Colorado counties are reviewing and in some cases developing new rules for oil and gas production and exploration in response to the Niobrara shale boom

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As more leasing and drilling is getting closer to the suburbs county governments whose responsibility includes lands overlying the Niobrara play are looking at updating regulations. Here’s a report from The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe). Click through and read the whole thing for all the detail. Here’s an excerpt:

Arapahoe and Douglas counties, like El Paso, are preparing to adopt oil and gas development rules. “We are fast-tracking rules,” said Arapahoe County Commissioner Fred Weddig. “We felt like we are playing catch-up.”

The trend, however, has provoked concern from state regulators and the industry.”Colorado already has the most comprehensive rules in the nation,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group. “County rules could completely stifle the industry.”

David Neslin, director of the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said, “We believe oil and gas development is most effectively and efficiently regulated at the state level.”[…]

The activity in the counties is being driven by the feeling that they are ill-prepared to cope with a drilling boom and that the state regulations don’t address some residents’ worries…

Neslin said state rules enable it to put additional conditions on permits in more developed areas — and counties can participate as a “local designee” in the permitting process…

“There are questions of quality of life,” said Jill Duvall, a homeowner who organized the Elbert County Oil and Gas Interest Group, or ECOGIG. “There are questions about protecting property values. The state rules focus on drilling a well.”[…]

Both Duvall, from Elbert County’s ECOGIG, and a group from southern Larimer County, the Mineral Rights Information Gathering Committee, are seeking meetings with Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The rules in place didn’t have suburbia in mind,” said Fred Mitchell, a committee member. “Those rules don’t address the impact on quarter-acre lots. Nobody envisioned this in their backyard.”

As is often the case in oil and gas the people with the dollar signs in their eyes because they own some mineral rights may be in for an awakening. Wyoming is not seeing production equal to Colorado’s “Jake” well that helped start the current Niobrara boom. Here’s a report from Jeremy Fugleberg writing for The Billings Gazette. From the article:

While many well results in the formation are largely still not public, Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll said the wells drilled so far are only producing a fraction of the totals from a Colorado well that inspired exploration into the Niobrara in Wyoming. “The reason we’re not seeing a lot of drilling activity in the Niobrara is those wells are not coming in as strongly as people thought,” he told the state Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee at its meeting in Cheyenne on Friday.

Bruce Hinchey is president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the state’s oil and gas industry trade group. He said the low production rates are discouraging companies from drilling more wells more quickly in the state’s southeast…

EOG Resources’ Jake 2-01H well in Weld County, Colo., started the Niobrara excitement in 2009 when it produced the equivalent of 1,500 barrels of oil a day. It still produces between 250 to 300 barrels of oil a day, the company said in August. Wyoming’s Niobrara wells start at 400 to 700 barrels of oil a day, slip by half within three months, and slow another half within four to six months, Doll said. “None of these wells are the equivalent of the Jake-type well that everyone got excited about,” he said…

Hinchey told the legislators he and others have always been quick to caution people about the Niobrara’s potential. Some expected it to be like North Dakota’s booming Bakken oil field, or Wyoming’s huge Jonah natural gas field near Pinedale, he said. “It is not that,” he said. “And we’ve been saying that all along.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado River basin: More storage, more growth or a commitment to conservation and preservation?

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The Pueblo Chieftain ran three columns in yesterday’s edition. First up is Chris Woodka’s musings about the river, preservation and growth in the West. Here’s an excerpt:

Back in 1974 [ed. during a rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon], my young mind didn’t quite grasp that the pristine river I enjoyed so much was a product of timed releases between Lake Powell and Lake Mead. I did understand enough to know the beautiful canyon walls and mesas were the product of millions of years of relentless, unchecked erosion. Those kind of thoughts were running through my head the other evening as I sat in the Cornerstone Arts Center Celeste Theater in Colorado Springs listening to two legal experts tangle over the worthiness of the Colorado River Compact in a changing world…

The irony of talking about Colorado River issues in a city 80 percent dependent on Colorado River water brought over the Continental Divide did not escape me — you learn to think like this as a water reporter…

One of the speakers, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, took the point of view that more storage is essential to continued enjoyment of the benefits of the Colorado River. Hobbs argued that building more projects along the Colorado River is not only probably, but necessary and desirable. “It’s high-risk water, but it’s going to be there in some years,” Hobbs said. “We can’t just pretend we don’t need more storage and risk drying up all the agricultural land.”

The other speaker, University of Wyoming legal professor Larry MacDonnell, argued that it’s time to start folding up the tents because the Colorado River basin is running out of water. Climate change is going to increase the pressure on the river’s resources. It’s foolish to try to develop any more, he argued. “Is this a sensible use of water?” MacDonnell asked, after listing several projects he considered folly. “In compromise, projects have been built that waste water.”[…]

The states along the Colorado River need to weigh how much more the river can deliver to avoid gobbling up more farm land in the support of growth. The preservation of its awesome beauty should be a major focal point. A frank discussion could lead to surprising conclusions about conservation, growth, land use and, ultimately, the storage of water that makes all that possible.

Meanwhile, Aaron Million’s column talks about developing the water left under the Colorado River Compact and Upper Colorado River Compact for the benefit of Colorado. Here’s his guest column from The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

The Upper Basin has over-delivered this region’s water supplies to the Lower Basin in every 10-year running average. Those waters are allocated to the Upper Basin. Why does it matter?

The Upper Basin has major natural resource concerns directly related to diminished water supplies and future increasing demands. Why not consider the Flaming Gorge Project? As a proponent of the project and the principal architect, I’m not afraid of an in-depth, critical environmental review…

…half the Upper Basin has moved forward to develop the supplies that the historic agreements gave to them. Both New Mexico, arguably up against that state’s compact allocation, and Utah, via the Lake Powell Project, have moved toward developing their respective water resources. Colorado and Wyoming need to do likewise. A new water supply would alleviate a myriad of environmental and socio-economic pressures throughout the region, allow aquifers to replenish, protect and enhance flows for use in agriculture, provide for the huge shortfall projected in municipal supplies and add huge new storage capacity with the addition of Flaming Gorge and other new reservoirs along the route. Preliminary scientific data indicates major water surpluses and supplies are available in the Green River-Flaming Gorge system to help alleviate pressures in water-short areas elsewhere, from Cheyenne to Pueblo. And the project, projected to move about 200,000 acre-feet, would take pressure off of western Colorado watersheds…

The build-out cost for this project is about $3 billion — one third of Western Resource Advocates’ estimate. How do we know its $3 billion and not $9 billion? Because we asked several nationally recognized pipeline and construction firms to give us estimates…

This state needs and deserves a straight-up evaluation of the Flaming Gorge project. The scare tactics of the environmental community are sophomoric, unnecessary and will not serve the interests of this region. Why not allow the project to be fully vetted? It’s currently in the federal environmental review process.

Finally, here’s Western Resource Advocates’ Karn Sheldon weighing in on the project from The Pueblo Chieftain. She writes:

Western Resource Advocates wants to see a water supply that sustains urban, agricultural and environmental needs. We want water that is affordable and reliable for all Coloradans. While The Pueblo Chieftain may disagree with our assessment that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal is an implausible illusion (“Strange priorities,” 10/14/11), there are several important facts that should not be confused with opinion:

– The pipeline proposal would annually move 80 billion gallons of water 500 miles up and over the Continental Divide, from the Green River in southwestern Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range. State agencies estimate the cost of the plan at $7 to $9 billion, which would make this the most expensive water in Colorado history. To put that into perspective, the most costly recent water project completed in Colorado is Aurora’s “Prairie Waters,” with a price tag of about $700 million.

