakers, sportsmen, conservationists deliver 23,887 clean water comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin

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From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

Supreme Court rulings have put intermittent and ephemeral streams at risk, said David Nickum of Trout Unlimited, which includes most of Colorado’s waterways. In their rulings, judges narrowed protection to “navigable” waterways, under which classification a section of the Colorado River and a small portion of the Navajo Reservoir are the only protected waters in the state, Nickum said. There isn’t necessarily a provision for navigable waterways for commercial rafts, he added. It’s an extreme position, Nickum said, adding, “It’s the wrong direction to be moving and we don’t believe Congress intended (the law to read) that way.”

To respond to the call for clarity, the federal EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, said the uncertainty means his staff can spend hours determining if they can step in during a case of a spill, when they’d rather be cleaning them up and preventing them. According to the Associated Press, the American Farm Bureau Federation says it’s concerned farmers and ranchers will be saddled with more regulations, but Martin says stock ponds and irrigated land are exempt.

Pam Kiely of Environment Colorado estimated that a minimum of 450 Summit County residents took the time to support the draft guidance revisions.

Nickum said the reaffirmation of protection affects critical tributaries for drinking water, but it also affects downstream fisheries and recreational waterways — including intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.

In Colorado, these types of waterways account for 62 percent of the total river miles that feed into public drinking supplies and supports more than 3.7 million Coloradans, according to Environment Colorado. Essentially, the new guidance puts 30 years of historic protection back in “good standing,” Nickum said.

Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Runoff news: Streamflow increases at night due to the day’s snowmelt and travel time for the meltwater

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From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

It’s not because the moon somehow heats the snow more than the sun. Experts say it’s because Colorado’s waterways are largely fed by snowpack high on mountain peaks. It takes until about mid-afternoon for the higher elevations to warm up enough to start melting snow, and it takes even longer for that water to flow down the hillside into rivers and streams.

“During the daytime, the water that melts up on the higher slopes melts at about (3 p.m.),” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said. “It takes several hours for that water to make its way down from 13,000 feet to about 9,000 feet. By the time we get to nighttime hours it’s making its way down the mountain” to the streambed.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: 7,400 Coloradans took part in Wednesday’s ‘telephone town hall’ event

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

During the town hall meeting, the groups said they oppose the Colorado Water Conserva-tion Board allocating $150,000 in grant money to local river basin roundtables to form the Flaming Gorge Pipeline Task Force. The CWCB is expected to discuss the grant at its next meeting in September in Grand Junction.

“If 81 billion gallons of water are drained from the West Slope’s Green River, it could damage the river’s world class trout fishery, further threaten the population of four fish species on the endangered species list and hurt the ecosystem within Dinosaur National Monument,” said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates…

Million said Tuesday environmental impacts of the pipeline have been considered from its inception, and if its toll on the environment is too great, the project should not go forth. The environmental impacts of his project might soon be evaluated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission if the agency accepts Million’s permit application.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

Fountain Creek: Sediment collector project rolled out Friday, Union Pacific will remove part of abandoned trestle over the creek

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The railroad will take out six spans — the iron and lumber that form a deck across the creek — by May. The city of Pueblo would be responsible for the iron truss bridge on the west side, Pueblo stormwater consultant Dennis Maroney told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday.

He said the Technology Test Center may be interested in taking out the truss section of the bridge as a training exercise, but those talks are still in progress. “The piers would remain in the river,” Maroney said, adding they do not represent a serious impediment to flows.

The fear is that during a major flood the bridge would act as a dam as debris from upstream clogged the passage. That would cause water to back up over levees and flood commercial or residential areas…

The city of Pueblo, Pueblo County, the Fountain Creek district and numerous state and federal agencies launched a demonstration project Friday of an in-stream sediment collector that could be a less expensive alternative to dredging, if the technology works as advertised.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The name [Dirt-A-Tracter] for a sediment collector in Fountain Creek was chosen by children at the Boys & Girls Club, beating out “Hoovanator” and “Dr. Sandy Cheeks” in a contest sponsored by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District…

Basically, it works by attracting sand and small gravel that fall through a screen and are extracted with a pump to a storage site by the side of the creek…

The collector is equipped with a variable speed motor capable of pumping up to 800 gallons per minute of slurry that is 30 to 60 percent solids. A mining screw and conveyor belt pile up material pumped from the collector, while a second hose returns water to the collector. At maximum capacity, the collector is capable of removing 130 12-yard truckloads of sediment in a 24-hour period. Of course, it won’t be operated 24 hours a day, and flows will vary. One purpose of the yearlong project is to see how it performs under various conditions, and engineers were hoping for a cloudburst later in the afternoon. “Really, it will produce only what the river delivers,” said Streamside Systems CEO Randy Tucker.

More coverage from John Schroyer writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

The machine, which took only three months to construct, is surprisingly simple — as creek water passes through a bottleneck in the creek, sediment is sucked down out into a pipe and then carried roughly 600 feet away from the creek, where it’s piled and then lugged away by dump trucks.

The point, said Fountain Creek Watershed Executive Director Larry Small, is to prevent sediment from building up at any one place. In the past, sediment buildup has led to flash flooding, which happens when a sudden rush of water down the creek is diverted into a neighborhood or town…

The $836,000 machine is the result of a partnership between Pueblo, Pueblo County and the Fountain Creek Watershed. All three had a hand in the design, construction and implementation of the Dirt Attractor.

Of the cost, $353,000 was covered by Colorado Springs Utilities, which paid $2.2 million to the county of Pueblo as part of the deal to allow it to build the Southern Delivery System, said Pueblo’s Assistant City Manager Scott Hobson.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment chipped in another $250,000, and the city of Pueblo paid the rest, said Hobson. The city also will supervise the ongoing operation of the Dirt Attractor and pay its electricity bill.

The machine will require minimal oversight and will operate almost exclusively via electronic monitors that sense the water level of the creek.

The Dirt Attractor also has environmental benefits, said Hobson. The sediment pulled from the creek probably will be used by the city’s wastewater plant to dilute the chemical content of the plant’s leftover “sludge.” That way, the material can be reused naturally instead of buried in a landfill.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update: Releases from Crystal Dam to drop 1,100 cfs over 6 days

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From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

With inflows to Blue Mesa Reservoir decreasing towards summer base flow levels, it appears to be time to reduce releases at Crystal Reservoir with the intention of ending the bypass releases. Blue Mesa Reservoir elevation peaked at 7519.25 feet on July 17th and now the reservoir is down to 7517.4 feet. Releases at Crystal Dam will be decreased by a total of 1100 cfs over the next 6 days, starting Saturday morning, July 30th and ending Thursday morning, August 4th. Releases will be decreased 200 cfs a day with a 100 cfs change occurring twice a day until the bypass release at Crystal Dam has ended. This should bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 1100 cfs by Thursday afternoon.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: Releases from Ruedi Reservoir into the Fryingpan River drop to 213 cfs

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have finally concluded what was a fairly significant run-off season. Inflows to Ruedi have dropped off to normal levels for this time of year, around maybe 210 cfs at night. As a result, we have cut back releases from the dam to the lower Fryingpan. The reductions in releases began the week of July 11 and continued through this past week. Currently, we are releasing about 213 cfs from Ruedi Dam to the ‘Pan. The Rocky Fork is running at about 13 cfs for a total of about 226 cfs past the Ruedi Dam gage. The reservoir elevation is just shy of full–about three feet down from its high elevation of 7766 feet.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Reclamation awards Pole Hill Canal Contract

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Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor has announced the award of a $5,612,780 contract to Lillard and Clark Construction Company Inc. of Denver to replace the Pole Hill Canal on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project near Loveland, Colo.
“Ensuring that Reclamation facilities are reliable is paramount to the mission of delivering water and generating power,” said Commissioner Connor. “This project will create good jobs in Colorado while ensuring that the Pole Hill Canal will safely meet the project demands now and into the future.”

The project will consist of removal of existing concrete lining and structures, installing furnished precast concrete box culverts, installing safety systems including ladders, float systems, guardrails and fences and other work including rock excavation and constructing gravel roads.

The half-mile Pole Hill Canal was built in 1952 and is part of the conveyance system that brings water to the east slope of the Colorado-Big-Thompson Project. The project stores, regulates and diverts water from the Colorado River on the western slope of the Continental Divide to the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.

To learn more about this project, please visit Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao.

More coverage from Michael Auslen writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. From the article:

The half-mile-long canal southwest of Loveland is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a system of canals and dams that transports water to eastern Colorado communities from the west side of the Continental Divide and generates hydroelectric power.

The canal is uncovered, the primary reason it’s scheduled to be rebuilt and covered with box culverts by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau is the federal agency that manages the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and similar water diversion projects in Western states.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Elbert County: Commissioners delay action on expanding Elbert and Highway 86 Commercial Metro District statewide and moving water from the Arkansas River near Lamar

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“It caught me by surprise,” said Henry Schnabel, chairman of the Prowers County commissioners. “I’m encouraged that the Elbert County commissioners aren’t jumping out and making a decision. I hope they are reasoning this issue on some level that can address the impact on the county where the water is being taken.”

Elbert County Commissioner Kurt Schlegel said his board is concerned with what happens in Elbert County. “We don’t have any say-so with water rights outside of the county,” Schlegel said.

While there is some speculation about whether the water would be used to support a burgeoning oil and gas development industry, Schlegel said the primary use for the water would remain residential and for commercial development in Elbert County based on public presentations.

The Elbert-86 metro district manager, Karl Nyquist, is traveling and could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman said the district plans to share more details about its plans in the next month. “We’re looking forward to explaining the details of what we believe is a conscientious project that will benefit communities on both ends of the pipe,” said Michele Ames, district spokeswoman. “That’s why we’ll be holding public meetings soon in both Elbert and Prowers counties in hopes that community members will come, hear about the project and get their questions answered.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Because of our free enterprise system, there’s nothing preventing anyone from doing a water project,” said John Stulp, who chairs the Interbasin Compact Committee. “Still, I think the people who have been involved in this project should have taken it to the roundtables.”[…]

The Colorado Water Conservation Board last year completed a study looking at various transbasin proposals. It found the costs of moving water from the Lower Arkansas Valley were high because of water quality and the pumping costs because of the increase in elevation. However, the CWCB has not studied this particular proposal.

