Lamar pipeline: The Lamar Canal priority is a prize for GP Resources

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From The Lamar Ledger (Lois Shrimplin):

[Karl Nyquist] told the Elbert County Commissioners that the Highway 86 Commercial Metro District owns shares in the Lamar Canal, which outrank those of Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora.

According to a press release from Nyquist, contributions for the pipeline from Elbert County would include the approval of the Water District Expansion Plan and temporary export of privately owned groundwater already adjucated for Municipal and Industrial (M&I) use.

“He’s stuck his stick not into a hornet’s nest, but into a rattlesnake nest,” Dan Rasmussen, who lives across from the proposed gravel pit said.

The benefits to Elbert County would be large, including Performance Improvement Framework (PIF) revenue from commercial projects and a renewable water source for the community. The oil and gas industry would not deplete groundwater supplies, the pipeline would provide economic growth and jobs, and the pipeline would provide a long term solution for communities with water issues. Additionally, property values would increase, due to a secure water supply.

Prowers County would experience some loss of irrigated farmland, export of some privately owned water out of the basin and loss of seasonal farm labor jobs, according to the release.

Meanwhile, it seems that GP Resources is looking to transfer ag water with as little impact to Prowers County as possible. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Grasmicks have sold their land and Lamar Canal shares to GP Water, which plans to build a treatment plant near Lamar and a pipeline to Elbert and El Paso counties to deliver drinking water to the Front Range. The family has invested in GP Water, will continue farming for GP on the Lamar Canal and sees benefits for Prowers County from the deal. “With GP, it was the first time I had talked to people who talked about how to build a project that would have benefits at both ends of the line,” said Bill Grasmick, 64, the oldest of three brothers in the family corporation. “I’m looking at this as economic development.”[…]

There have been other offers for the water from the Lamar Canal since the 1990s, along with a slew of changes. Grasmick is the president of the canal company, and those changes are a daily fact of life for him. Many areas along the canal were dried up for use by the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, which augments depletions to the Arkansas River from well-pumping. Grasmick also sits on the LAWMA board, so he understands the conditions put on Colorado wells by the U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit with Kansas over the Arkansas River Compact. Cattle feedlots, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the city of Lamar also have taken water from farmland under the canal over the years. There also have been water speculators — High Plains A&M, Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association and others — showing up on the doorstep over the past two decades…

The Lamar Canal has one of the most senior water rights below John Martin Reservoir, with an 1875 priority date, Grasmick explained, standing at the ditch intake on the Arkansas River in Lamar. The Lamar Canal diverts water to the south of the river for about 21 miles, where it flows into the Granada Ditch. The route goes through an area once irrigated by the Manvel, X-Y and Graham ditches, whose headgates were damaged by the 1965 flood and which now primarily provide LAWMA water. On many days, the Lamar Canal virtually “sweeps” the Arkansas River, which then gains return flows as it makes its way to Kansas…

A proposed gravel pit will be dug on 260 acres owned by GP. It eventually will become a 10,000 acre-foot storage site that would serve a water treatment plant at the beginning of the pipeline. It’s near Lamar’s sewage treatment pond in the industrial park just outside Lamar, and within sight of the old Neoplan bus plant and associated industrial buildings. One corner of a field of corn badly damaged by feeding deer shows the possibility for wildlife areas, and possibly hunting clubs. Most importantly, there are still crops being grown in both dry and irrigated fields. Grasmick said that will continue…

GP will continue to farm, through its agreement with the Grasmick family, using LAWMA shares. The advantage is that the best farmland can be irrigated, including some of the land taken out of production in the past. Pivot sprinklers eventually will replace all flood irrigation on the ditch, he predicts…

Grasmick agrees with GP’s analysis that the jobs and tax benefits that come with building a treatment plant at Lamar will offset the farm jobs and land that will be lost. There also is the possibility that treated water from the plant could be used by area water districts struggling with how to meet water quality regulations.

More Lamar pipeline coverage here.

Next Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting September 13-14

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From email from the CWCB:

Notice is hereby given that a meeting of the CWCB will be held on Tuesday September 13, 2011, commencing at 8:00 a.m. and continuing through Wednesday, September 14, 2011. This meeting will be held at the Ute Water Conservancy District Offices located at 2190 H ¼ Road, Grand Junction, CO 81505.

The CWCB Board will also meet with the IBCC Board on Monday September 12, 2011 at the same location.

More CWCB coverage here.

Snowpack/runoff news: Nolan Doesken — ‘But it has been more typical than typical’

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From NewWest.net (Jeff Thomas):

Mike Gillespie, the state’s snow survey supervisor, said a number of survey sites in northern Colorado reported record breaking snowpack, but even more amazing was how long the snowpack has held.

