Colorado College State of the Rockies Project presents ‘The Law and the Colorado River’ October 17


Update: I had the wrong date in the original headline.

Here’s the release from Colorado College (Leslie Weddell):

Can a 90-Year-Old Set of Colorado River Laws Work in the 21st Century?
Colorado Supreme Court Justice and Colorado River Legal Scholar
 to Discuss Implications of the Law of the River

The future of the Colorado River Basin faces mounting challenges, including climate change and an exploding population growth in the West. Although roughly 27 million people rely on the river for water, energy and healthy ecosystems, some expert studies predict that by 2050 the river system will not be able to consistently meet the needs of those dependent upon it.

Can a nearly 90-year-old set of laws weather the turbulence of the 21st century?

Come hear Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs and Colorado River legal scholar Larry MacDonnell, of the University of Wyoming’s College of Law, discuss the implications of the river’s legal foundation for the next generation at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 17 in the Richard F. Celeste Theatre in the Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave., on the Colorado College campus.

The Colorado River Basin is ruled by a compilation of decrees, rights, court decisions and laws that together are referred to as the “Law of the River.” The keystone of these “commandments” is the 1922 Colorado River Compact, an interstate agreement created by the seven basin states with provisions for general water allotments. As municipalities, agriculture and environmental interests jockey for continued water supplies in the face of projected diminished flows, will the Law of the River be able to bend under new stresses or will it break?

This free talk is part the Colorado College State of the Rockies 2011-12 Project Speakers Series, where leading experts and well-known river advocates examine the Colorado River Basin and the complex water use, environmental and economic challenges facing future generations.

Monthly programs are scheduled through January 2012, leading up to a public conference April 8-10 where students will present the 2012 State of the Rockies Report, which examines current water, agricultural and recreational issues in the Basin and highlights how economic, demographic and climate changes will impact what the Colorado River looks like to future generations. Sessions with national experts will also explore the future of the Basin.

More water law coverage here.

At the first presentation in the series Jonathan Waterman and Peter McBride tag-teamed a presentation about their book The Colorado River Flowing Through Conflict. Here’s a report about their recent appearance in Sante Fe, from the Sante Fe New Mexican. From the article:

McBride and Waterman are promoting efforts by the nonprofit Sonoran Institute and Patagonia, the designer of outdoor clothing and gear, to raise awareness of the river’s plight and raise funds to purchase water rights.

Their recently published book, The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict (Westcliffe Publishers, 2011), explores that idea as it showcases McBride’s gorgeous color aerial and underwater photos, and Waterman’s lucid prose. McBride also has produced an accompanying short film, Chasing Water.

McBride is particularly intimate with the river. Growing up on a Colorado cattle ranch, he played in and irrigated with Colorado River water. Only when he worked on the book with Waterman did he realize that the river no longer reaches all the way to the Sea of Cortez as it once did — and that a once-thriving 3,000-square-mile delta is the victim of the dryness.

“The river ran to the delta for 6 million years, and it stopped in the late 1990s,” McBride said during a recent visit to Santa Fe. “I think adding a little bit of water, and there are groups working on that, could bring (the delta) back quickly.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Energy policy — oil and gas: The Niobrara rush is moving into Jackson County


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The rush to drill the Niobrara formation – the same oil and gas boom that required the construction of a paved truck bypass around tiny Grover in remote northern Weld County – is moving into Jackson County. Since September 2010, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has approved 15 drilling permits for companies seeking to tap the Niobrara in Jackson County. Approximately 50 have been approved for the area since 2007 and five more are pending. Many of the approved wells are being drilled by EOG Resources, the Houston company that is one of the biggest players in drilling the Niobrara in Weld County. In 2009, the company drilled the “Jake” well near Grover, which kicked off the rush to explore the Niobrara when the well produced more than 1,500 barrels of oil in one day…

Sportsmen’s groups are concerned new oil and gas development in North Park will contaminate water, fracture wildlife habitat, harm the threatened sage grouse and sully tourism in the region. “My concerns have to do with habitat disruption and potential contamination of surface water before we even get into the potential contamination of groundwater by fracking,” said Barbara Vasquez, a local organizer for the Colorado Wildlife Federation and co-chair of the North Platte Basin Roundtable. “All these wells are fracked, so you have the opportunity for spills of concentrated fracking fluids on site.”[…]