“It was a surprise to me,” said Alan Hamel, CWCB member and executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “My personal hope, as a CWCB member from the Arkansas Basin, is that they will share the project with the roundtables, so issues can be identified and everyone better understands what’s being proposed.”[…]

The pipeline, rather than being advanced in secrecy, should be evaluated both for the potential benefits and harm, Hamel said. “The negative impacts of this project are entirely to our basin,” he said.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Moffat Collection System Project: Coal Creek Canyon town hall attended mostly by opposers to Denver Water’s plans

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Mitchell Byars):

The meeting was held by state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson and Rep. Claire Levy, who also expressed their opposition to the project. “I’ve made no secret that I don’t think we should have this project,” Levy said. “We can’t keep sucking water out of a river and killing it.”[…]

Residents brought up the noise that would accompany the construction and were concerned about the number of trucks that would be making their way up the winding Colo. 72. Denver Water estimated that construction would put 2.2 more trucks on the road per hour for a 10-hour work day. But residents said that increase in heavy, slow-moving trucks would damage and congest the roads, creating dangerous situations. Denver Water said a rail system would cost about $20 million and would be too costly to put in for the project. Travis Bray, project manager for the project, said studies showed the increase in truck traffic would not pose any significant delay or safety issue, but residents disputed the accuracy of those studies.

“I can’t imagine the road is safe with these trucks,” said Susan Simone, who works in Boulder and commutes on Colo. 72. “We don’t need a study to see that; we’re not stupid. My own car got totaled on that road.”

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

Pitkin County commissioners line up with others to oppose the conditional rights for dam on the Crystal River

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From the Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

The rights are held by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and West Divide Water Conservancy District. They have been renewed every six years since 1958, when the rights were issued by the U.S. Congress. Over the decades, the plan has included reservoir rights that would have flooded Redstone and covered it with a reservoir larger than Ruedi at nearly 200,000 acre feet. In the most recent iteration of the plan, the reservoir to drown Redstone has been dropped but another, smaller reservoir upstream toward Marble remains.

County attorney John Ely described the project as “wholly inappropriate” and said it “would do great harm and is probably located in the worst geological location possible.” The probability that the water groups would act on the plan is low, Ely added. But getting the concepts off the state books should be a county priority, he added. The plan currently headed for renewal aims to use the Crystal dam for hydroelectric power. The commissioners voted 5-0 to oppose the plan in state water court.

More Crystal River coverage here and here.

Upcoming GOCO Urban & River Corridor Initiative

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Here’s part of the release from Great Outdoors Colorado (Emily Davies):

The Initiative is intended to provide river-based recreation and publicly-accessible open space in or near populated areas. The Board set aside up to $18 million for urban river corridor acquisitions and recreational development (including planning for such projects and trails) for FY 2012 and we want to hear from you about projects you have in your area that may fit within this program. The purpose of these meetings is to give GOCO a better sense of the types of projects that exist so that we can create a program that best meets the needs of our stakeholders.

Click through for the details.

Parker Water and Sanitation and Stonegate are in merger discussions

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

…utility managers propose to merge water systems to spread debt and increase efficiency. It’s the sort of consolidation that industry leaders anticipate, in Colorado and nationwide, as problems with water supply and aging pipes intensify. But the Parker-Stonegate deal has set off a political storm. On Wednesday night, more than 170 Stonegate residents attended the latest informational meeting, and a majority indicated in an informal vote that they opposed the merger. “Nobody in our neighborhood understands what is going on,” said Stonegate resident Lisa Nejedlow, whose residential water pressure recently decreased sharply. “I don’t want to go with Parker. I don’t trust them. I think they have too much debt ($214 million) and they are trying to go into other people’s pockets.”[…]

If Parker (population 45,000) and Stonegate (11,000) were to merge their water systems, it would be the first signficant consolidation in the south metro area. There are more than 25 water utilities on the Front Range. Suburban developers created most of these special-use districts. Some serve as few as 25 people…

Stonegate and Parker residents would face property-tax hikes as well as rising water bills whatever they do. But hooking up with Parker’s system could solve Stonegate’s problem of having to upgrade its sewage-treatment system — estimated to cost at least $10 million. That expense would add to Stonegate’s $30 million debt from sinking 13 super-deep municipal wells, building a pool and community center and other spending, said Stonegate metro district manager Mitch Chambers…

Stonegate board members are divided. “We need to explore other options,” said Mike Sjobakken, one of two board members who are opposed, noting that a former Parker utility-board member who resigned amid controversy has been hired to help Parker project who would pay what if the utilities merged. “It would make sense to consolidate,” but maybe with multiple entities, not just Parker, he said.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

The DeBeque phacelia and the Parachute penstemon both will be protected under the Endangered Species Act

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Here’s the release from the Center for Native Ecosystems (Josh Pollock):

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that two Colorado wildflowers found only on and around the Roan Plateau and South Shale Ridge area are now protected as Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and have been proposed for critical habitat protections that will be finalized next year. The federal agency identified the primary threat to both species as current and proposed oil and natural gas drilling operations on public lands.

Parachute penstemon, which occurs in only 6 populations on or near the base of the Roan Plateau, and DeBeque phacelia, which is found only in the vicinity of the growing town of DeBeque and South Shale Ridge, were both found by the Fish and Wildlife Service to be at risk of extinction from a variety of threats associated with oil and gas development including new roads pipelines as well as off-road dirt bike and ATV riding.

“Endangered Species Act protection for these two rare and unique wildflowers will help us balance our need for domestic energy production with preserving our natural heritage,’ said Josh Pollock, Conservation Director at Rocky Mountain Wild. “When we work to keep the parts of the natural world that we cannot, including these plants specially adapted to the rugged beauty of Colorado’s West Slope, we leave a legacy for our children that we can be proud of.”

The announcement of protections for these two species is part of a trio of Endangered Species Act listings for wildflowers in Colorado. As part of the same final listing rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service also designated the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered. The Pagosa Skyrocket occurs in only 2 populations near the town of Pagosa Springs and is highly vulnerable to disturbance from residential and commercial development on the private lands where it is primarily found.

“Today three unique facets of Colorado’s stunning and diverse mountain and canyon country got the protection they so desperately needed,” said Pollock. “All three of these listings are necessary and sensible, given how vulnerable each one of these wildflowers is to the ways that we are using and converting the open lands around us here in the West.”

In a separate announcement in the Federal Register, the Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed critical habitat designation for all three species. The proposed habitat designation includes over 19,000 acres for Parachute penstemon and almost 25,000 acres for the more widely distributed DeBeque phacelia. In the case of Parachute penstemon, the proposed designation acknowledged that the current populations alone would be insufficient to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the species and therefore included a strip of potential recovery habitat at the north end of the Roan Plateau. The Service determined that this area has the same habitat characteristics as the occupied habitat, including exposed slopes of oil shale. For all three species, the Fish and Wildlife Service also took into account the possible effects of climate change on such plants that are so narrowly dependent on particular soil types and expanded their proposed boundaries for the proposed habitat units beyond the edges of the current populations. The agency also identified these buffers around the currently occupied habitat as necessary to protect the base of pollinators—primarily ground nesting bees and wasps—upon which both species depend.

“The critical habitat proposal that comes along with today’s listing is a model of how the Fish and Wildlife Service should consider habitat protections for rare plants with limited ranges in the face of climate change and continued oil and gas drilling on public land,” said Pollock. “The agency appropriately limited their proposal to places that are not already developed, concentrated on federal public lands, and took into account the need for additional habitat for recovery. While we can’t know everything climate change will do to an individual species, we must begin to acknowledge that it will change habitat for many at-risk species and do what we can to protect additional places with that in mind.”

Both species have been official candidates for Endangered Species Act protection for at least twenty years. In the case of DeBeque phacelia, the Colorado species has been on the official waiting list for 31 years. Center for Native Ecosystems (which has now merged to form Rocky Mountain Wild), the Colorado Native Plant Society, and Dr. Steve O’Kane petitioned to move the two species off the candidate list and finalize their protection under the ESA in 2004 and 2005.

“To say that these protections are overdue would be an extreme understatement,” said Pollock, “but the most important thing is that they are in place now. We hope it is in time to secure a future for these three parts of our web of life in Western Colorado along with the dozens of other rare species that carve out a life in the same difficult habitat.”

There will be a 60 day period for public comment on the proposed critical habitat designation for all three species.

Parachute Penstemon

Parachute penstemon, also known as Parachute beardtongue, is a beautiful perennial with lavender-and-white, funnel-shaped flowers. It occurs in only six populations on and around the Roan Plateau. Only three of those populations are considered large enough to be stable, but two of them are on land owned by Occidental Petroleum. Two of the remaining populations are on top of the Roan Plateau in locations recently leased for oil and gas development. Conservation organizations are challenging the leasing on top of the Roan Plateau in court.

Center for Native Ecosystems, the Colorado Native Plant Society, and Dr. Steve O’Kane (one of the botanists who discovered the species in the 1980s) petitioned in 2004 for the parachute penstemon to be moved from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s candidate list and given the protection under the Act it deserved.

A high resolution photograph of Parachute penstemon is available for download (with credit to Steve O’Kane) at http://nativeecosystems.org/wp-content/uploads/Parachute-penstemon_Steve-OKane.jpg

DeBeque Phacelia

DeBeque phacelia is also found near the Roan Plateau. It occurs only on slopes of clay soil around the growing town of DeBeque, west of Rifle, Colorado. All DeBeque phacelia habitat is found within the larger Piceance Basin region that is Colorado’s third largest natural gas producing area, according the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. More than ¾ of all DeBeque phacelia habitat had been leased for oil and gas drilling.

DeBeque phacelia is a low-growing annual plant with small yellowish flowers. It relies on a bank of seeds within the soil to continue coming up year after year, and therefore disturbance of the slopes where it is found or even the soil below such slopes can destroy its seeds. The Fish and Wildlife Service found that threats to the wildflower’s seed bank and habitat included natural gas exploration and pipelines, expansion of roads and other oil and gas facilities, and even proposed reservoir projects that would be used to support oil shale development experiments in the area north of DeBeque.