– According to The Chieftain, “there is growing support for the pipeline in both Wyoming and Colorado.” But all available evidence indicates exactly the opposite. A statewide poll released in September by Trout Unlimited showed that 79 percent of Wyoming residents oppose the pipeline. “It makes perfect sense to me that so many people in Wyoming oppose this project,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, who has also said that the plan is “not well thought-out.” Sweetwater County Commission member John Kolb called it “a sham.”

– Million has tried to reclassify his pipeline plan as an energy project in order to find a federal agency that will agree to give him a permit. Million claims that the pipeline would generate 550 to 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power, but by first moving water over the Continental Divide, the pumping stations would consume more energy than they could generate.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Science Daily: ‘Geothermal Mapping Report Confirms Vast Coast-To-Coast Clean Energy Source in U.S.’

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the map of geothermal resources produced by the mapping project. Here’s a report from Science Daily. From the article:

The results of the new research, from SMU Hamilton Professor of Geophysics David Blackwell and Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards, confirm and refine locations for resources capable of supporting large-scale commercial geothermal energy production under a wide range of geologic conditions, including significant areas in the eastern two-thirds of the United States. The estimated amounts and locations of heat stored in Earth’s crust included in this study are based on nearly 35,000 data sites — approximately twice the number used for Blackwell and Richards’ 2004 Geothermal Map of North America, leading to improved detail and contouring at a regional level.

Based on the additional data, primarily drawn from oil and gas drilling, larger local variations can be seen in temperatures at depth, highlighting more detail for potential power sites than was previously evident in the eastern portion of the U.S. For example, eastern West Virginia has been identified as part of a larger Appalachian trend of higher heat flow and temperature.

Conventional U.S. geothermal production has been restricted largely to the western third of the country in geographically unique and tectonically active locations. For instance, The Geysers Field north of San Francisco is home to more than a dozen large power plants that have been tapping naturally occurring steam reservoirs to produce electricity for more than 40 years.

However, newer technologies and drilling methods can now be used to develop resources in a wider range of geologic conditions, allowing reliable production of clean energy at temperatures as low as 100˚C (212˚F) — and in regions not previously considered suitable for geothermal energy production. Preliminary data released from the SMU study in October 2010 revealed the existence of a geothermal resource under the state of West Virginia equivalent to the state’s existing (primarily coal-based) power supply…

Areas of particular geothermal interest include the Appalachian trend (Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, to northern Louisiana), the aquifer heated area of South Dakota, and the areas of radioactive basement granites beneath sediments such as those found in northern Illinois and northern Louisiana. The Gulf Coast continues to be outlined as a huge resource area and a promising sedimentary basin for development. The Raton Basin in southeastern Colorado possesses extremely high temperatures and is being evaluated by the State of Colorado along with an area energy company.

Here’s the link to Google’s enhanced geothermal systems website.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

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

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Here’s the link to the summaries from the Colorado Climate Center. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary.

The San Luis Valley’s first water management sub-district plan fees are being collected for the second year in a row and are being escrowed awaiting the Colorado Supreme Court

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Since the plan is still pending in the courts, the fees collected this year have been held in escrow by the sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), which continues to upfront the costs of its first sub-district as well as other pending sub-districts throughout the Valley. The purposes of these sub-districts include repairing the damage from well users to surface water rights, helping the state meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states and replenishing the Valley’s underground aquifers…

The Valley’s first sub-district, affecting 175,000 irrigated acres and 500 or more individual property owners, lies north of the Rio Grande in what is known as the closed basin area of the San Luis Valley. The sub-district lies in three of the Valley’s six counties (Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache.) RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the sub-district plan of management case on September 28. He expected a ruling from the court in two to four months. Groups forming other water management sub-districts throughout the Valley are waiting for the court’s ruling before finalizing their sub-districts. Meanwhile, they are accumulating data required to form their sub-districts…

[Rio Grange Water Conservancy District Manager Steve Vandiver] reported during the water district board’s quarterly meeting this week that so far expenses for the first sub-district have totaled $1.37 million, with expenses on the other five sub-districts totaling about $350,000. One of the expenses for the first sub-district is water acquisition to replace injurious depletions to surface rights. The sub-district by court order must begin replacing those depletions in 2012. The sub-district is acquiring several options on water that can be used for replacement water in 2012 and is looking at several other possibilities, according to Vandiver. He said the sub-district has options on 3,500 acre feet for 2012 with another 1,500 acre feet being held for the sub-district if it is needed. Until the groundwater model runs are completed, the sub-district does not have a total for the amount of replacement water that will be required in 2012, he explained…

Well users who are not part of management sub-districts face the potential under pending state well regulations of having to shut down their wells or develop individual augmentation plans. Robbins said individual plans are no easier to develop than the sub-district plans, and some Valley residents have already begun that process. “If you are going to change water rights from irrigation to replacement, the same sort of responsibilities exist to surface streams,” [RGWCD Attorney David Robbins] said. “The same standards apply … the same obligation applies to make up projected depletions with the replacement supplies.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Brighton sanitary sewer rehabilitation project in the works, it should finish by year end

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From The Brighton Blade:

The project is expected to start on the south side of Bridge Street, near Main Street, and work east. This portion should take about two weeks. The project then moves to the north side of that intersection and moves east. The work should be done by the end of the year. When it’s finished, the city says customers will have a new, rehabbed sewer system. Affected customers will get 24 hours notification of pending work from the contractor, Western Slope Utilities.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

The EPA has issued a permit for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill tailings cell and evaporation ponds

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Kathrine Warren):

The permit approves the construction of a 40-acre tailings impoundment and a 30-acre evaporation pond facility, which will manage the tailings and wastewater the future mill produces…

The permit came with a number of conditions, but Energy Fuels’ Director of Communications and Legal Affairs Curtis Moore said the conditions are reasonable. “We have no problem complying with them,” Moore said. “In a lot of respects it shows how closely the EPA first analyzed our project and they took the comments very seriously.”

The approval requires Energy Fuels to submit a comprehensive ground and surface water-monitoring plan, which will be subject to additional review. The water plan will be subject to additional EPA and state reviews and approval. The conditions also ensure that the mill is in compliance with the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).

“With the EPA approval, the permitting and environmental risk to our project is now behind us,” Energy Fuels CEO and President said Stephen P. Antony in a press release. “This is significant for Energy Fuels and the domestic uranium industry, as it is the first EPA approval of a conventional mill tailing facility since the NESHAP regulations were revised. Achieving this milestone brings Energy Fuels one big step closer to production of American uranium and vanadium.”

Aside from building permits from Montrose County, Energy Fuels now has just one more government permit pending from the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division for non-radioactive air emissions. If approved, this would be the first uranium/vanadium milling facility built in the United States in 25 years.

More coverage from Katharhynn Heidelberg writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

This is a major step forward for us,” said Curtis Moore, spokesman for Energy Fuels Corp., which hopes to build the Piñon Ridge uranium mill outside of Paradox. “This is one of the major approvals we needed for the Piñon Ridge mill.”

