The Department of Energy is conducting a series of meetings across the region to take the pulse of people from Telluride, Montrose, Monticello, Utah and Naturita in regard to the federal program that leases land to mining companies…
Comments from the Telluride audience were sharply opposed to the uranium industry and the federal leasing program. Common concerns were the waste products generated through mining and milling and harm to the environment. The DOE, which did not answer questions during the meeting, was also roundly criticized for its neglect of the Telluride area in its reviews. “The feds call this a legacy project, a legacy program. Is that ironic?” asked Pamela Zoline. The region does need jobs, she said, “but I don’t think any of us want a legacy of toxicity and poison long beyond the management capabilities of our folks to handle it.”
An ideological ridge has long run between Telluride and the communities west of it to the Utah state line, small towns that need jobs after the last boom left their economies badly busted…
Until now, the DOE reviewed the mining operations piecemeal rather than addressing the cumulative impacts of increased production in the region, which it made possible in 2008 with the renewal of its leasing program in the Uravan Mineral Belt, awarding or renewing 31 leases for mining-related activities over 25,000 acres between Naturita and Moab, Utah. The DOE has frozen all activity on the leases while it reviews the program…
A total of 25,000 acres of land in southwestern Colorado, northern New Mexico and southeastern Utah were withdrawn from the public domain during the late 1940s and early 1950s by the Atomic Energy Commission, the predecessor agency to the Department of Energy. In Telluride, there is still deep suspicion of the industry.
“Are you trying to maximize return to the Bureau of Reclamation, or maximize benefits to the area?” asked Terry Book, deputy executive director for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. The water board has the lowest rate for storage at Lake Pueblo under a 25-year contract signed in 2000. “At the end of 25 years, if the price is too high, will we have to seek alternatives elsewhere? If the price we passed on were too high, would that keep others out and defeat the whole purpose?”
Reclamation plans to develop a pilot program in the Arkansas River basin that would determine how market pricing for storage contracts could be used throughout the western United States, explained Mike Collins, area manager for Reclamation. “We have no draft documents or analysis,” Collins said, adding that the listening session was to gain input from Arkansas River water users on how to determine market prices.
Collins offered no concrete responses about how the criteria for market pricing are being developed, and said a document would be available further into the process. “We’re gathering perspectives to get this process started,” Collins said.
Ed Harvey, an economist who represented the SDS group and Aurora, told Reclamation that it would be difficult to apply market rates in the Arkansas River basin across the western United States. Water markets are few in number and subject to local conditions. “It’s a difficult, but laudable goal that is fraught with difficulties,” Harvey said. He suggested developing a market simulation, looking at comparable situations in the Arkansas River basin. Harvey did that sort of analysis in 2006 for the Aurora contract hearings, and found storage rates varied from $3-$68 per acre-foot, depending on variables like location and the relationship between buyer and seller. Reclamation basically ignored Harvey’s work during those hearings. Reclamation’s current contracts at Lake Pueblo range from $17.25-$51.32 per acre-foot.
Meanwhile there are problems getting consensus on where to apply Fry-Ark revenues. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District last October proposed paying off the South Outlet Works first, the Fountain Valley Conduit second and Ruedi last until the Arkansas Valley Conduit is built. The [2009 law that uses excess-capacity revenues to fund parts of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project] itself does not indicate priorities among the projects prior to completion of the new conduit. Reclamation suggests other alternatives, including paying the majority of the funds from Ruedi, paying equal shares to all three or adjusting payments to the total amount currently owned. It has not chosen an alternative.
“Our expectations are that the East Slope facilities and obligations will be paid off first, with consideration for Ruedi in the future,” Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, told Reclamation officials at a meeting to discuss the law Wednesday. “It starts to appear that there will be additional mitigation for the West Slope.”[…]
Reclamation charges fees to store water in Lake Pueblo, primarily, under either long-term or short-term contracts. Previously, the revenues from that went to the general fund of the federal government. Under the new law, they are to be put toward Fry-Ark debt. This year, $2.2 million is available from short- and long-term excess-capacity contracts — enough to cover the South Outlet Works debt. In the next six years, the revenues drop to about half of that because of the structure of the Southern Delivery System contracts. By 2018, revenues are expected to resume at $2.4 million and begin climbing again. Revenues would be sufficient to pay off the Fountain Valley Conduit by 2020, under the Southeastern District plan, but the Ruedi debt would climb to more than $50 million.
The move, which includes $5,000 roundtable members approved Tuesday, was done earlier this week with the idea of making sure the Rio Grande had a voice on the committee. Both Mike Gibson, the roundtable’s chairman, and Travis Smith, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told members that the funding did not represent an endorsement of the project…
Gibson said the Rio Grande had an interest in being at the table because of the potential impacts of Front Range water use on the San Luis Valley, which has the second-highest amount of irrigated ground in the state with 622,000 acres. The South Platte River basin is first with 831,000 irrigated acres. While the valley has not suffered from the water transfers that have sent Arkansas Valley water to cities like Aurora, the threat of a Front Range water grab is a not-too-distant memory. The region spent part of the 1980s and 1990s fighting off separate proposals from American Water Development and Stockman’s Water Company that would have piped the valley’s groundwater north.