Center for Native Ecosystems, the Colorado Native Plant Society, and Dr. Steve O’Kane petitioned in 2005 for DeBeque phacelia to be moved from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s candidate list and given the protection under the Act it deserved.

A high resolution photograph of DeBeque phacelia is available for download (with credit to Rocky Mountain Wild) at http://nativeecosystems.org/wp-content/uploads/phacelia.jpg

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced July 27 that the DeBeque phacelia and the Parachute penstemon both will be protected and proposed for critical habitat designations based on threats from current and proposed oil and natural gas drilling operations on public lands…

Parachute penstemon grows in only 6 populations on or near the base of the Roan Plateau, and DeBeque phacelia is found only in the vicinity of the growing town of DeBeque and South Shale Ridge. The proposed habitat designation includes more than 19,000 acres for Parachute penstemon and almost 25,000 acres for the more widely distributed DeBeque phacelia.

In the case of Parachute penstemon, the proposed designation acknowledged that the current populations alone would be insufficient to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the species and therefore included a strip of potential recovery habitat at the north end of the Roan Plateau. The Service determined that this area has the same habitat characteristics as the occupied habitat, including exposed slopes of oil shale…

As part of the same final listing rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service also designated the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered. The Pagosa Skyrocket occurs in only 2 populations near the town of Pagosa Springs and is highly vulnerable to disturbance from residential and commercial development on the private lands where it is primarily found.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Elbert County: Commissioners delay action on expanding Elbert and Highway 86 Commercial Metro District statewide and moving water from the Arkansas River near Lamar

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From the Associated press via The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The 39-acre Elbert and Highway 86 Commercial Metro District, first created nine years ago, intends to build a 150-mile pipeline from the Lamar area to Elbert County. Water from the Arkansas River would be pumped up to the county, which is southeast of metro Denver.

C & A Development Co. requested a 30-day continuance for more public review of the proposal. The commissioners approved the request for a continuance until its Aug. 24 meeting…

Elbert County lacks a renewable water source, such as a river fed with yearly snowmelt. Instead, the county relies on underground aquifers, which are generally being depleted faster than they replenish. To encourage economic development and stabilize water rates, the county must import water, said the district’s director, Karl Nyquist, in a letter Friday to the Wild Pointe Ranch Homeowners Association. But the plan — particularly the speed with which it is being considered and the secrecy surrounding it — has raised eyebrows in the rural county.

In the past 15 months, gas and oil companies have paid out $25 million for leases, and they are expected to spend another $25 million by the end of the year as the industry expands in Elbert County, said Craig Curl, the county’s independent consultant and director of the Elbert County Enterprise Authority…

Because the water district, which now provides residential and commercial service in the Wild Pointe development, asked to expand its service rather than create a new entity, the proposal wasn’t legally required to go through the county’s planning department. On July 7, the county recommended approval of the district’s expansion. Six days later, the county commission held a public hearing. If the plan passes, it wouldn’t be the first time the Elbert County Commission approved the creation of a statewide water district. In 2002, it backed the controversial formation of United Water and Sanitation District — Colorado’s first statewide district. It consists of a 1-acre patch of land that can serve water users across the state. So far, the public hasn’t been told much about what the expanded district would do.

The service plan includes provisions permitting the district in certain situations to impose mill levies — new taxes — within its boundaries as high as $30 for every $1,000 of taxable property to pay off debt or for operations and maintenance. State law generally requires district property owners to vote on mill-levy increases.

The pipeline and other projects will be financed through bonds, mill levies and fees, according to the district’s proposal, but even estimated costs have not been disclosed.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

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

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Here are this week’s presentations from the Colorado Climate Center.

Fort Collins reports demand down sharply due to ample rainfall

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jane Kyle):

In May and June alone, Fort Collins received 7.28 inches of rain, 2.72 inches more than the 30-year average for Fort Collins, according to precipitation records by the Colorado Climate Center. The average for January to June is 8.58 inches. Colorado Climate Center research associate Noah Newman said July’s rain totals already have exceeded the 30-year average of 1.57 inches for the entire month of July; from July 1 to 15, Fort Collins received 1.8 inches of precipitation…

Due to increased rainfall and other factors, Fort Collins has seen only 70 percent of the projected water usage for the month of July, city of Fort Collins water resources manager Dennis Bode. “We’ve just had a number of rain events in early July that we typically don’t have,” Bode said. “That has certainly reduced our water use. We’ve seen that trend since irrigation season started. Bode said Fort Collins residents have been more frugal with their water use for most of the year, using only 85 percent of projected water usage since Jan. 1.

More conservation coverage here.

Whitewater: Two standup paddlers traverse 225 miles of the Grand Canyon including the major rapids

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From Stand Up Paddle Surfing Magazine (Son of the Sea):

Whitewater expert Seth Warren and surf artist Drew Brophy rode standup paddleboards (SUPS) down 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The previous record was set by Hawaiian Archie Kalepa, who logged 187 miles in 2009.

On May 14, 2011, Brophy and Warren began their 16 day excursion at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, navigating more than 125 rapids, with 42 major rapids rated between 5 and 10g on the Grand Canyon scale of 1 to 10g. They standup paddleboarded about fourteen miles each day. Their expedition ended at Diamond Creek, Arizona. Adding to the challenge of riding over rapids on stand-up paddleboards was the unusually high river water level. According to experts, the Colorado River was running at its highest level in thirty years.

The most challenging rapids they encountered included the infamous Lava, Hermit, Granite and Crystal Rapids. By day eight of the trip, their time on the river allowed enough experience to become skilled enough to stick it to the end of most of the 6 or 7 class rapids. But any class higher than 7 often landed the paddleboarders into the 42 degree waters. Brophy says, “There’s just no easy button. It’s amazing, the power of that water.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Kayakers, sportsmen, conservationists deliver 23,887 clean water comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin

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Here’s the release from Environment Colorado (Pam Kiely):

As the public comment period comes to a close for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed guidance on determining whether a waterway is protected by the Clean Water Act, kayakers, conservationists, and sportsmen from across the state gathered Tuesday morning to demonstrate broad-based support for EPA’s efforts, hand-delivering to EPA officials 23,887 comment postcards, photo petitions, letters, and stacks of emails in support of EPA action to keep our state’s waterways clean.

“This summer we’ve heard from tens of thousands of Coloradans,” said Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado, “And the consensus is clear— people support strong EPA action to fully protect the creeks and rivers they’re rafting, kayaking, swimming, and fishing in all summer long.”

Over the past decade, interpretations of Supreme Court rulings have left murky which Colorado waterways are fully protected under the Clean Water Act by removing some critical types of waters from federal protection, causing confusion and uncertainly for regulators and businesses alike about which waters and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. This guidance would replace previous guidance to reaffirm protection for critical waters, including intermittent, ephemeral, or headwater streams. In Colorado, these types of waterways account for 62% of the total river miles that feed into public drinking water supplies; over 3.7 million Coloradans receive their drinking water from a source that is fed by, at least partially, on one of these smaller waterways.

“EPA has laid out a comprehensive plan to maintain and improve the health of our nation’s waters,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver. “A fundamental part of that plan is reaffirming the clear application of the Clean Water Act. The guidance we are proposing will help protect the streams and wetlands that keep Colorado’s watersheds, and the state’s multi-billion dollar recreational economy, healthy.”

The draft guidance will reaffirm protections for small streams that feed into larger streams and rivers, and reaffirm protection for wetlands that filter pollution and help protect communities from flooding. Keeping these smaller waterways safe is critical for the overall health of the watershed.

“Anglers know it takes clean water in small tributaries upstream to create great fishing opportunities on rivers downstream – yet those tributaries are at risk of losing protection under the Clean Water Act,” noted David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Sportsmen applaud EPA for developing new guidance that will keep these streams protected, so that future generations can continue to enjoy clean fishable waters across Colorado.”

The Guidance currently in place has caused unnecessary confusion and delay in the implementation of the Clean Water Act’s important programs, has interfered with effective enforcement activity and has put drinking water sources for at least 117 million people at risk nationwide. In Colorado alone, protections on over 65,000 miles of streams have been called into question.

Since the Supreme Court decisions in SWANCC and Rapanos and ensuing EPA Guidance documents issued in 2003 and 2008, bodies of water that Congress intended to protect when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 have been put at risk. Congress enacted the Clean Water Act “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” and existing Guidance documents clearly threaten protection for wetlands, streams and other water bodies that play a critical role in overall health of the nation’s watersheds and drinking water sources.

The full text of the newly proposed guidance can be found at: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The EPA is trying to assert its authority over small, intermittent and headwaters streams after Supreme Court decisions in 2003 and 2008 seemed to limit the Clean Water Act to larger bodies of water. David Nickum, head of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited, said it feels like the Clean Water Act’s protections have been fading the last 10 years after three successful decades. “So many of our rivers and our fisheries depend on healthy headwaters. It’s pretty simple – if you have pollution upstream, it’s going to make its way downstream, and you’re going to have unhealthy rivers,” Nickum said.

Martin said his agency spends too much time trying to figure out whether it has jurisdiction over a stream and not enough time cleaning up or preventing spills. “Ultimately, our goal is to protect the physical and chemical integrity of all of our waters,” Martin said. “We’re going to move forward. This is really important to the protection of clean water in this country.”

A public comment period about the EPA’s clean water proposal closes this week. After that, the agency will have a formal rulemaking period to determine the scope of its authority.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

In another show of force on the water front Tuesday, conservation groups, kayakers and anglers rallied at Confluence Kayaks along the Platte River in downtown Denver and hand delivered 23,887 public comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin. The comments were in favor of an EPA rulemaking designed to clarify which bodies of water qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act.

While the rulemaking has met with considerable resistance – including from Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation – EPA officials say it’s necessary in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have muddied the waters on which streams, creeks, ponds, lakes, rivers and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

This [EPA] initiative could double the stream-miles covered in Colorado, where 3.7 million residents receive water from sources connected to unregulated seasonal creeks and streams, which feed seven major rivers that flow through 27 states. Nationwide, water supplies of 117 million Americans are connected to waterways where the EPA currently does not regulate pollution.