“We had snowfall occurring about a month later than usual (into late June),” said Gillespie. Subsequently, the runoff, which normally tapers off in July, has lasted into August.

The Tower snow survey location, located on the Continental Divide on Buffalo Pass between Walden and Steamboat Springs, is normally the snowiest in the state and had a record year of about 80 inches of moisture content. Some of the more than 20 feet of snow that had accumulated was still there in the beginning of August, more than a month after a normal melt-out date.

Much of this was predictable, said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken, though in actuality it may have been difficult to believe how predictable it actually was this year.

The winter storms that blasted northern Colorado—and even the southern mountains had average years—are expected during a La Nina year, a periodic climate fluctuation marked by a cooling of tropical Pacific Ocean water.

“But it has been more typical than typical,” Doesken said. “You usually expect some variance (in the storm paths), but except for an early winter storm (that slipped on a more southerly track), there’s been no variance.”

Arkansas River Basin: How should the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District divvy up Fryingpan-Arkansas Project revenue?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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 bill 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.”

“The alternatives are bookends,” replied Michael Collins, area manager for Reclamation. “We’re trying to look at what the debt stream would be under different assumptions.”

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that July was fourth warmest on record

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Here’s the link to the NOAA July statistical roundup. From the website:

Persistent, scorching heat in the central and eastern regions of the United States shattered long-standing daily and monthly temperature records last month, making it the fourth warmest July on record nationally, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. The heat exacerbated drought conditions, resulting in the largest “exceptional” drought footprint in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. “Exceptional” is the most severe category of drought on the drought monitor scale. Drought conditions at several locations in the South region are not as long lived, but are as dry, or drier, than the historic droughts of the 1930s and 1950s.

The average U.S. temperature in July was 77.0 degrees F, which is 2.7 degrees F above the long-term (1901-2000) average. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 2.46 inches. This was 0.32 inch below the long-term average, with large variability between regions. This monthly analysis, based on records dating back to 1895, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides.

USDA: What Counts is the Water That Actually Enters Plant Roots

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Here’s the release from the United States Department of Agriculture (Don Comis):

To help farmers make the best use of limited irrigation water in the arid West, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers are helping farmers determine how much water major crops actually need.

Tom Trout, research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Water Management Research Unit (WMRU) in Fort Collins, Colo., and his colleagues are measuring crop water-use efficiency not by the traditional measure of crop yield per drop of irrigation water applied, but instead yield per drop of water actually taken in by the crop.

ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency, and the research supports USDA’s commitment to agricultural sustainability.

Trout is in the fourth year of a study to determine how much water the four crops common to the High Plains region-corn, wheat, sunflower, and pinto beans-actually use.

Regenesis Management Group, LLC, in Denver, Colo., has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with ARS to create monitoring instruments and software for a web-based application being designed by the company, known as SWIIM™, or Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation Management™. Contributions to SWIIM™ are also provided through a research and development agreement with Colorado State University at Fort Collins.

Trout and his colleagues designed the study to find out if limited irrigation is best for farmers for each of these crops and to help with irrigation timing, amounts, and other options. The four crops are being grown with six levels of irrigation, from full irrigation down to only 40 percent of full.

In the first three years of the study, each acre of land produced about 10 bushels of corn for each inch depth of water consumed, or one pound of corn for each 60 gallons of water.

These results will help farmers in this region decide whether to put all their irrigation water into producing corn, or to reduce either their irrigation levels or the amount of land they plant, and sell or lease water rights on the rest.

These results are preliminary and may vary with different timing of water applications or newly developed varieties.

The scientists plan to extend the results over a wide range of conditions throughout the central high plains.

Read more about this research in the August 2011 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Trout published findings from this research in the trade journal Colorado Water as well as in abstracts for professional meetings, most recently at the annual Universities Council on Water Resources/National Institutes for Water Resources conference in Boulder, Colo.

Crystal River: Diligence case for reservoir at Placita now has six objectors

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From AspenJournalism.org (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The two water districts [Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District] are asking a judge to grant a conditional water right to dam the Crystal River at Placita, an old town site along Highway 133 just below McClure Pass. The dam would create a 4,000 acre-foot reservoir and allow for the installation of a hydropower plant fueled by 150 cubic-feet-per-second of flowing water.

Pitkin County, the Crystal River Caucus, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited are all opposing the districts’ efforts.

Also in opposition is Paul Durrett of Glenwood Springs, who goes by his middle name of Gregory. He served on the board of the West Divide Water Conservancy District for 16 years, starting in the 1970s. “The Placita Power Plant and Placita Reservoir fills no need in the Crystal River drainage by any credible water user,” Durrett told the court in a hand-written legal filing. “This application is a ploy to retain some interest in the Crystal River and continue the falsehood that the taxpayers in the Crystal and Roaring Fork River drainages have anything to gain from the continued taxation by the WDWCD.”