Montrose County two years ago granted Energy Fuels’ special-use permit to site the mill in an area zoned for general agriculture. Earlier this year, the company received its radioactive materials license from the state.

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

Thursday’s approval from the EPA gives Energy Fuels permission to build a 30.5-acre tailings cell and up to 40 acres of evaporation ponds. The mill will extract uranium from ore by grinding the rock and mixing it with water. Acid extracts the uranium and vanadium, and the waste rock and water is pumped into a tailings cell. Water that can’t be recycled from the tailings cell is pumped into the evaporation pond, according to the EPA.

More coverage from Nancy Lofholm writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

[Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore] said the recent court ruling that halted the Department of Energy’s uranium leasing program because not enough analysis of potential environmental impacts was done will not have much impact on Energy Fuel’s project. The company has four mines to supply the mill, all on private or state land. The court ruling affects only leases on federal lands. “We only have seven DOE leases, and we had no immediate plans to do anything on those leases,” Moore said. “Our focus has mainly been on private lands.”

Hilary White with the Sheep Mountain Alliance, one of several environmental groups opposing the mill and the comeback of the uranium industry in general, said she thinks Moore is being too optimistic. “I think the court ruling affects all of the uranium industry tremendously,” White said. “It’s another difficulty they (Energy Fuels) will have to deal with as they try to find investors for the mill.”

If the Piñon Ridge mill is built, it will be the first new mill in the country since the Cold War and will be only the second mill operating in the United States. The other is in southeast Utah.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Silt: The town board is hoping to score $1.8 million in federal dough for improvements to the water treatment plant and water lines

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

Town Administrator Pamela Woods said the money would come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which offers funding in its Rural Utilities Service and Rural Development programs.

The town Board of Trustees gave its approval for the grant application on Oct. 24.

According to Woods, the improvements include replacement of old water lines along Grand and Orchard avenues. The existing four-inch lines, made of deteriorating concrete and asbestos, are to be replaced by six-inch or eight-inch PVC lines, she said.

In addition, the town hopes to build a redundant pipeline underneath I-70, adjacent to the existing water line that serves customers between the interstate and the river. The extra line is needed, she said, in case the existing line were to fail for some reason.

The town also hopes to do some upgrades to the water treatment plant, “so we don’t have to use as much chemicals to keep down the TTHM,” Woods explained, referring to the contaminant total trihalomethanes.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.

The Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District reviewed the Corridor Master Plan at Friday’s meeting

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The district Friday reviewed the progress of the newly completed Fountain Creek Corridor Master Plan and an El Paso County stormwater study. In addition, the district suggested areawide flood plain regulations developed by Colorado Springs and reviewed a U.S. Geological Survey study of the impact of building a dam or a series of dams on Fountain Creek. It also looked at a more immediate plan by communities throughout the watershed to apply for a $7.5 Great Outdoors Colorado grant that would support 20 separate projects. The district is still developing the application.

While the master plan is done, the others are at various stages of development and acceptance in communities throughout the watershed. And, although those in the district have been involved for years with the creation of plans, there are worries that the communities they represent know little about the work they have been doing. For instance, a recent press release about the completion of the master plan was published by only The Pueblo Chieftain, and some members of the public weren’t sure how it fits in…

In presenting the master plan, Kevin Shanks of THK Associates said it is heavy on demonstration projects that bring people to Fountain Creek rather than treat it simply as a polluted waterway prone to flooding. “If people can come out and enjoy it, they will be more receptive to a mill levy later on,” Shanks said. “I have a strong feeling that people need to be out there now.”

The district has delayed asking for a mill levy — the 2009 legislation that created it allows for up to 5 mills, but initially would look at much less than that — because of the economy. Voters would have to approve the tax, and the board wants something to show before asking for a tax…

Not everyone was happy about the discussion of only small flood control projects and recreational improvements, particularly landowners whose property was damaged during last month’s flooding. “Someday, someone has got to do something to keep the water from flooding and doing us all in,” said Jane Rhodes, who owns farmland on Fountain Creek in Pueblo County. “Every time, it’s everywhere else but us. There are no detention ponds or reservoirs.”

Meanwhile, the Union Pacific Railroad has removed the deck of an abandoned trestle across the creek near Pueblo but the piers remain. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Union Pacific Railroad hired contractors to remove iron deck supports from the bridge. The job was completed last week. “The railroad did not commit to removing the piers, but the trusses were a flood issue,” said Scott Hobson, assistant city manager for community development. “It would look better with the piers removed, but we need to look at options to remove them. For the short term, we were able to take the trusses down.”

The piers are 50-60 feet apart and collected piles of trees and debris during last month’s elevated creek levels — the U.S. Geological Survey called it a 10-year flood event. Large logs moved through the openings under the bridge, but there is still potential for large amounts of material to collect during a heavier flood, Hobson acknowledged.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Colorado River basin: On Wednesday the Interior Department released the final EIS for mineral exploration and production near the Grand Canyon

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior:

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal has been released for public review. The EIS analyzes the potential effects of withdrawing Federal lands from locatable mineral exploration and mining near the Grand Canyon. The Final EIS also identifies the preferred alternative of withdrawing about 1 million acres from new mining claims.

The withdrawal would primarily affect uranium, which is the most economically viable mineral in the area.

While the preferred alternative would not allow new claims in the segregated area, approved mining operations could continue and new operations could be approved on valid existing mining claims. In addition, other Federal lands in Arizona and other parts of the country would remain open to hardrock mining claims.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on June 20, 2011, announced that the EIS preferred alternative is the 20-year withdrawal of mining claims and exploration on nearly 1 million acres north and south of the Grand Canyon National Park. Those lands are managed by the BLM and the Forest Service.

The release of the Final EIS initiates a 30-day review period after which the Secretary can make a final decision.

In advance of the decision, Secretary Salazar imposed an emergency six-month segregation on the lands being evaluated. That means no new mining claims can be filed on those lands. The emergency segregation ends Jan. 21, 2012.

The Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Final Environmental Impact Statement
The Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Draft EIS
The Draft EIS public comments

More coverage from John M. Broder writing for The New York Times. From the article:

Wednesday’s action starts a 30-day comment period, after which the Interior Department is expected to make the rule final.

The proposed rule would allow a small number of existing uranium and other hard rock mining operations in the region to continue while barring all new mining claims.

“The Grand Canyon is an iconic place for all Americans and visitors from around the world,” said Bob Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management.

“Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure.”

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The final environmental study analyzes the potential effects of withdrawing federal lands near the Grand Canyon in Arizona from new uranium mining claims by identifying a preferred alternative that would withdraw about 1 million acres, subject to valid existing rights. The withdrawal would prevent new mining claims. Approved operations could continue and new operations could be approved on valid existing mining claims.

Even with the proposed withdrawal, the BLM estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years under the preferred alternative, including the four mines currently approved.

Led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, a group of Republicans in the U.S. Senate — under heavy lobbying from mining interests and the nuclear power industry — has introduced legislation that would prevent the BLM from withdrawing the lands from mining.

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

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that identifies the full withdrawal as the preferred alternative. The EIS will be published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Federal Register on Thursday, triggering a 30-day public comment period. After that, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar can finalize the controversial move that Republicans have been lining up to try to block legislatively…

Once finalized, the withdrawal – which precludes any new claims under the 1872 Mining Law – does not block current mining operations in the area or new mining on valid, existing claims.