Agriculture, mining and homebuilding industry leaders oppose the push, deploying lobbyists who accuse the EPA of overreach that could bog the economy.

“This is really important for protecting clean water in the United States,” EPA regional administrator Jim Martin told supporters rallying Tuesday in Denver at Confluence Kayaks. “We want to get back into the job of preventing pollution.”

Formerly chief of Colorado’s health department, Martin said state regulators lack resources to police streams. Amid current legal uncertainty, EPA officials notified of spills, are paralyzed trying to determine whether waterways qualify for protection – instead of cleaning up pollution, he said. “It makes no sense.”

“If you don’t give the EPA the tools to protect those gullies and deal with spills there, ultimately they will not be able to protect rivers either,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

EPA officials say draft guidelines make exceptions for agricultural producers. Pollution from stock ponds and irrigated croplands that flows into waterways would be exempt from new regulation.

More EPA coverage here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline update: The Colorado Environmental Coalition, et al., want the state to nix public funds for the Flaming Gorge Task Force

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Creating the Flaming Gorge pipeline would cost billions of dollars we don’t have, it would deliver water at a price that nobody can afford, and it would land a devastating blow to our environment,” said Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Now, the proponents of this project want the state to spend $150,000 of taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary process to push the project forward.” Jones referred to a proposal by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority requesting $150,000 from the Water Supply Reserve Account from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for a Flaming Gorge pipeline exploration committee. The proposal also includes $40,000 from basin roundtable accounts, making its total $190,000. The CWCB is expected to consider the grant proposal in September. The Pikes Peak Water Authority is not one of the proponents of the project, originally proposed by Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million. The Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, made up of water providers in both states, also is looking at its own version of the plan. The coalition is led by Frank Jaeger, manager of Parker Water and Sanitation, and includes Donala, which also is a member of the Pikes Peak Water Authority…

Regardless of who would be interested in developing the pipeline, the environmental groups say it would be a waste of state resources to engage in any studies. “Coloradans need to know about this boondoggle,” said Bill Dvorak, a Salida-based river outfitter. “People in this state recognize the need for balanced water supply policies that preserve what’s best about Colorado — this pipeline does not meet that standard.” The environmental groups say the pipeline would result in irreparable environmental impacts on Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River below the reservoir and further drain the Colorado River.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

Save the Poudre and a group of 19 other environmental organizations led by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates and the Colorado Environmental Coalition announced Tuesday they oppose any state funding for the task force. The groups are hosting a “telephone town hall” at 7 p.m. today, which will allow residents from all over the state to hear why conservation groups oppose a Flaming Gorge pipeline and ask questions about it.

“The point is to discourage the state Water Conservation Board from spending any funding or tax dollars on studying the project any further,” said Western Resource Advocates water program manager Bart Miller. He said the pipeline could cost $9 billion and be one of the most expensive and environmentally damaging water projects in Colorado history…

Save the Poudre Executive Director Gary Wockner said the state should be spending its resources studying less divisive solutions to Colorado’s water challenges. He said that because it’s unclear whether there’s enough water available in the Colorado River Basin for a pipeline to extract 250,000 acre feet of water annually, the pipeline could spark a water war throughout the West. The Green River is part of the Colorado River Basin…

A Flaming Gorge pipeline also is opposed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District whose officials worry that there is too little water in the Green River to support a pipeline.

Million said Tuesday the Regional Watershed Supply Project was designed to keep plenty of water in the Green River for Flaming Gorge and downstream uses. “There’s still ample water for the project to move forward,” he said, adding that if major environmental problems are found with the project, it shouldn’t be built…

Conservation groups opposing the pipeline and the task force include Colorado Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Colorado Whitewater Association, Environment Colorado, the National Parks Conservation Association and about a dozen others.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

… [A] coalition of environmental groups will conduct a “telephone town hall” at 7 tonight that’s expected to draw thousands of Coloradans concerned about the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline that would transport at least 250,000 acre feet (81 billion gallons) of water a year from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwestern Wyoming over the Continental Divide to the Front Range of Colorado. Go to the Western Resource Advocates website for more information on tonight’s town hall.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

National Water Resources Association conference recap: Governor Hickenlooper cites the need for cooperation amongst stakeholders

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“A lot of what we’ve done in water is to focus on public sentiment,” Hickenlooper told the National Water Resources Association. “So often we get into a fight over the legalities, rather than make sure people understand the facts.”[…]

Environmental and agricultural water interests are “joined at the hip” with the municipal water interests in Colorado, Hickenlooper said…

In Colorado, he outlined a three-pronged approach to water, based on the Interbasin Compact Committee’s work over the past six years:

Innovation. This includes alternative ag-urban water transfers and working relationships between water providers and irrigators that stay within the boundaries of Colorado water law.
– Conservation. Denver has cut back per-capita water use 20 percent. Hickenlooper said conservation is needed, but can’t be the basis for future growth.
– Storage. “New water projects are an important tool to deal with the water deficits we observe,” Hickenlooper said.

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement among Denver and 30 Western Slope communities, negotiated mainly during the years he was Denver mayor, is a new model for negotiating water issues within the state, he said…

“If I could get all the other governors to agree, we’d sign an agreement that we don’t recruit each other’s businesses by offering incentives,” Hickenlooper said, adding that he formed a similar pact between Denver and its suburbs while mayor. “If we invest in infrastructure, then that’s the way to compete. All of the opportunity to lift up the last and the least comes from successful business.”

More Colorado water coverage here and here.

Climate change: ‘How the West Was Warmed’ event at Chautauqua Auditorium August 18

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Here’s the link to the flier from Beth Conover. The event includes remarks from Governor Hickenlooper.

Back over the summer of 2005 Ms. Conover and then Mayor Hickenlooper teamed up for a series of education pieces on water called, Wringing Water from the Rocks. It was a hoot.

Eagle County water providers’ consumer confidence reports available online

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From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

In Eagle County, many municipalities provide their own water supplies to their citizens, and the county’s largest suppliers — the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — are reporting high marks in their recently released 2010 consumer confidence reports. “Managing the public water system is about protecting public health,” Eagle River Water and Sanitation District Water Division Manager Todd Fessenden said. “It’s important to inform people about their water supply.”[…]

The consumer confidence reports are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and they show lists of the various contaminants found in local water supplies. Each public water supplier is required by law to produce the annual reports — something the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water, does not require of the bottled water industry. The contaminants shown in the reports are the contaminants that were detected in that water supply during thousands of water quality tests that are performed over the course of any year. Even the cleanest of water supplies will show some levels of some contaminants. “The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk,” the 2010 Water District report says…

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority reports are available online at http://www.erwsd.org/quality/drinking-water-quality.
The town of Eagle’s report is available at http://www.townofeagle.org, under “news and information.”
The town of Minturn’s report is available at http://www.minturn.org.
The town of Gypsum’s report is available at http://www.townofgypsum.com, under “document center.”

More water treatment coverage here.

Trout Unlimited plans a documentary highlighting the Dolores River watershed

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

“We are really working to highlight the Dolores River basin and the hunting, angling and local culture that is tied so closely to this river,” said Matt Clark, SCP’s backcountry coordinator for the southwest corner of the San Juan Mountains and the river basin. “We want to bring attention to why people think this is such a great resource.”

Planning efforts in the area have already begun to address issues like roadless areas, conservation easements and water quality. Clark emphasized that conservation incorporates many uses and despite Trout Unlimited’s association with fishing, the Dolores River basin campaign is larger than just the quest of hooking a highcountry fish. “We are laying the foundation for whole watershed protection,” Clark said. “It is about the fish and the watershed around them. This is a very intentional campaign and every arm of TU has some involvement in the Dolores.”[…]

[Kris Millgate, an award-winning freelance videographer and outdoor journalist and CEO of Tight Line Media] role…was to document the day and to interview local anglers like Perry for a 10 to 15 minute Trout Unlimited-sponsored documentary highlighting the Dolores River basin. While local organizers have set a vision for the documentary, it is up to Millgate to cull the pertinent information and create a finished product that conveys the emotion behind the basin campaign…

“The Dolores is still really wild,” Clark said. “This is not a degraded watershed and there is not a huge amount of impact. We want to be sure we get ahead of any negative impacts and make sure the values and experience that exist now for hunters and anglers and all users remain into the future.”

Toward that end, TU is keeping an eye on local land management issues and working to complete the documentary as well as the collaboration with Field and Stream. Millgate visited the area last winter and will come again this fall to finalize her footage.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update: Inflows drop, Reclamation to start dropping outflows, 2,200 cfs in the Black Canyon Wednesday

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From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Inflows to Blue Mesa Reservoir have been steadily decreasing over the last week and side inflows to Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs have dropped significantly. Blue Mesa Reservoir is now at elevation 7518.2 and both Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs have lost some storage over the last week. Therefore releases from Crystal Reservoir will be decreased by a total of 500 cfs over the next 2 days. Flows will decrease 300 cfs today, July 26th, and 200 cfs tomorrow, July 27th. This should bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 2200 cfs by Wednesday afternoon.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Runoff/precipitation news: Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water users will receive their full appropriation this season

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The project so far has brought over 94,000 acre-feet of water, which is the second-highest amount of water imported by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project since 1972, after the completion of the Boustead Tunnel from the Fryingpan River into Turquoise Lake…

“The water will be available at a time when flows in this basin are beginning to drop off,” said Bob Hamilton, engineering director for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

The Pueblo Board of Water Works — entitled to 10 percent of the project’s yield — took no water, and like Colorado Springs and Aurora, even leased excess water to agriculture in the Arkansas Valley. As a result, nearly 60,000 acre-feet of Fry-Ark water — roughly the equivalent of annual diversions to the Bessemer Ditch — will go to farmers, the vast majority of whom irrigate east of Pueblo, where a yearlong drought has made the additional water critical.

The Boustead Tunnel was still bringing over about 500 acre-feet per day Monday, but the amount is slowly dropping, said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. “There is still a little snow very high in the mountains, but it’s dropped off,” Vaughan said…

The river was running at 1,380 cubic feet per second west of the Royal Gorge on Monday, about one-third of its highest levels this year but above average for late July. There are no advisories on rafting or kayaking in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, but boaters are reminded to watch for changing conditions.