The conditional water rights tied to the West Divide Project date back to 1958.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: El Paso County Commission Chair Amy Lathen and State Representative Marsha Looper have scheduled two public meetings this week to discuss Niobrara shale exploration and production

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Meeting information:

Tuesday, Aug. 16, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Mountain View Electric Association, 11140 E. Woodmen Road
Falcon

Thursday, Aug. 18, 6 to 8 p.m.
El Paso County Public Services Facility
3255 Akers Drive
Colorado Springs

“I encourage residents to attend at least one and possibly both of these summits,” Lathen said in a press release.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Orchard City: Area water systems seeking to join with the town have until February 1 to meet new system requirements

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From the Delta County Independendent:

On Aug. 3, a filled-to-capacity meeting room at Town Hall brought to-gether for the first time the full town board, town administration, and representatives of some 40 private domestic water companies who buy their water from the town. The water powwow gave companies a chance for direct question and answer feedback from Orchard City government over its new suite of requirements…

The new Feb. 1 deadline, almost six months away, may still be too soon for some of the companies to complete the town’s new technical and legal requirements. Those requirements include mandatory installation of a backflow preventer on each private system. Mayor Don Suppes explained the rule is a state/federal requirement to prevent contamination of the town water supplies…

…Orchard City’s new legal requirements are another problem, Chinn said. Those requirements can include that the companies have written bylaws, be organized under state law, make recorded easements or provide legal access for town employees to their water systems, and provide the town with documentation for all of it. [Jim Chinn of the Northeast Thornton Pipeline Company] explained, “Five of our eight members are fruit farmers. We can’t even get a meeting of everyone together until Oct. 20,” thus making the town’s Feb. 1 deadline a hard push for them.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Federal funding may become available for the south Metro suburbs, Aurora and Denver to use for the WISE project

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Suburban water authorities said the project [Water Infrastructure Supply Efficiency or WISE], designed to reduce reliance on dwindling underground water, will cost about $558 million.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said “rural water supply” funds may be available for the project, if it survives a detailed feasibility review. Congress would need to authorize the federal funding, which could decrease the bill passed on to water customers. “What we’re looking at: Is this project capable of being completed? Is the cost-benefit going to work out? Is it going to be beneficial?” Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Peter Soeth said.

Meanwhile, a crucial wastewater purchase deal with Denver and Aurora has yet to be done. How much wastewater could be diverted, and how often, remains under negotiation. The suburbs told federal officials the WISE project would deliver 5,000 to 11,000 acre-feet a year for the first five years, then as much as 37,000 acre-feet a year…

The federal rural water-supply funds could be used because suburbs with populations under 50,000 are deemed “rural,” said Mark Shively, executive director of the Douglas County Water Resource Authority. “We have very aggressively pursued this opportunity,” Shively said. “We’re now about 20 percent into the feasibility study.”[…]

Beyond pipeline construction, the proposed project involves new storage of treated wastewater in surface reservoirs and by injecting it into depleted aquifers. “We have a couple reservoirs we’re looking at,” Shively said. “Between the Chatfield and Rueter Hess (reservoirs) we have a good amount of storage.”

Here’s the report from Reclamation.

More WISE project coverage here.

Drought news: Roughly 40% of U.S. cowherd is now affected by the southern tier exceptional drought

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From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the area rated in poor or very poor condition has expanded in the last couple of weeks, and roughly 40 percent of the nation’s entire cowherd is now directly impacted by it, according to Greg Highfill, Northwest Oklahoma area livestock specialist…

Extended emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve acreage has been authorized in approved counties in five states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Extension experts pegged daily feed costs at somewhere around $2.50 to 3.50 to maintain a cow, historically high levels. The spread between what it costs to sell a cow now and buy a replacement back later is also substantial and continues to widen as sale prices fall. Additionally, the figure is influenced by how large of a geographic area will be rebuilding herds at the same time, according to area economist Rodney Jones. Cowherd liquidation over the past decade was at a fast clip even before drought conditions accelerated it. “My assumption is very high valued replacements when conditions improve,” Jones told producers…

National weather observers gave official notice recently that signs are favorable for redevelopment of the La Nina weather pattern credited with bringing hotter, drier weather to the Southern tier of the U.S., compounding a trend climate officials in Texas have already compared to “a death spiral.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

This week’s drought monitor data, compiled by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the National Weather Service, show extreme drought conditions reaching north of the Arkansas River Valley in southeast Colorado, with the San Luis Valley under exceptional drought conditions — the most extreme category of drought.