Because of the potential for…spills to pollute rivers and streams, the Colorado Wildlife Federation is urging energy companies and federal land managers to create a comprehensive regional drilling plan and ensure drilling occurs with as little environmental harm as possible, said Colorado Wildlife Federation President John Smeltzer, of Fort Collins.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Energy Fuels’ release: Key Settlement Achieved on Water Rights for Energy Fuels’ Piñon Ridge Mill


Here’s the release from Energy Fuels:

(“Energy Fuels” or the “Company”) announced today that it has reached a key settlement with two of the Objectors to the Company’s water rights’ application for the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium and Vanadium Mill (the “Mill”). On Wednesday September 21, a settlement agreement was filed in State of Colorado District Court, Water Division 4 (“Water Court”), whereby Energy Fuels settled with Sheep Mountain Alliance (“SMA”) and Living Rivers (“LR”), two regional conservation groups who intervened in the water application as Objectors. In that settlement agreement SMA and LR agreed to withdraw their opposition to the Company’s water rights application in exchange for Energy Fuels implementing certain environmental and water supply protections. The Water Judge quickly approved the settlement agreement as an Order of the Court.

This settlement will lead to the Company obtaining a Final Decreed Conditional Water Right that will provide the water needed to construct and operate the Piñon Ridge Mill. A similar settlement with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) has already been approved by the Court. The only other remaining Objector, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”), has given preliminary approval for a settlement pending the purchase of upstream water, which is readily available from the watershed.

“This water settlement is a major milestone for Energy Fuels and the Piñon Ridge Mill,” said Steve Antony, President and CEO of Energy Fuels. “In the Western United States water is scarce and highly significant for all projects. By settling with all of the Objectors, we will secure the water needed for the Mill and add flows to the Dolores River for enhanced wildlife and habitat protection.”

Mr. Antony continued, “We were confident of prevailing in Water Court, but we believe this settlement is in the best interests of Energy Fuels. Perhaps more importantly, it shows that Energy Fuels and Sheep Mountain Alliance can reach mutually acceptable agreements that protect the environment.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Castle Rock may raise mil levy to pay for renewable water supplies and infrastructure


From The Denver Post (Heather Sackett):

Castle Rock officials already have reviewed presentations from three water providers and expect at least one additional proposal. Renew Strategies LLC, headed by former Gov. Bill Owens, would supply Castle Rock with water from the Lost Creek Basin for $23,000 to $24,000 per acre-foot. Stillwater Resources and Investments Inc. would purchase Boxelder Farm water rights and would cost about $21,000 per acre-foot. United Water and Sanitation District would purchase water rights on the South Platte and would cost $23,800 per acre-foot. The infrastructure costs associated with getting the water to Castle Rock could run in the neighborhood of $200 million.

“It’s a big deal, mainly because of the cost to this community,” said Castle Rock Utilities Director Ron Redd. “We can’t roll all that into rates and fees. It’s just too much. Your bills would be too much.” Redd said the town would probably go for a mill levy of between eight and 12 mills. The earliest the town could hold a mill-levy election is April 2012.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is ‘adding another crop to our rotation’


From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

The three-year project would pay farmers to dry up some of their land on a rotating basis and let cities temporarily lease the unused water. “Water is the most valuable thing we have. It’s what I have to have to make a living,” said Lamar-area corn and hay producer Dale Mauch, vice president of the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Co., which is working on the project…

Proponents aim to sign contracts with about 10 farmers by October for the first year of the project. Each farmer would fallow about 33 acres in 2012 to divert a total 500 acre-feet of water — enough for about 1,000 households — to Pueblo Reservoir…

Project organizers expect to file a plan in December with the state engineer’s office to allow for the farmers’ water to be used by communities in El Paso and Douglas counties. By 2014, 30 to 50 farmers and perhaps six water providers could be signed on, said project consultant Heath Kuntz of Adaptive Resources Inc. A permanent lease-fallowing program would require a trip through water court to resolve issues over farm-to-city water transfers, or perhaps a change in state law…

Participating farmers would receive $500 per acre-foot from municipal water providers. That means that on average, a farmer would receive $945 per acre that is dry for a year, Kuntz estimated. “It’s just like selling another crop. We’re adding a crop to our rotation, and we still own the water. Now I have alfalfa, corn and water to sell,” said John Schweizer, who produces wheat and has about 200 cows in Rocky Ford.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company coverage here.