From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

Farmers tell the Greeley Tribune they anticipate an average yield. But they say recent afternoon storms in the area are giving their crops “water stains,” which can indicate mold. Farmers won’t know how their crops have done in the wet weather until they receive germination tests.

“What we need now is hot, dry, breezy weather,” Bill Markham of M&M Farms near Berthoud said after test cutting in his fields Thursday afternoon but stopping early due to the amount of moisture still on the crop. “The only way we’re going to make any progress is if we get the rain to stay out of here.”

From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

With inflow to Dillon Reservoir dropping [ed. as of July 19] substantially from last week, Denver Water is focusing on topping off the water storage area — which means cutting the outflow through the dam from about 1,600 cfs to about 1,350 cfs. The reservoir level is 1.21 feet below the spillway. The inflow to the reservoir dropped to 1,446 cubic feet per second Sunday, and the reservoir elevation dropped 0.09 feet. Early last week, inflows had nearly reached 2,200 cfs, but by the end of the week had dropped to just over 1,950 cfs.

Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety officials are exploring the Pennsylvania Mine to try to determine how to lessen acid mine drainage from Peru Creek into the Snake River

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From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

The mine is among nearly 400 others in the area, but is the main target for stream improvements that don’t involve actually treating the water — cost and liability assumed under current law inhibits a third-party treatment system. “We see a noticeable spike (in zinc concentrations) when Peru Creek runs by the Pennsylvania Mine,” said Ryan Durham, remedial project manager with the Environmental Protection Agency…

Some experts contend that the hillsides above Peru Creek are rich with metals that leach naturally, but most officials on this particular project agree that while there may be natural metal deposits occurring to make the creek a consistently uninhabitable place for fish, it’s likely the mine is a big player in sending metals downstream and causing low pH in the water. Downstream, in the Snake River above the Dillon Reservoir, the water is diluted enough by clean stream inflows for fish to live and reproduce…

The proposed next step should allow further investigation of the amount of water that actually discharges from the mine (including groundwater sources), where and in what condition the water enters the mine, flow paths within the workings, and the accessibility of the mine’s innards. The end goal is finding a feasible control remedy. Proposed solutions currently include building a bulkhead to protect against surge events, sealing entry sources so clean surface water isn’t contaminated and, separating clean water paths from dirty water paths to consolidate the waste.

More water pollution coverage here.

USGS: Piceance Basin surface and groundwater online database meeting in Rifle Thursday

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Here’s the release the Middle Colorado River Partnership via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey will present an overview of an online databank to track changes in surface water and groundwater resources of the Piceance Basin, and provide an update of a water resources assessment for the basin.

Ken Leib and David Brown will make the presentation at a meeting of the Middle Colorado River Watershed Partnership. The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, July 28, at the Garfield Re-2 School District Administration Building, 839 Whitewater Ave., Rifle.

The Piceance Basin covers much of northwestern Colorado. As energy development continues within the basin, the West Divide Water Conservancy District is seeking to understand the potential for changes in surface water and groundwater.

In partnership with local governments and energy companies, West Divide entered into an agreement with the USGS to create a common data repository to support the planning, conservation and management of water resources within the basin.

West Divide received a $300,000 mineral impact fund grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for the project. Matching funds were provided by West Divide, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Garfield County, Delta County, USGS, the city of Grand Junction, the towns of Silt, Carbondale and Parachute, Encana Oil & Gas, Williams Production, Chevron, Shell Exploration & Production, Genesis Energy and Berry Petroleum.

Information gathered in the repository will be used to develop a baseline assessment of the region’s water resources. The results from the assessment will be used to develop regional monitoring strategies to fill data gaps and minimize information redundancies.

In addition to the water resources assessment effort, the USGS has launched a website to provide the public immediate access to the water quality data gathered for the basin.

“The purpose of the website is to provide all stakeholders with equal access to this important information,” said Jude Thomas, a hydrologist with USGS. “A database such as this is an important tool in understanding changes in water quality over time.”

The website is at http://rmgsc.cr. usgs.gov/cwqdr/Piceance/index.shtml.

Sam Potter, president of the West Divide District, said the USGS assessment and website will be useful tools in understanding the relationship between energy exploration and water resources.

“There is a tremendous amount of water sampling data out there from government entities, water districts and energy companies. Until now, however, it hasn’t been aggregated and presented in a format that is easily accessible to the public,” he said.

“This repository is a boon for anyone with an interest in understanding water quality in this region-landowners, energy companies, regulators, and public officials,” Potter added.

Otero Junior College to Offer New Water Quality Management Technology Program

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Here’s the release from Otero Junior College via Water World:

Otero Junior College is pleased to announce that a new certificate program in Water Quality Management Technology will begin on August 22 with the start of Fall Semester. The new program will include two certificates, Water Treatment and Waste Water Treatment, each requiring one semester of study. Upon completion of the certificates, students will be prepared to sit for the Colorado Water and Wastewater Facility Operators Certification Board operator’s certification test at the C and D levels.

Dr. David Cockrell, associate vice president of instruction at Otero Junior College, explained that the new certificate program is currently the only program of its kind in the state offered by a community college outside of the Denver-metro area.

“We’re very happy to be able to offer this program of study that shows some great potential for employment demand over the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, the demand for new employment opportunities in Colorado is projected to increase by 21 percent by 2018. The salary range for 2009 was between $36,000 for entry-level to over $60,000 for experienced operators,” said Cockrell.

Cockrell explained that the program will be offered during a time frame that is convenient for students who may already be working in the field or have other employment.

“During Fall Semester we will be offering WQM 124: Water Certification Review for Class C & D, and WQM 120: Water Quality Equipment Maintenance on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The completion of both classes allows a student to sit for the C and D Water Treatment certification tests. During the Spring Semester students can complete two more classes that will prepare them for the class C and D Waste Water Treatment certification exam. Within two semesters, a student can complete both certificates,” said Cockrell.

Cockrell explained that the new program is open to anyone interested in obtaining a Class C & D operator’s licenses.

“We’re hoping to generate some new interest in this field of study as well as provide the required training needed by people who are already working in local water company systems and city water systems,” he said.

Jack Barker, president of Innovative Water Technologies, Inc., in Rocky Ford, is a member of the advisory committee for the new Water Quality Management Technology program at OJC. Barker was instrumental in helping to develop the program and said he is extremely pleased to see the program getting started at OJC.

“This program will help meet the pressing need statewide for certified operators in water and wastewater. Our company was very happy to be in on the development of this important training venue for current and future water quality professionals,” said Barker.

Joe Kelley, director of La Junta Water and Wastewater Treatment, chairs the OJC Water Quality Management Advisory Committee.

“This is a great program to see come to OJC. The college has worked hard to make sure that all the courses being taught in the program have been approved by the Colorado Water and Wastewater Facilities Operators Certification Board and that they satisfy the minimum experience requirement for eligibility to sit for the class “D” operator’s exam,” said Kelley.

Fall classes will be taught by Scott Duff, director of the Rocky Ford City Water and Waste Water Department.

For more information and registration, contact the OJC Office of Student Services at 719 384-6831, or visit http://www.ojc.edu/cteWaterQual.aspx.

More water treatment coverage here.

American Water Resources Association — Colorado Section — Annual Summer Tour

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AWRA members were the guests of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District today for a tour of Northern facilities from Carter Lake to the site of the proposed Glade Reservoir, the linchpin of the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

Leave it to a gathering of water wonks for an interesting day of conversation. Thanks to Brian Werner and the gang for an interesting and informative time.

Wester Water Workshop recap: 85 percent of Colorado’s appropriated water is used in agriculture

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

At least 85 percent of water is used for agriculture in Colorado. In addition, more than half of municipal water supplies is sprinkled on lawns and golf courses. Then, there are uncounted billions of gallons that water the forests and prairies of the state…

Peter Nichols, a water attorney who worked on a study of growth and water in Colorado, said growth is determined by other factors. He pointed to the example of Las Vegas, the fastest growing and driest major city in the nation. “You can’t build a fence around growth. Also, people who move here are reproducing,” Nichols said. “There aren’t any examples where a lack of water stopped growth.”

Except maybe the Anasazi, said John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s point man for water issues. Stulp, who heads the Interbasin Compact Committee, said water has been constantly reorganized in Colorado to fit the needs of the time. It started with ditch owners developing a system of water rights so the upstream user didn’t steal the water. That led to large canal companies, exchanges, storage projects, interstate compacts and big diversions across the Continental Divide…

“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s conserve,’ but it really doesn’t solve the issues,” said Jeff Devere, an IBCC member from Northwestern Colorado. “The question is not how we grow, but how do we change?”[…]

In the end, there were still no solid answers for what was billed as the “growth-water conundrum.”

More Colorado water coverage here.

Energy policy — nuclear: An independent report confirms sufficient economically mineable uranium for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

The report was prepared by Economic & Planning Systems, Inc., a national consulting firm with offices in Denver and in Sacramento, Calif. The report was requested by Montrose County in order to determine the feasibility and magnitude of regional uranium operations, given supply, demand, and competitive restraints…

The Uravan Mineral Belt, one of the richest uranium deposits in the United States is estimated to contain between 31 percent and 36 percent of the nation’s uranium resource. The Montrose County uranium resource has the market advantage of containing high-grade uranium and large quantities of vanadium, which adds significant value to area mining properties. The uranium resource available to supply a mill in Montrose County is as much as 2,667 tons per day, at a uranium price of $50 per pound, and as much as 4,333 tons per day at a uranium price of $100 per pound.

Energy Fuels’ Piñon Ridge Mill is currently licensed for a capacity of 500 tons per day, with the potential to expand to 1,000 tons per day through additional permitting…

Before construction of the mill gets underway, Energy Fuels must still clear several hurdles including a legal challenge to the mill’s radioactive materials license approval. The lawsuit was filed in District Court last February by Sheep Mountain Alliance and alleges that during their review regulators never allowed the public to ask them or Energy Fuels representatives technical questions about the project, which the Telluride-based environmental group believes is a violation of the federal Atomic Energy Act.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Drought news: Kimmi Lewis — ‘It’s going to take many, many rains to get out of this mess we are in’

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From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

“We’re right on the edge of it,” Wil Bledsoe said of the ranch’s proximity to the extreme conditions. “On the southern half, the vegetation looks like it is still winter. But the northern half looks pretty good.”