Outdoor recreation groups, conservationists and hunting and fishing groups praised the final EIS.

“A healthy and sustainable Colorado River free from toxic contamination means that families and outdoor enthusiasts will continue to visit and enjoy the communities close to its banks,” Protect the Flows spokeswoman Molly Mugglestone said in a release. “Healthy rivers translate to the healthy local economies that power a robust multi-billion-dollar national recreation economy.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: Reclamation is cutting back releases to 600 cfs in the Lower Blue River by Saturday night

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

This morning (October 28), we began curtailing releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River. We are stepping releases down in 50 cfs increments. At 8 a.m., we dropped from 800 to 750 cfs. This evening around 8 p.m., we will drop another 50 from 750 to 700 cfs. We will follow a similar pattern on Saturday. By Saturday evening, releases from Green Mountain Dam will be around 600 cfs. It is likely the reductions could continue to drop during the first week of November. I will keep you posted of future changes.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

The presentations from the October 14 Colorado Water Wise workshop are now online

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Here’s the link to the webpage for the 2011 workshop presentations. I found out about the materials via a tweet from @ColoWaterWise.

More conservation coverage here.

The Yampa River has been named among 100 high-value natural and cultural heritage lands nationwide by ‘America’s Great Outdoor Initiative’

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From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

It’s intended to reconnect Americans to the natural world while creating travel, tourism and outdoor recreation jobs across the country. The Rocky Mountain Greenway on the Front Range is the other Colorado project named to the program this week. Although the details about what the new designation might mean are few, local conservationists agree that the program adds gravity to ongoing efforts to conserve agricultural lands and protect watersheds…

Steamboat resident Kent Vertrees, who represents recreation interests on the state-supported Yampa/White River Basin water roundtable, said the new designation will open more doors for conservation efforts in the area. He was among a group of Routt County residents who participated in an informal 60-minute conversation with Salazar earlier this month when the secretary of the interior dedicated the new dinosaur exhibit at Dinosaur National Monument near Jensen, Utah.

“This will bring more awareness to our area,” Vertrees said. He has been leading Colorado Mountain College students on trips to Dinosaur and said one of the provisions of America’s Great Outdoors calls for communities to foster a greater connection between youths and natural attractions.

More Yampa River basin coverage here.

‘The Arctic Oscillation can generate strong shifts in the climate patterns that could overwhelm or amplify La Niña’s typical impacts’ — Mike Halpert (NOAA Climate Prediction Center)

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From The Durango Telegraph:

The erratic “Arctic Oscillation” could make for dramatic short-term temperature swings this winter. But how exactly it will affect La Niña’s propensity for warmer and drier conditions in the south and cooler and wetter weather in the north, is up in the air. “The Arctic Oscillation can generate strong shifts in the climate patterns that could overwhelm or amplify La Niña’s typical impacts,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said.

According to NOAA, the ever-present Arctic Oscillation fluctuates between positive and negative phases. The negative phase pushes cold air into the U.S. from Canada, causing outbreaks of cold and snow such as the “Snowmaggedon” storm of 2009. Strong Arctic Oscillation episodes typically last a few weeks and are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance.

Sudden cold snaps aside, NOAA says the Southern Plains should prepare for continued drier and warmer than average weather, while the Pacific Northwest is likely to be colder and wetter. This comes as bad news for Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, which are unlikely to get enough rain to alleviate the ongoing drought. Texas, the epicenter of the drought, experienced its driest 12-month period on record from October 2010 – September 2011.

NOAA expects La Niña, which returned in August, to gradually strengthen and continue through the winter. Southwest Colorado is generally believed to be on the dividing line between dry and wet and is expected to have a winter similar to last year’s.

For a detailed look at NOAA’s winter weather outlook, go to: www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20111020_winteroutlook.html

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: 313 cfs in the Big Thompson below Olympus Dam through the weekend

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

This is an update to our fall operations of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Tonight, Thursday, October 27, we begin making some changes around the project for our annual maintenance program.

This evening, the pump to Carter Lake will be turned off.

Also tonight, we will begin increasing the releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon. Changes will be made over a series of intervals beginning at 11 p.m. and ending around 2 a.m. Friday morning. The release below the dam will go from 54 cfs to about 313 cfs. It will stay around 313 cfs through the weekend.

Over the weekend, we will curtail the inflow to Horsetooth Reservoir slightly during some maintenance work. However, inflow to Horsetooth is scheduled to go back up on Monday afternoon, October 31. The reservoir elevation will continue slowly dropping through the weekend and begin rising again on Monday when inflow goes back up.

Water levels at Lake Estes are expected to fluctuate as is normal for this time of year.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.

The EPA has given tentative approval for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill tailings cell and evaporation ponds

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Here’s the letter from EPA Assistant Regional Administrator Stephen S. Tuber to the Energy Fuels Company.

More coverage from the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Federal regulators have approved Energy Fuels Resources Corp.’s plan to build a roughly 30-acre tailings cell and about 40 acres of evaporation ponds at its proposed Pinon Ridge uranium mill in Southwest Colorado, but there are conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency said in a letter Wednesday that the approval is contingent on the agency approving a plan by the company to monitor ground and surface water.

More coverage from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a construction approval to Energy Fuels Resources Corp. for the construction and operation of uranium byproduct material impoundments at the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill.

Company officials still have to obtain air-quality permits from the state and are hoping to begin construction in 2012.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

CPDHE: Cotter Mill public meeting November 2, no official announcement about possible reopening

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

According to Jeannine Natterman, public information officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health, “As far as I know, no,” Cotter is not planning to reopen the mill. Natterman said in March 2009, Cotter officials notified the state they intended to rebuild the mill and process ore from the Mount Taylor Mine located near Grants, N.M.

Officials continue to leave the reopening option available, but have not made a final determination on whether such a move would be feasible for the company.

“That’s how they (Cotter officials) are avoiding announcing a full-blown closure,” said Sharyn Cunningham, co-chair of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste.

Cotter officials must renew the mill’s radioactive material’s license through the state health department and will be required to submit an application by Dec. 31. The license is required for Cotter to continue cleanup work on the mill property, Natterman said, and the license also would be required for the eventual reopening of the mill…

EPA and state health officials have slated topics of discussion for a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Harrison School, 920 Field Ave., which will include the renewal process for the company’s radioactive materials license. Also slated for discussion are decommissioning, the status of impoundments used to store radioactive tailings and the latest data on the Lincoln Park groundwater situation.

Yesterday, Karen Crummy reported in The Denver Post that Cotter officials were planning to reopen the mill. She cited the 2009 letter about processing ore from New Mexico. Here’s an excerpt:

Additionally, Hickenlooper said he will dispatch his chief of staff, Roxane White, to the Cotter Mill next month to evaluate cleanup efforts at the site declared a Superfund environmental disaster in 1984. “This is very important to the people down there,” he said. “I’m definitely looking at it, and Roxane is looking at it, so we can understand it in some detail and assure ourselves that there isn’t risk to human health or the environment.”[…]

Cotter is currently demolishing its buildings and disposing of the debris in one of the leaking tailing ponds. In a June 24 letter, Cotter said it intended to “maintain its Radioactive Materials License for the purpose of processing Mount Taylor ore.”[…]

Western Mining Action Project attorney Jeff Parsons said he believes Cotter is trying to drag out final shutdown of the mill to avoid what are expected to be detailed reviews of the cleanup. Because the mill is a Superfund site, the EPA must sign off on final plans.