The National Weather Service’s seasonal drought outlook shows that drought conditions throughout Colorado are expected to improve, but no change for better or worse is expected in Northern Colorado.

Energy policy — oil and gas: So far there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated water in Larimer or Weld counties

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Bobby Magill has written a primer of sorts on the state of hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas exploration in northern Colorado for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Environmental groups and a federal advisory board, among many other residents in Colorado and across the country, are concerned about the impacts of fracking. The public outcry about fracking and the media attention it has received are the primary reason Gov. John Hickenlooper announced last week that state oil and gas regulators will develop by year’s end a rule requiring oil and gas companies to disclose the full contents of fracking fluid to the public…

Though some companies voluntarily report some of the contents of fracking fluid on the online chemical registry http://www.FracFocus.org, many of the ingredients in fracking fluid are proprietary, and the energy industry has been reluctant to divulge its contents…

…energy companies are using such chemicals to frack nearly all oil and gas wells these days, and there is not yet any evidence that fracking fluids have contaminated drinking water in Larimer County or heavily drilled Weld County, home to thousands of oil and gas wells, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Dave Neslin said. No water quality complaints tied to oil and gas development have been made in northern Weld or Larimer counties, he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Udall is OK with hydraulic fracturing. Here’s a report from John Colson writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent via the Summit Daily News. From the article:

“I believe it’s a safe technology,” said Udall. “It’s resulted in a lot of home-grown energy being produced.”

But the industry must be careful about maintaining the integrity of well-bore casings once the drilling and fracking has been completed and the gas begins to flow upward, he said. If a casing deteriorates or cracks, Udall said, the result is an increased possibility of contamination of underground water aquifers and wells. In Garfield County, locals believe that is exactly what happened when a local water well, owned by the Dietrich family, located south of Silt, was found to be contaminated by nearby drilling activities in 2004. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) announced last year that, due to continued indications of contamination of area wells, it would renew investigations into the possible link between water well contamination and nearby gas drilling activity.

A separate instance of gas drilling activities polluting local waterways was the Divide Creek Seep case, also in 2004, when chemicals from the gas drilling process were found seeping into the creek. That case lead to a fine of $371,000 levied against the EnCana gas company by the COGCC, and the contamination was blamed on faulty cementing of the well-bore casing.

The New York Times reported on Aug. 3 about another case of alleged contamination of groundwater supplies by nearby fracking of gas wells. The case occurred in 1984 in West Virginia. A report on the case, according to the story, was published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1987. “My office has contacted the EPA concerning this case and we are waiting to hear back from them,” said Udall when asked about the West Virginia case. “The bottom line is that drilling and fracking have to be done right for it to be safe.”

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee released a draft report this week that recommends increases in regulation and greater disclosure. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The report comes from the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee, which was directed by President Obama to identify any immediate steps that can improve the safety and environmental performance of shale gas drilling. One of the recommendations targets a key concern among environmental advocates by calling for full disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking.

Here’s what the report had to say about disclosure:

“The Subcommittee shares the prevailing view that the risk of fracturing fluid leakage into drinking water sources through fractures made in deep shale reservoirs is remote. Nevertheless the Subcommittee believes there is no economic or technical reason to prevent public disclosure of all chemicals in fracturing fluids, with an exception for genuinely proprietary information. While companies and regulators are moving in this direction, progress needs to be accelerated in light of public concern.”

The report acknowledges growing public concern about shale-gas impacts in this passage:

“There are serious environmental impacts underlying these concerns and these adverse environmental impacts need to be prevented, reduced and, where possible, eliminated as soon as possible. Absent effective control, public opposition will grow, thus putting continued production at risk. Moreover, with anticipated increase in U.S. hydraulically fractured wells, if effective environmental action is not taken today, the potential environmental consequences will grow to a point that the country will be faced a more serious problem. Effective action requires both strong regulation and a shale gas industry in which all participating companies are committed to continuous improvement.”

The report also calls for a reduction in the use of diesel fuel, explaining that there is no technical or economic reason to use diesel fuel in shale gas production, and that diesel engines for surface power should be replaced with natural gas engines or electricity where available.

Finally, the report was received with cautious optimism by Colorado U.S. Representatives Jared Polis and Diana DeGette, according to this report from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

“The subcommittee’s recommendations and its acknowledgement that changes need to be made are certainly a step in the right direction,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder. “However, until legal shortcomings are fixed and voluntary recommendations become actual requirements, communities will remain without real assurance that their air, water and health are adequately protected.”[…]

“I support their call to develop best practices for casing and cementing jobs in fracking operations,” U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, said. “Last year’s BP spill in the Gulf has been largely attributed to faulty casing and cementing, and, as I have repeatedly warned, the consequences of a similar tragedy in an onshore well could be even more catastrophic.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.