Kimmi Lewis, who was at the Bledsoe Ranch last weekend for the annual convention of the Colorado Independent CattleGrower’s Association, a group she has been serving as president, said earlier this summer her Muddy Valley Ranch south of La Junta was as dry as it had ever been and continually threatened by wildfires. Since then, timely rains have greened up the immediate area, and the grass is growing again. “We had already shipped out our young cows the middle of June to Wyoming,” she said. “Kim is very dry. Branson is unbelievably dry. The drought covers a huge area, and it is so everlasting. It’s going to take many, many rains to get out of this mess we are in.”[…]

Tom Hendrix, who runs cattle near Wray, Colo., said while his area is in “excellent shape” with grass as good as it’s ever been, he worries that future “hay prices are going to eat everybody up.”[…]

“From I-70 north, they are having a wonderful year,” [Bledsoe] said. “That’s consistently what happens. We need to move I-70 30 miles south, I guess.”

Runoff news: The Yampa River below Craig still high — 2,420 cfs this morning

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From the Craig Daily Press (Andy Bockelman):

Yampa River State Park Manager Ron DellaCroce said water levels in the river have “dropped substantially” from where they were in mid-May. However, the water is still surging at an above average rate. “It’s at least three times the normal level,” said…

At the Yampa’s Hayden location, USGS measured 2,560 cubic feet per second in Friday afternoon’s reading, down from May’s 7,700. Farther downriver, the Maybell section charted at 3,740 cubic feet per second on Friday, a considerable dip from May’s 11,900…

“The reading we have (for Friday) is the highest we’ve had for this date since 1957,” he said. “The levels we have are what we’d normally see in June.”

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Madeline Novey):

Water enthusiasts were allowed back into the Cache la Poudre River on Tuesday after Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith lifted a ban that had closed the river to inner tubes and other floatation devices since mid-June. The city of Fort Collins and its Parks and Natural Areas also lifted river access closure, according to a press release from the city.

From The Crested Butte News (Allisa Johnson):

“Taylor Park reservoir got as close as we’d like to have it to filling. We’ve been having very high releases over the last few days to bring that down because there’s concern of thunderstorms settling in the basin,” said Frank Kugel, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD).

According to a Tuesday update from the Bureau of Reclamation, the Taylor was being drawn down at a rate of 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) and would likely be reduced to a rate of 600 cfs by Thursday. Inflows into the reservoir had finally begun to drop off and the Bureau anticipated having enough space in the reservoir to accommodate heavy rains. The update went on to say that a July 15 forecast calls for a total inflow volume of 38,000 acre feet in July—or 190 percent of average.

According to Kugel, releases from Taylor Reservoir are typically around 350 cfs this time of year. He also said that Blue Mesa Reservoir is within two inches of spilling—officially considered full by the Bureau of Reclamation. And as of Tuesday, the East River near Almont has been flowing at 400 cfs, more than twice the long-term average, and the Gunnison River is flowing at 2,300 cfs. The Gunnison normally runs below 900 cfs.

Water Court Division Three: New water referee will be Rio Grande County Judge Patrick Hayes

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

He takes over for Judge Pattie Swift, who will become water judge in October following Kuenhold’s retirement.

The water referee investigates and rules upon applications for new water rights, changes in water rights and findings of diligence for conditional water rights. Unless protests to those decisions arise, the water judge then issues a decree based on the referee’s ruling.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

San Luis Valley: Baca Grande residents voice concern over SeaQuest corrosion inhibitor dosing in their water supply

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From the Center Post Dispatch (Teresa L. Benns):

For decades, Scott Johnson and Steve McDowell ran the BGW&S and there were no problems, Karlstrom points out. But for nearly three years, the water district has been run by SDMS, a for-profit management team and its engineering firm sub-contractor in Denver. Many Baca residents now perceive there has been a significant erosion of local control and influence over their water district and water quality…

“Current dosing of ortho-polyphosphate into the Baca water is about 1.68 ppm. (Mark Bluestein measured 0.42 ppm at my tap in June 23, 2011. However, SeaQuest representatives note that readings of orthophosphate must be multiplied by a factor of 4 because the ratio of orthophosphate to polyphosphate in their blend is about 1:3).

“Ortho-polyphosphate is also used as a blood coagulant for hemophiliacs and trauma victims, in the fish farm industry, and in liquid fertilizer for plants. However, its health effects are unknown and indeed, could prove to be much worse than ingestion of copper and lead, the elements that SeaQuest is supposed to protect against.

“SeaQuest, by contrast, is secret, proprietary blend of orthophosphate and polyphosphate in approximately a 1 to 4 ratio, and is a man-made product. SeaQuest is an ortho-polyphosphate (OPP) that was originally designed to reduce the problem of corrosion inside boilers on Navy vessels. It is marketed as a corrosion inhibitor.

More water treatment coverage here.

Pueblo: 3rd annual Arkansas River Watershed Invasive Plant Partnership July 27

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Arkansas River Watershed Invasive Plant Partnership will host its annual conference 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Colorado Rural Water Association, 176 W. Palmer Lake Drive, Pueblo West. A workshop on tamarisk will be 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday. Both the conference and the workshop will help inform land managing agencies and landowners along the Arkansas and Purgatoire Rivers of restoration efforts and tools used to address the problem of tamarisk and other invasive species.

Details of the events and more information can be found online.

More tamarisk control coverage here and here.

Secretary Salazar will be honored today in Manassa

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From the Associated Press via KRDO.com:

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado are thanking Salazar Saturday during the Pioneer Day parade in Manassa. The groups say as Interior secretary, Salazar has tried to balance clean energy development in the San Luis Valley with protection of land and water.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Runoff news: Lake Powell will peak at 75% of capacity this summer, Lake Mead to rise 51 feet over the season

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From the Arizona Republic (Shaun McKinnon):

The huge reservoir near Page, which shrank to one-third of capacity during the decadelong drought, will peak for the summer at 75 percent full, more than enough water to help Arizona and Nevada escape forced shortages this year.

Lake Mead, the river’s other major reservoir, will also recover some of its losses as federal officials shift water that has accumulated in Lake Powell downstream into Mead. By the end of the year, Lake Mead is projected to rise 51 feet above the record low level it reached last November…

Lake Powell is expected to reach its summer peak in the next seven to 14 days, said Rick Clayton, hydraulic engineer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City. The reservoir’s elevation, about 3,661 feet above sea level, will be its highest since November 2001, when Powell began losing water to the drought…

At the same time, water is being released through Glen Canyon Dam at the highest rate possible without opening the floodgates as the bureau moves water downstream into Lake Mead to begin equalizing water levels at the two reservoirs. The water flowing downstream is in addition to what is usually released for use by Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico and will keep Lake Mead above levels that would trigger rationing on the lower river under a 2007 drought plan.

“This has been a great water year,” Clayton said…

By the end of the year, Mead and Powell are projected to hold between them 31.3 million acre-feet, about 6.6 million acre-feet more than the same time a year earlier.

Aurora hopes to settle lawsuit over the Lake Pueblo excess capacity contract with the Bureau of Reclamation

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

That’s why it has negotiated an agreement with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Aurora Water Director Mark Pifher said Friday. The Lower Ark board approved the agreement this week and Aurora City Council is expected to follow suit. “Our motivation was to close out the litigation that is still pending before the federal court,” Pifher said. “You never know what the court might decide to do, and we certainly didn’t want the lawsuit started again.”

The Lower Ark sued Reclamation in 2007 after the bureau issued a 40-year contract to store and exchange water at Lake Pueblo that allows Aurora to use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to remove water from the Arkansas River basin. Aurora entered the case on Reclamation’s side…

Aurora had the potential to spill this year when Lake Pueblo reached high levels in spring and a heavy runoff was looming. No spill occurred because runoff was late, agricultural accounts were drawn down earlier than usual and the Army Corps of Engineers waived flood control storage provisions. Still, since March, Aurora has provided 5,000 acre-feet of water at low rates to Lower Arkansas Valley irrigators on the High Line and Holbrook ditches. “This water comes at a time when we were in great need for supplemental water for irrigation,” said Bob Barnhart, superintendent of the Holbrook Canal. “With the drought the way that it is in Southeastern Colorado this has been a great help to us to keep our corn and alfalfa growing and healthy.” It has also allowed increased recreational use on Holbrook Reservoir in Otero County, he said.

The water has also helped the High Line Canal during the drought, said Dan Henrichs, superintendent, who noted in a presentation to the Colorado Water Workshop that farmers were able to buy water from Aurora for about 3 percent of the price they sold it to Aurora under a 2004-05 lease.

More Aurora coverage here and here.

Colorado Water Workshop recap: The Colorado River Cooperative agreement was a hot topic Friday

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Central characters of the agreement Friday dissected its creation for the Colorado Water Workshop at Western State College…

Barbara Green, attorney for the Northwestern Colorado Council of Governments traced the history of the conflict back to the 1970s. It was a time when some cities in the Denver metro area were growing at a rate of 10-15 percent and a strong environmental movement was developing as well-educated liberals moved into the state. Energy development also was focusing attention on water supplies in the Colorado River basin. “We were watching the beginning of a train wreck,” Green said.