“This is Cotter’s way of trying to push off the serious work, and the state is enabling them by not looking into the claim about Mount Taylor,” said Parsons, who is representing residents suing to force Cotter to post a larger bond to guarantee cleanup of land and water near the mill.

More coverage of next Wednesday’s public meeting from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Harrison School, 920 Field Ave. Representatives from the state Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will lead the meeting.

Topics of discussion at the formal meeting Wednesday will include the renewal process for the company’s radioactive materials license. Also slated for discussion are decommissioning, the status of impoundments used to store radioactive tailings and the latest data on the Lincoln Park ground water situation. Health officials will include an update on the northwest ground water contamination plume under the neighboring Shadow Hills Golf Course just south of the mill. Another topic of discussion will be the recent presence of TCE, or trichloroethene, in ground water at the mill. TCE is an industrial solvent generally used to remove grease from metal. According to a July report generated for Cotter by an environmental consultant, trichloroethene has been detected in ground water at levels that exceed EPA limits. The report also said the source of the TCE contamination has not been identified. In July, a phased soil gas investigation was proposed to identify potential sources of the contamination and to further map out the extent of the ground water plume. The meeting also will include a Superfund cleanup update. There also will be time for local citizens to speak privately to either state health or EPA representatives.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.

Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority celebrates fifth anniversary

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Here’s the release from the SEMSWA via the Englewood Herald. From the release:

The Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority has celebrated its fifth anniversary of operations in the southeast Metro Denver area. SEMSWA, formed by a five-party intergovernmental agreement signed in September 2006, is responsible for stormwater management in the City of Centennial and the urbanized unincorporated portion of Arapahoe County. The authority was formed to provide a funding mechanism for the planning, construction and maintenance of drainage and flood control facilities, and to comply with federal environmental regulation to protect and enhance water quality in neighborhood greenways, flowing creeks and Cherry Creek Reservoir.

More stormwater coverage here.

The Rio Grande Water Conservancy District ponies up $5,000 for the study of the effects of ‘Dust on snow’ events

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for a satellite (MODIS) view of the April 29, 2009 dust storm over the Four Corners. Here’s a report from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

[Chris Landry with the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies] recorded 11-12 events last year, the last of which was perhaps the largest of the year. He said last winter was also extremely windy, with more than 100,000 miles of wind passing by the center’s sensor over the course of the winter. Landry explained to the water board that one source area responsible for Colorado’s dusty snow is a vast dry lake bed lacking vegetation on a reservation in Arizona.

He added that the Rio Grande Basin may be most affected by dust on snow events because this basin has less snow cover than other basins in the state. The water district board voted to support Landry’s studies with $5,000.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division III Craig Cotten said this is a new tool in helping determine runoff forecasts, and although it is not part of the formula used to develop the annual forecasts it is a beneficial tool.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Leadville: New wastewater treatment plant for Mountain View Villages is up and running

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From The Leadville Herald (Ann E. Wibbenmeyer):

After setting up a special sanitation district that encompasses the east and west villages, [Gordon Heaton] was able to fund a new sanitation system that treats sewage from both sides of the highway. When the Colorado Department of Transportation repaved the highway, he was able to put conduits under the road in preparation for the new system. This was in 2007 or 2008. The new system was complete and began operation in April 2010.

The system, a sequencing batch reactor, uses bacteria to eat ammonia and then to eat raw organics, according to Steve Hansen, engineer with Ambiente H2O Inc., which installed the system…

The system now installed in the mobile-home park has two stages covered with concrete, said Hansen. This helps with both the smell and climate control. The bugs will stay warm and happy to keep eating, he said. The third compartment allows for settling. When all is working as it should, clear water settles to the top.

What is then released to Tennessee Creek is cleaner than what is already flowing in the creek, said Hansen.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

The Agricultural Advisory Board to the Larimer County Commissioners reports that the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) will not stimulate increased growth in N. Colorado

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

A memo by the Larimer County Agricultural Advisory Board states NISP would not necessarily accelerate the selling and subdivision of farms to meet the water needs of growing cities as predicted in a study released earlier this year by Save the Poudre, which opposes the project. “The need for NISP is the result of growth, which has occurred or will occur, rather than NISP being a cause of that growth,” Val Manning, chair of the advisory board told the county commissioners Tuesday…

The board also found construction of Glade Reservoir north of Ted’s Place would not take significant agricultural land out of production because the property already is owned by Northern Water, which has proposed building NISP. There’s no evidence the project would increase salinity levels in Weld County fields and reduce crop productivity as stated in Save the Poudre’s report, “The Farm Facts about NISP,” the board stated…

The board’s analysis questioned Save the Poudre’s contention that the amount of “free water” available for diversion during years of high flow would be eliminated by NISP because water rights for the project are junior to other claims on the river’s water. [Board member George Wallace] told the commissioners some downstream farmers have become accustomed to using “free” water for production during years of high flow and they would be affected by reduced availability.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

The world population is now seven billion (give or take) and water use is rising faster than the population

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From Reuters (Deborah Zabarenko):

Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, said Kirsty Jenkinson of the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank. Water use is predicted to increase by 50 percent between 2007 and 2025 in developing countries and 18 percent in developed ones, with much of the increased use in the poorest countries with more and more people moving from rural areas to cities, Jenkinson said in a telephone interview. Factor in the expected impacts of climate change this century — more severe floods, droughts and shifts from past precipitation patterns — that are likely to hit the poorest people first and worst “and we have a significant challenge on our hands,” Jenkinson said.

Will there be enough water for everyone, especially if population continues to rise, as predicted, to 9 billion by mid-century? “There’s a lot of water on Earth, so we probably won’t run out,” said Rob Renner, executive director of the Colorado-based Water Research Foundation.

“The problem is that 97.5 percent of it is salty and … of the 2.5 percent that’s fresh, two-thirds of that is frozen. So there’s not a lot of fresh water to deal with in the world.”

Hot spots of water risk, as reported in the World Resources Institute‘s Aqueduct online atlas here , include:

— Australia’s Murray-Darling basin;

— the Colorado River basin in the U.S. Southwest;

— the Orange-Senqu basin, covering parts of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia and all of Lesotho;

— and the Yangtze and Yellow river basins in China.

More coverage from The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin):

As the global population reaches the 7-billion mark, these sort of ecological distortions are becoming more pronounced and widespread. Sometimes local needs are depleting water, fish and forests; other times food and fuel needs in one region of the world are transforming ecosystems in another. Under either scenario, however, expanding human demands are placing pressure on resources, particularly on world water supply and fisheries.

Robert Engelman, executive director of the Worldwatch Institute, noted that societies have repeated this pattern of depleting one natural resource and then turning to another, whether it’s the whale oil that gave way to fossil fuels or the guano that has been substituted by chemical fertilizer. But the current scale of exploitation has become so vast, Engelman said, that it now exacts even larger consequences.

The Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District is awaiting a stormwater assessment and management study due in December

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

That September deluge provided the latest evidence of the need to control stormwater runoff. The question is how, considering the backlog of projects in the Springs alone amounts to as much as $500 million, and efforts to collect the now-defunct stormwater fee have been a nightmare.