At the same time, the federal Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, and more local control was given to communities by the state Legislature in 1974 with the passage of HB1041. By the 1980s, Western Slope opposition had grown and united diverse interests like miners, ranchers and “hippie types,” Green said. “I call it fear and loathing in the ’80s. . . . There were bumper stickers that said, ‘Dam the Denver Water Board’ . . . People brought their guns to meetings,” Green said. “These were very strange bedfellows, galvanized by the Denver Water Board.”[…]

Peter Fleming, attorney for the Colorado River Conservation District, said the Western Slope also is interested in resolving the Blue River decrees. The river’s headwaters are largely claimed by Denver and other Front Range users. “Some of the most expensive water in the state is at the headwaters of the Blue River,” Fleming said, explaining that it sells for $30,000-$35,000 an acre-foot

The other major issue is the Shoshone Power Plant near Glenwood Springs, which can gobble up the Colorado River with its diversions during low flows. A complicated regimen of flow compliance — called by some a “virtual call” would help assure water stays in the river…

The agreement also affects others who wish to do business with Denver Water or divert from the Western Slope, said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water. “There is some precedent being set, but I don’t think that’s bad as long as we can remain flexible,” Pifher said. “There is some risk for third parties who weren’t a part of the agreement.”[…]

“Aaron Million doesn’t call me any more,” [Denver Water’s David Little] quipped, in response to a question about whether the state should ask the Fort Collins’ entrepreneur to build a pipeline from the Mississippi River instead of within the Colorado River basin.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here

Denver Water exec says it will be 50 years before someone moves Yampa, Green or Gunnison water out of basin

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That’s the picture according to David Little, Denver Water’s chief planning wonk, according to a tweet the Colorado River District:

#DenverWater does not foresee ‘any water diversions from Green, Yampa, White or Gunnison in the next 50 yrs’ Dave Little ColoWater workshop

That’ll surprise a lot of folks.

More Yampa River basin coverage here. More Green River basin coverage here. More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Boulder County Commissioners approve two stream improvement projects

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From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

Commissioners Ben Pearlman and Will Toor approved an application by the county’s Parks and Open Space Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rechannel and restore riparian and wetland habitat along a stretch of Lower Boulder Creek that runs through county-owned land between 109th and 115th streets northwest of Erie.

Pearlman and Toor also approved the city of Boulder’s application to improve in-stream habitat for native and non-native fish and restore riparian areas on a stretch of South Boulder Creek, a project that includes city-owned Open Space and Mountain Parks properties that extend into unincorporated Boulder County south of U.S. Highway 36 and west of Cherryvale Road.

The county’s project, which still must get final Corps of Engineers approval, would excavate a new, meandering stream channel about 6,400 feet long on the south side of the existing stream channel in which Lower Boulder Creek flows northeast.

Lower Boulder Creek’s existing straight channel through the area was created during past gravel mining operations and earthen levees were built along parts of its banks. That, the county staff reported to commissioners, disconnected the stream channel from its historic floodplain and created “a degraded and impoverished stream environment.”

After the new channel is excavated, Lower Boulder Creek’s current straight channel would be plugged and its path converted to a groundwater-fed wetland.

More restoration coverage here.

Happy (belated) 40th Birthday to the Silverthorne/Dillon Joint Sewer Authority

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From the Summit Daily News:

July 6 marked the 40th anniversary of the agreement that created the Silverthorne/Dillon Joint Sewer Authority. On that date in 1971, Silverthorne and Dillon entered into a joint venture to construct and mutually use the Blue River Wastewater Treatment Plant and sewer interceptor system. Soon after, Dillon Valley and Buffalo Mountain signed agreements to participate in the JSA, and in 1980 Mesa Cortina signed a similar agreement.

More wastewater coverage here.

Farthest, largest water mass in universe found, says study involving Caltech, CU-Boulder

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Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Jim Scott):

An international team of astronomers led by the California Institute of Technology and involving the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe.

The distant quasar is one of the most powerful known objects in the universe and has an energy output of 1,000 trillion suns — about 65,000 times that of the Milky Way galaxy. The quasar’s power comes from matter spiraling into the central supermassive black hole, estimated at some 20 billion times the mass of our sun, said study leader Matt Bradford of Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Because the quasar — essentially a voraciously feeding black hole — is so far away, its light has taken 12 billion light years to arrive at Earth. Since one light year equals about 6 trillion miles, the observations reveal a time when the universe was very young, perhaps only 1.6 billion years old. Astronomers believe the universe was formed by the Big Bang roughly 13.6 billion years ago.

The water measured in the quasar is in the form of vapor and is the largest mass of water ever found, according to the researchers. The amount of water estimated to be in the quasar is at least 100,000 times the mass of the sun, equivalent to 34 billion times the mass of the Earth.

In an astronomical context, water is a trace gas, but it indicates gas that is unusually warm and dense, said Bradford. “In this case, the water measurement shows that the gas is under the influence of the growing black hole, bathed in both infrared and X-ray radiation,” he said.

“These findings are very exciting,” said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jason Glenn, a study co-author. “We not only detected water in the farthest reaches of the universe, but enough to fill Earth’s oceans more than 100 trillion times.”

The water measurement, together with measurements of other molecules in the vapor source, suggests there is enough gas present for the black hole to grow to about six times its already massive size, said Bradford. Whether it will grow to this size is not clear, however, as some of the gas may end up forming stars instead, or be ejected from the quasar host galaxy in an outflow.

In the Milky Way, the mass of gaseous water is at least 4,000 times smaller than that in the quasar, in part because most of the water in our own galaxy is frozen into ice. While the water vapor in the Milky Way is found only in a limited number of regions, a few light years in size or smaller, the water in the distant quasar appears to be distributed over hundreds of light years, said the researchers.

The discovery was made with a spectrograph called Z-Spec operating in the millimeter wavelengths — found between the infrared and microwave wavelengths — at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, a 10-meter telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea, on the big island of Hawaii. Z-Spec’s detectors are cooled to within 0.06 degrees Celsius of absolute zero in order to obtain the exquisite sensitivity required for these measurements.

“Breakthroughs are coming fast in millimeter and submillimeter technology, enabling us to study ancient galaxies caught in the act of forming stars and supermassive black holes,” said CU-Boulder’s Glenn, who is a co-principal investigator on the Z-Spec instrument development and a fellow at CU-Boulder’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. “The excellent sensitivity of Z-Spec and similar technology will allow astronomers to continue to make important and surprising findings related to distant celestial objects in the early universe, with implications for how our own Milky Way galaxy formed.”

Confirmation for this important discovery came from images obtained by the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy, or CARMA, a sensitive array of radio dishes located in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California. The distant quasar under study is named APM 08279+5255.

The discovery highlights the utility of the millimeter and submillimeter band for astronomy, which has developed rapidly in the last two to three decades. To achieve the potential of this relatively new spectral range, astronomers, including the study authors, are now designing CCAT, a 25-meter telescope for the high Chilean Atacama desert. With CCAT astronomers will discover some of the earliest galaxies in the universe, and will be able to study their gas content via measurements of water as well as other important gas species, Glenn said.

In addition to Caltech, JPL and CU-Boulder, the Z-Spec collaboration includes the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Japan, the Observatories of the Carnegie Institute of Science and the University of Pennsylvania. Funding for Z-Spec was provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Research Corporation and partner institutions.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is operated under a contract from the National Science Foundation. CARMA was built and is operated by a consortium of universities with funding from a combination of state and private sources, as well as the National Science Foundation and its University Radio Observatory program.

So far there are no reports that the scientists have been contacted by any party wanting to pipe the water to Colorado’s Front Range.

The National Science Foundation has allocated $18.5 million to create an engineering research center to help solve urban supply problems

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Here’s the release from the National Science Foundation (Cecile J. Gonzalez):

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces an award to Stanford University and its partners to establish a new NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC). The ERC will develop interdisciplinary research and education programs that address the intersection of people, water, and the environment, and that provide the foundation for new industries through innovation. NSF will invest $18.5 million in the Center over the next five years.

The NSF ERC for Re-inventing America’s Urban Water Infrastructure aims to create water systems that will require far fewer resources while continuing to meet the needs of urban users and improving the quality of aquatic ecosystems. With new knowledge and technological advances, the ERC will design new strategies for more sustainable solutions to urban water challenges.

The Center will focus its research on distributed water treatment systems, integrated natural water systems, and tools that incorporate economic, environmental, and social factors into decisions about water. The new possibilities for water/wastewater treatment and distribution will allow communities to increase the efficiency of water systems and usage, while protecting natural water resources.

The NSF ERC will be based at Stanford University, in partnership with the Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and the University of New South Wales in Australia will contribute additional expertise and international perspectives.

The involvement of 22 industry partners — including multinational corporations, utilities, and start-up firms — will spur innovation and provide university students with first-hand experience in entrepreneurship. The ERC will also collaborate with complementary research centers and organizations specializing in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on its research.

Since 1985, the ERC program has fostered broad-based research and education collaborations to focus on creating technological breakthroughs for new products and services and on preparing U.S. engineering graduates to successfully participate in the global economy. The centers launched this summer, as part of the third generation of NSF ERCs, place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

“The Gen-3 ERCs are designed to speed the process of transitioning knowledge into innovation and to provide young engineers with experience in research and entrepreneurship, strengthening their role as innovation leaders in the global economy,” said Lynn Preston, the leader of the ERC Program. “Because they build on the rich understanding we gained from two previous generations of ERCs, we expect these new centers to make even more significant impacts on the competitiveness of U.S. industry.”

More coverage from 9News.com (Nelson Garcia):

The National Science Foundation is funding a five-year, $18.5 million grant to create an Engineering Research Center through Stanford, University of California – Berkeley, New Mexico State, and CSM. Each school will collaborate on projects to address the future of urban water issues.

“Our current urban water infrastructure was developed in the 1940s,” [Dr. John McCray, director of Environmental Science Engineering Division at CSM] said. “Our purpose here is to essentially reinvent America’s Urban Water Infrastructure. Or, at least conduct research in education that will help us get there in the future.”

The projects won’t necessarily focus on the quality of water, but rather on the process of producing useable water.

“It’s more about in the long run, are we doing this in a sustainable manner?” McCray said. “Are we doing it in an energy efficient manner? Can we continue to do things now the way we’ve done in the past.”

Dr. Tzahi Cath is overseeing a project on campus to decentralize waste water treatment. Currently, he has a portable filtering unit cleaning 7,000 gallons a day of wastewater produced by student housing. He says the result is water good enough to drink.

“Here you can treat water on site, reuse it on site. You save a lot of energy. You save a lot of infrastructure of pipelines,” Cath said. “This is a system that you can bring on a truck, put it in any small neighborhood, connect to power, connect to the sewer system and it’s a plug and play.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado School of Mines (David Tauchen/Karen Gilbert):

America’s cities face a looming water crisis, driven by climate change, growing population and a crumbling infrastructure. Recognizing the critical importance of this issue, the National Science Foundation has selected a partnership of four U.S. universities to form an Engineering Research Center (ERC) that addresses this challenge by developing new, sustainable ways to manage urban water. The initial grant is $18.5 million spread over five years with additional millions to come in the subsequent five-year period following in-progress reviews.

Engineering Research Centers are interdisciplinary hubs established at U.S. universities where researchers work in close partnership with industry to pursue strategic advances in complex engineered systems and technologies. The Urban Water ERC is led by Stanford University and includes researchers trained in fields including environmental engineering, earth sciences, hydrology, ecology, urban studies, economics and law at Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, Colorado School of Mines, and New Mexico State University.

Concerted effort, grand scale
“Urban water represents a monumental challenge for the United States and it deserves concerted research and thinking on the grandest scale,” said project leader Richard Luthy, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. “We’re clearing the slate. Nothing is being taken for granted. We’ll be developing new strategies for replacing crumbling infrastructure, new technologies for water management and treatment, new ways to recover energy and water, and more – much of it yet to be determined.”

One example is better integration of natural systems as part of urban water infrastructure to improve water quality and storage while simultaneously enhancing habitats and the urban landscape.

The partnership of these specific universities is as symbolic as it is pragmatic. The Urban Water Center is based in the American West where the effects of shifting water resources will be felt most acutely, but also where much of the leading thinking on water challenges is taking place.

“These four universities form a powerful collaboration,” Luthy added. “Each has its particular strengths, and each is working on problems related to how we use and reuse water, and how we design and manage our urban water resources in the face of some daunting outlooks.”

Here’s how Colorado School of Mines fits into the partnership:

– Mines will provide its expertise in water reclamation and reuse, subsurface modeling and contaminant attenuation. Mines also has unique water reclamation testbeds on campus that will be used in research.

– Mines faculty will serve as the research director and education director for the ERC.
Over the next five years, Mines will receive $5 million with the State providing $400,000 per year through the Colorado Higher Education Competitive Research Authority (CHECRA).

– The CHECRA provided critical matching funds that allowed Mines to participate in this prestigious partnership and brought a large federal grant to the state.

“Our various test platforms in California, Colorado and New Mexico allow us to try new ideas at realistic scale and in close collaboration with industry and practitioner partners,” said Jörg Drewes, a professor at Colorado School of Mines and director of research for the center. “This allows us to demonstrate new approaches and move promising innovations from university labs towards commercial reality.”

“At this level of collaboration we can achieve much more than any one individual campus could alone,” said Professor Nirmala Khandan, a co-investigator on the project and leader of the center’s work at New Mexico State University.

Industry-academia collaboration
To the mix of leading universities, the Urban Water Engineering Research Center will add the support of a number of industrial partners that will extend the reach of the ERC’s programs and provide a critical real-world aspect to the center’s work.

“The Engineering Research Center’s multi-disciplinary approach can transform the way we manage our urban water systems in the 21st century for the betterment of both cities and the environment,” said Mike Kavanaugh, a principal with Geosyntec Consultants whose company provides specialized services in storm-water management, water-quality modeling and geotechnical services to municipal clients in the United States.

“We look forward to having an active role in the ERC’s research to help put innovations into practice,” added Megan Plumlee, a scientist with the Advanced Technologies Group at Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, a company that has completed more than $1 billion in recycled-water planning and design work over the past decade.

Multi-faceted approach
The research of the Urban Water ERC will follow a three-pronged approach that combines fundamental investigations and applied research in engineered systems, natural systems and urban water management.

“Working with partners in industry will transform the center’s groundbreaking research into practical and sustainable solutions,” said Luthy. “Achieving technical innovation and new ways of doing business requires the ERC team to tackle the full range of economic, policy and social factors at play in water resources decision-making and management.”

An additional mission of the Urban Water ERC is to inspire future engineers through extensive education programs at all of the participating institutions. According to Professor Luthy, this will yield a pipeline of well-prepared students of diverse backgrounds who are ready and eager to pursue water-related degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. The goal, ultimately, is a new cohort of leaders who will transform America’s water infrastructure. This effort also includes important outreach programs aimed at students of all ages, from kindergarteners through adults and with special outreach to under-represented children in Native American, Latino, Pacific Islander and African American communities.

“I, for one, am confident we can meet our water challenges,” said Luthy. “And the establishment of this Engineering Research Center is a great first step to solving the biggest problems.”

Colorado Water Workshop: John Salazar — ‘Demand worldwide for food has outstripped supply’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“As long as agricultural water is cheap and inexpensive, ag dry-up will continue, but it’s not good for agriculture, it’s not good for the state, and it’s sure as hell not good for the Western Slope,” Salazar told the Colorado Water Workshop.

The summer workshop, now in its 36th year, annually focuses attention on state water issues. This year’s three-day program at Western State College focuses on risk, opportunities and leadership, and about 150 participants are signed up.

Demand for agricultural products in Colorado increased 323 percent in the first quarter of 2011, Salazar said. “Agriculture is in the driver’s seat,” Salazar said. “Demand worldwide for food has outstripped supply.”[…]

“Much of the future electrical generation will happen in the Southwestern U.S. and will occur in areas already stressed by water demands,” said Tom Iseman, program director for water policy with the Western Governors Association. The group represents 19 states and is developing studies to understand the water needs of new energy development. “We have to consider the economic trade-offs of land and water transfers,” Iseman said…

“We are not generating enough young farmers,” [Pat O’Toole, president of the Family Farm Alliance] said. “How are we going to produce enough food with less farmers, less water and less farmland?”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“We’re a nation that is frankly spoiled by food prices — less than 10 percent of income is spent on food,” Bill Trampe, a Gunnison rancher told the Colorado Water Forum on Thursday. “As food prices rise, it’s going to be interesting to see how consumers react. Will we save enough acres to provide food in the future?”[…]

Dan Henrichs, an Avondale rancher and superintendent of the High Line Canal, said water transfers already have devastated parts of the Arkansas Valley. “The Arkansas basin is the poster child of how not to do transfers,” Henrichs said. The answer is to keep agriculture healthy through temporary sales of water through leases rather than large-scale dry-ups…

He downplayed concerns about water leases drying up the valley, since there is not enough infrastructure to move most of it. At the same time, the price of water has increased because of past water sales and leases. Farmland on the High Line Canal is selling for $7,500 per acre, up from $3,000 an acre prior to the Aurora lease. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is paying $10,150 per share (which irrigates one acre) on the Bessemer Ditch…

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, which would pool water rights on several canals to market to meet other water needs, is one of the potential solutions, and will launch a pilot program next year with a 500 acre-foot lease to El Paso County communities.

In the Colorado River basin, groups are looking at a water bank program that would curtail older water rights as a way to potentially meet a compact call, Trampe said.

More Colorado water coverage here.

Colorado College: State of the Rockies 2011 research focus topic is ‘The Colorado River: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability as if the Next Generation Counts’

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An July 15, 2011 email from Rhiannon Hendrickson got buried in my inbox. She describes the students’ research topic this year. A thousand pardons. From her email:

I’m working with Colorado College to help promote its State of the Rockies project which seeks to increase public understanding of vital issues affecting the Rockies. This year’s research focus topic is “The Colorado River: Agenda for Use, Restoration and Sustainability as if the Next Generation Counts.” I thought you might be interested to know that a group of Colorado College students are currently on a research road trip following the Colorado River from high in the Rockies down through the southwest. Stops along the route will include:

– Glenwood Springs, CO
– Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
– Moab, UT
– Canyonlands National Park
– Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam
– Grand Canyon National Park
– Las Vegas and Boulder City, NV
– Imperial Valley of California
– Yuma, AZ
– The Navajo Indian Reservation

The two-week trip wraps up on July 24. You may follow the student’s travels and progress on their blog, as well as on Facebook and YouTube. More information about the State of the Rockies Project can be found at http://www.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/index.asp.

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Check out this excerpt from Natalie Triedman’s post from Glen Canyon Dam:

As we descended hundreds of feet in the Glen Canyon Dam elevator, our knowledgeable tour guide led us through the history of the dam. Construction lasted only three years, in part due to the around the clock work regimen. While efficient, this construction approach was grueling, taking the lives of 18 workers. We were able to see one of the twelve enormous buckets that were used to carry an aggregate five million cubic yards of cement during construction.

After our initial elevator descent, our group travelled down even further in order to see the powerplant’s eight generators. Each generator produces 165 mega watts when the reservoir is near capacity. Annual output from hydroelectric power is about five billion kWh- enough to support the annual electrical needs of 400,000 houses. In addition to the turbines that are currently in use, we saw one that had been recently removed after logging 41 years so it could be replaced by a more efficient and durable design.

More education coverage here.

Mississippi River basin: Pat Mulroy (Southern Nevada Water Authority) pushes pipeline from the river to points west at National Conference of Chambers of Commerce

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From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

Mulroy was one of the featured speakers during the organization’s conference at Mandalay Bay. She told attendees that the nation will need to pursue large, cooperative solutions to the problems posed by population growth and climate change…

Under Mulroy’s vision, floodwaters from the Mississippi and its western tributaries would be captured and diverted to irrigate crops as far away as Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Those agricultural areas could then be taken off the Colorado River system, leaving enough water for Las Vegas and other growing Western cities well into the future.

About 350 million acre-feet of water a year runs down the main stem of the Mississippi River when it isn’t flooding. That’s roughly 25 times more water than the Colorado River carries in an average year.

Mississippi floodwater also could be diverted to the Central Plains to recharge the massive Ogallala Aquifer, which covers about 174,000 square miles from Texas to South Dakota…

Las Vegas-based consultant Tom Skancke said water is a national issue that requires a national solution. “We’ve got to start breaking down these walls that are keeping us from protecting our country and our children’s future,” he said.

As it stands now, the United States has no cohesive water policy. Water issues are managed by a patchwork of disparate federal agencies and fought over by state and local entities in disputes as old as the Wild West, Mulroy said. If the nation’s interstate highway system were built the same way as its water infrastructure, “you couldn’t leave one state and travel to another state. It would stop at the border,” she said.

Wednesday’s panel discussion was held as part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Invest in Water” initiative. The event and others like it will be used to help the organization develop a policy position on water and urge lawmakers to act on it.

More pipeline from the Mississippi coverage here.