[Larry Small, manager of the district] believes the first step is overseeing a study to identify the region’s drainage costs and funding options. It’s funded by Colorado Springs Utilities ($20,000), El Paso County ($10,000) and the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority ($7,500), a coalition of water users outside the city. “I think we have to get this study put together first,” Small says, “and then get the governments together in the region and say, ‘How do we want to tackle this, and how do we tell people the benefits?'”[…]

Small says the study will quantify costs regionally (including Pueblo County), report timeframes for building projects, and suggest funding mechanisms, such as a stormwater authority that might rely on property taxes over a wide area, possibly two counties…

Lisa Ross, the city’s acting stormwater manager, says the EPA is getting tougher on pollutants and monitoring. She encourages flood-control projects such as detention ponds that allow pollutants to drop out of the water before flowing to creeks…

Stormwater has always been a loser. In 2005, City Council, in part to placate Pueblo, formed the Stormwater Enterprise and followed in 2007 with fees levied on all property owners. Many refused to pay the “rain tax,” and the city has had trouble collecting since. The enterprise was dismantled in 2009. Collection letters, court judgments and “till taps,” wherein deputies seize money from businesses in satisfaction of court orders have only brought ill will.

More stormwater coverage here.

Precipitation news: Arapahoe Basin is reporting 11 inches of new snow, Loveland — 21 inches.

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From the Associated Press via the Colorado Connection:

Northern Colorado got the most snow. Greeley picked up about a foot and Jamestown, in Boulder County, received 18.2 inches. Between 12 and 16 inches of snow fell at Rocky Mountain National Park…

At the Estes Park Mountain Shop outside the park, at least 8 inches of snow had fallen by midmorning.

Up to 8 inches of snow was expected in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado…

Two resorts that are already open got fresh snow. On Wednesday afternoon, Arapahoe Basin was reporting 11 inches of new snowfall within the past 24 hours, while Loveland was reporting 21 inches.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper/Anthony A. Mestes/Matt Hildner/Tracy Harmon). From the article:

Statewide, snow from the first storm of the season knocked out power and heat to thousands of homes and businesses on the Front Range and brought more snow to Colorado’s mountains…

Randy Gray, a weather service forecaster, said the snow in the Pueblo area melted almost as fast as it fell, bringing about 0.3 inches of rain with it. The snowfall amounted to about 9 inches in the Rye area and 7 inches in Beulah…

Wednesday’s heavy, wet snow dropped more than 7 inches of snow in Canon City. The snow was light throughout most of the day becoming heavier about 2 p.m. In Custer County, snow accumulations ranged from 3 to 5 inches on the south end of the county to 10-12 inches to the west end of the county, according to road and bridge officials. In the town of Westcliffe accumulations were about 6 inches and road conditions were slushy and icy…

At Monarch Mountain, about 4 inches of new snow had fallen by mid-afternoon Wednesday, said Greg Ralph, marketing manager…

The storm hit hardest in the San Juan Mountains, where Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 18 inches of snow by early evening…

Walsenburg reported 6-8 inches of snowfall.

Aspen: City Council approves application for a ‘minor water power project license’ from FERC

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

City Council on Monday voted unanimously to abandon its application for a “conduit exemption” in favor of a “minor water power project license” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is a more rigorous review process. The city estimates that the change will mean an additional $250,000 in expenses…

Council also approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Colorado Division of Wildlife that aims to protect the riparian environment of the creeks. The MOU requires the city to maintain a minimum stream flow of 13.3 cfs below its existing diversion structure on Castle Creek, which will be used to siphon water for the hydro plant, and a minimum stream flow of 14 cfs in Maroon Creek below the diversion structure there.

The MOU, in trying to get at optimal stream health as opposed to minimum stream flows, also establishes a 10-year monitoring program. If macroinvertebrate population, fish population or biomass decreases, and they can be tied to hydro plant operations, the city will be required to take steps to reverse the damage to the creeks, including scaling back diversions, according to the MOU…

When Maureen Hirsch, who is one of eight plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last month, suggested that permanent streamflow monitors be placed on the creek and that the monitoring go on for more than 10 years, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland told her it would be very difficult to work with her and others who are suing the city.

“This is very hostile litigation,” Ireland said, holding up a copy of the complaint. “It’s very aggressive and divisive and I can’t say that I really appreciate it.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Telluride: The Sheep Mountain Alliance plans to file a Clean Water Act citizen action against PacifiCorp over acid mine drainage into the Howard Fork of the San Miguel River

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From The Telluride Watch:

Sheep Mountain Alliance has formally notified Oregon-based utility company PacifiCorp and Silver Bell owner Lee Wynne of plans to initiate a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act to stop the pollution of the San Miguel River.

PacifiCorp owns and maintains the Silver Bell tailings remediation site, located near the Ophir Loop, but has, according to SMA Executive Director Hillary White, allowed the site to discharge heavy metals, acidic drainage, and effluent solids into the Howard Fork of the San Miguel between October 2006 and the present.

“Because of the persistent and ongoing nature of these violations, we have every reason to expect that PacifiCorp’s pollution will keep endangering the San Miguel River unless we take a strong stance and make it clear that the site must be cleaned up immediately and all the water quality violations corrected,” said White. “The Silver Bell tailings site at Ophir Loop is vitally important to protecting the health of the Howard Fork of the San Miguel,” she said, and “the site is violating discharge standards with acid discharge, iron, and solids, and that affects drinking water supplies downstream as well as habitat for fish and wildlife.”

PacifiCorp has 60 days to correct the ongoing discharge violations of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the Silver Bell site, or it could potentially face fines, to be imposed by a federal court, for its past five years of violations.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.

The Water Center at Mesa State University scores $5,000 from Chevron for Colorado River basin community education program

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From The Denver Post:

The new Water Center at Colorado Mesa University has been awarded a $5,000 grant by Chevron to support the Water Center’s work to help Upper Colorado River Basin communities understand and address emerging water challenges.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

The Agricultural Advisory Board to the Larimer County Commissioners reports that the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) will not dry up agriculture

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From the Loveland Reporter Herald (Pamela Dickman):

The Agricultural Advisory Board, made up of several working farmers, released a report to the commissioners Tuesday saying the Northern Integrated Supply Project reservoirs would not dry up farmland and would not harm productive crops with increased salinity. The report was in response to an April release from Save the Poudre, the environmental advocacy group leading opposition to the proposed reservoirs…

The region will need additional water supply for growth with or without the reservoir projects. NISPwill meet those needs and take pressure off farmers’ water, according to the report.

There is no evidence that shows salinity will increase on farmland despite the fact that eastern Colorado farmers will be receiving effluent water. The dirtier water will be diluted enough that farmland should not be affected.

The water to initially fill, and to maintain the reservoirs, would be extra water above that already claimed from the Poudre River and would not come out of allocations to farmers. The water would be, in essence, extra water during wet years that would flow out of state if not captured.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

Coyote Gulch outage: Power off at Gulch Manor since last night

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Today’s beautiful snow has caused a power outage at Gulch Manor since last night. I just tried to ping my server at home and it is still unreachable (noon, 10/26/2011). A few years ago power was down for 2-3 days from one of these wet storms dumping on trees that still had leaves in an old neighborhood with ancient overhead wires.

Wish me luck.

CSU’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory presents ‘Headwater Rivers and the Carbon Cycle’ October 28

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From email from the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (Laurie Richards):

Friday, October 28, 2011, 11:00 AM – 12 noon, Third Floor Conference Rooms A302-304, Natural and Environmental Sciences Building

Recent high-profile papers have highlighted the role that rivers play in the global carbon cycle. Of the terrestrial carbon delivered to rivers, less than half reaches the oceans. The remainder is returned to the atmosphere or sequestered in sediments. The balance among these outputs depends on how long carbon is retained in various storage sites along a river. Headwater rivers are particularly important in that they receive the majority of terrestrial carbon inputs from soil, vegetation, and fossil carbon in sedimentary bedrock. Despite recognizing the importance of riverine processes in the carbon cycle, many existing studies of carbon dynamics treat physical processes in rivers as a black box, focusing only on inputs and outputs rather than mechanisms within the river network. This talk uses the example of headwater rivers in Rocky Mountain National Park to examine the magnitude and spatial distribution of carbon stored in floodplain sediments, coarse organic material on the floodplain and in the stream, and living biomass on the floodplain. We partition river segments into distinct process domains as a function of their elevation and valley geometry.

We find that laterally unconfined valley segments above the Pleistocene glacial moraines store disproportionately large amounts of carbon relative to their percentage of the total river length. This has important management implications in that the biotic drivers that facilitate and maintain this carbon storage have been progressively lost over the past few decades.

Berthoud: Next Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting November 15-16

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

Notice is hereby given that a meeting of the CWCB will be held on Tuesday November 15, 2011, commencing at 8:00 a.m. and continuing through Wednesday, November 16th, 2011. This meeting will be held at the Northern Water Conservancy District Offices located at 220 Water Ave, Berthoud, CO 80513.

The CWCB Board will also meet for a workshop regarding the Colorado River Water Availability Study and the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement on Monday November 14, 2011 at the same location.

More CWCB coverage here.

State of the Rockies Project scores $175,000 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to assess attitudes about conservation in six Western states

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

Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project has received a $175,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to conduct a poll assessing attitudes toward conservation in six Western states. 


The “Colorado College State of the Rockies 2012 Conservation in the West Poll” to be conducted in January 2012 expands on work that was begun in January 2011 with the first-ever such poll, when voters in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming were canvassed in a bipartisan poll. This year voters in Arizona also will be included.


Two polling firms, one Republican, the other Democrat, will use a bipartisan approach in developing topics to be covered and the wording of questions. Together, they will conduct a total of 2,400 randomly selected interviews, attempting to reach people via land lines and cell phones. The poll will be conducted in Spanish as well as English, and the firms used will be the same as last year, Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm), and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm).


Survey results will be released by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, which, for the past nine years, has worked to increase public understanding of vital issues affecting the Rockies through annual report cards, lectures, forums and other activities.


Key findings in last year’s poll included:

– 77 percent of respondents believe that stringent environmental standards and a strong economy can co-exist.

– 81 percent believe environmental laws should not be relaxed for oil, gas and mining companies.

– Three-quarters view wind and solar power as job creators and better energy sources than fossil fuels.

-Respondents overwhelmingly support paying up to $10 more a month for renewable energy use.

“These annual polls are becoming a valuable research tool to measure attitudes and opinions over time for the Rocky Mountain states,” says Walt Hecox, faculty director for the Rockies Project.

The focus of the 2011-12 State of the Rockies Project is “The Colorado River Basin- Agendafor Use, Restoration, and Sustainability for the Next Generation,” and seeks to bring a new perspective to the debates surrounding the multitude of issues and conflicts in the river basin.

The project began with a coordinated focus on the Colorado River Basin during summer 2011, conducted by student researchers. The results of this research are then coordinated with monthly talks by experts throughout the academic year, and the project culminates with a major conference in April 2012 and the publication of the 2012 State of the Rockies Report Card.

All State of the Rockies events are free and open to the public. More information about the project and the Conservation in the West polling effort are available at http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/

More conservation coverage here.

Climate change news: The clock is ticking on the opportunity to keep warming below 2C

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There was a bunch of news on the climate change front last week including this article from Richard Black writing for the BBC. He highlights the efforts by the leaders of some 200 companies from around the world to get their government to act to reduce carbon dioxide emmissions. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The 2C Challenge, co-ordinated by the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group, says that climate change puts society’s future prosperity at risk.

But the window to keep global warming below 2C has “almost closed”, it warns.

Companies signing up include UK retailer Tesco, energy provider EDF, electronics company Philips, chemicals giant Unilever, eBay and Rolls-Royce.

The communique is published six weeks before governments of 192 countries convene in Durban, South Africa, for the annual UN climate summit.

More coverage from the Environmental News Service. From the article:

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said, “Governments have clearly signaled their intention to move towards a low-carbon future. To get there fast enough will require huge new investments in clean energy. This is the only way to guarantee the long-term sustainability and security of the world economic system and the stability of returns from global investment, a major part of which is directly linked to the pensions and life insurance of ordinary people around the world.”

“The statement from major private sector investors will help to give governments both the confidence and the knowledge to put the right incentives and mechanisms in place,” said Figueres.

Frank Pegan, who chairs IGCC Australia/New Zealand said, “Individual nations will be in a stronger position to attract private capital to stimulate their economies by implementing clear and credible climate policies. As and when governments around the world show leadership and reduce policy risk around climate change for investors, the investment flows will follow.”[…]

Dr. Wolfgang Engshuber, who chairs the Advisory Council of the Principles for Responsible Investment, said, “Climate change will transform economies throughout the world, creating new opportunities for investors. However, these will gain traction only if governments play their part in laying down well-designed and effective climate change policies. Without such a supportive regulatory environment, we will not see the level of investment that is needed to transform the world’s energy supplies and transport systems.”

Physicist Richard Muller led the project at Berkeley that compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s. The project report concluded that the planet has warmed 1C since the 1950s. Here’s a report from the Guardian. From the article:

The Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1C since the mid-1950s.

This figure agrees with the estimate arrived at by major groups that maintain official records on the world’s climate, including Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, with the University of East Anglia, in the UK.

“My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly sceptical,” Richard Muller, a physicist and head of the project, said.

“Some people lump the properly sceptical in with the deniers and that makes it easy to dismiss them, because the deniers pay no attention to science. But there have been people out there who have raised legitimate issues.”

Muller sought to cool the debate over climate change by creating the largest open database of temperature records, with the aim of producing a transparent and independent assessment of global warming.

More on Muller from The Los Angeles Times (Geoff Mohan). From the article:

UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller and others were looking at the so-called urban heat island effect — the notion that because more urban temperature stations are included in global temperature data sets than are rural ones, the global average temperature was being skewed upward because these sites tend to retain more heat. Hence, global warming trends are exaggerated.

Using data from such urban heat islands as Tokyo, they hypothesized, could introduce “a severe warming bias in global averages using urban stations.”

In fact, the data trend was “opposite in sign to that expected if the urban heat island effect was adding anomalous warming to the record. The small size, and its negative sign, supports the key conclusion of prior groups that urban warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change.”

More coverage from The Economist. From the article:

There are three compilations of mean global temperatures going back over 150 years from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and a collaboration between Britain’s Met Office and the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (known as Hadley CRU). All suggest a similar pattern of warming amounting to about 0.9°C over land in the past half century. Yet this consistency masks large uncertainties in the raw data and doubts about their methodologies. But a new study of current data and analysis by Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature offers strong support to the existing temperature compilations. The results, described in four papers still undergoing peer review, are released on October 20th. It estimates that over the past 50 years the land surface warmed by 0.911°C: a mere 2% less than NOAA’s estimate.

Meanwhile, Andrew Revkin laments the melting away of skeptics talking points due to Muller’s research in the New York Times. From the article:

Richard Muller, a noted Berkeley physicist who’s been a strident critic of climate campaigners, has released a much-anticipated new package of studies, along with all of his team’s data and methods, that powerfully challenges one of the prime talking points of pundits and politicians trying to avoid a shift away from fossil fuels. The assertion has been that the world hasn’t really warmed — just the thermometers — due to expanding asphalt and concrete around cities and other locations housing weather stations.

Revkin is pointing to this blog post from Anthony Watts that stresses that Muller’s research has not been peer reviewed yet. Watts writes:

Readers may recall this post last week where I complained about being put in a uncomfortable quandary by an author of a new paper. Despite that, I chose to honor the confidentiality request of the author Dr. Richard Muller, even though I knew that behind the scenes, they were planning a media blitz to MSM outlets. In the past few days I have been contacted by James Astill of the Economist, Ian Sample of the Guardian, and Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times. They have all contacted me regarding the release of papers from BEST today.

There’s only one problem: Not one of the BEST papers have completed peer review.

Readers may want to thank the Koch Foundation for funding part of the study. Here’s a report from Brad Plummer writing for The Washington Post. From the article:

Muller’s stated aims were simple. He and his team would scour and re-analyze the climate data, putting all their calculations and methods online. Skeptics cheered the effort. “I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong,” wrote Anthony Watts, a blogger who has criticized the quality of the weather stations in the United Statse that provide temperature data. The Charles G. Koch Foundation even gave Muller’s project $150,000 — and the Koch brothers, recall, are hardly fans of mainstream climate science.

So what are the end results? Muller’s team appears to have confirmed the basic tenets of climate science.

Here’s a report about the world’s poor and the need to mitigate the effects of climate change on their population by relocating them. From the article:

The Migration and Global Environmental Change Foresight Report is the most detailed study carried out on the effect of flooding, drought and rising sea levels on human migration patterns over the next 50 years.

The government’s chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, who commissioned the study, said that environmental change would hit the world’s poorest the hardest and that millions of them would inadvertently migrate toward, rather than away from, areas that are most vulnerable.

“[These people] will be trapped in dangerous conditions and unable to be moved to safety,” he said.

Finally, here’s a report about the uniqueness of current warming that is occurring in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres — not seen over the past 20,000 years in the geologic record — from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

“What is happening today is unique from a historical geological perspective,” said Svante Björck, a climate researcher at Lund University.

Björck directly addressed the argument that climate has always changed in cycles by showing that, in the past, when when, for example, the temperature rises in one hemisphere, it falls or remains unchanged in the other. “My study shows that, apart from the larger-scale developments, such as the general change into warm periods and ice ages, climate change has previously only produced similar effects on local or regional level,” says Svante Björck.

To make his findings, Björck examined global climate archives, searching for evidence that any of the climate events that have occurred since the end of the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago generated similar effects on both the northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously. He used the Little Ice Age as an example, explaining that, while Europe experienced some of its coldest centuries, there is no evidence of corresponding simultaneous temperature changes and effects in the southern hemisphere.

Climate records, in the form of core samples taken from marine and lake sediments and glacier ice, serve as a record of how temperature, precipitation and concentration of atmospheric gases and particles have varied over the course of history, and are full of similar examples.

More climate change coverage here.

Prairie Waters Project Receives Project Management Institute’s Prestigious 2011 PMI Project of the Year Award

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Here’s the release from the Project Management Institute via Market Watch:

Aurora, Colorado, USA has been challenged by decades of rapid population growth combined with limited opportunities to expand its water supply in an arid environment. This already significant challenge was exacerbated in 2002 by severe, multi-year drought, requiring the city and its water managers to quickly design and implement a long-term solution in response to future water shortage conditions. The Prairie Waters Project, led by CH2M HILL, marked one of the largest water-related public works projects in Colorado in more than 35 years. Its exemplary innovation and completion, two months ahead of schedule and US$100 million under budget, has made it the 2011 recipient of the Project Management Institute’s prestigious PMI(R) Project of the Year Award.

“An urgent water need pushed the city to take an innovative look at ways to achieve not only meeting the community’s water needs quickly, but to preserve the city’s high standards for water quality,” said Larry Catalano, manager of capital projects for the City of Aurora. “The significant complexities of the project included stringent cost constraints, stakeholder involvement, environmental restrictions, and the pressure to execute a project on an exceptionally fast schedule. The project team consistently went above and beyond the call of duty and delivered ahead of schedule and under budget. We are honored that PMI recognized the hard work, collaboration and dedication of the entire team that worked to create the Prairie Waters Project.”

The Prairie Waters Project succeeded in spite of extreme environmental challenges. With only a nine-month supply of water available for a population of approximately 300,000 at that time, city leaders and CH2M HILL were tasked with identifying a sustainable, long-term water supply to protect against future droughts. After reviewing over 50 possible scenarios, the city identified the Prairie Waters Project as the fastest, most cost-efficient and most sustainable way to deliver more than 10,000 acre feet of new water to the city by the end of 2010.

The success of the project, originally projected to cost $854 million, resulted in a newly constructed pipeline, pump stations and a treatment plant that will ultimately deliver up to 50,000 acre feet, meeting Aurora’s needs through 2030. Eight significant stakeholder agreements, 145 land parcels and 44 permits were acquired for approval and completion of the project, which took six years to complete and spanned nearly 40 miles in length. Through the use of skilled project personnel, the rigorous application of project management standards, processes and techniques, and the use of earned value management (EVM) techniques, the PWP was able to cut $100 million from the budget in the design phase without compromising quality and safety, bringing the construction budget to $754 million. Value engineering techniques enabled the team to fast-track the project two months ahead of schedule and an additional $100 million below this amended budget. The project was delivered in October 2010 at just under $653 million.

“The City of Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project clearly illustrates how project management standards and practices, properly applied, can help deliver a solution that is transformative to a community,” said Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of PMI. “This project demonstrates best practice solutions that show agility and effective stakeholder engagement. PMI commends Aurora Water and the entire project team for these outstanding results.”

Aurora Water was presented with the 2011 PMI Project of the Year Award on Saturday, 22 October 2011 during the PMI Awards Ceremony at the PMI(R) Global Congress 2011–North America in Dallas, Texas.

More Prairie Waters coverage here and here.

The Fountain Creek Corridor Restoration Master Plan is hot off the press from the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The plan builds on past studies of Fountain Creek by recommending specific actions and strategies for reaches south of Colorado Springs to the confluence with the Arkansas River in Pueblo. The plan includes the 100-year floodplain for about 46 miles of the creek. The plan is the completion of efforts to improve Fountain Creek that began in 2007 with negotiations between Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The Fountain Creek district signed a partnership with those entities in 2009 to complete the plan…

A total of $1 million has been spent on the plan, which was financed equally by Colorado Springs and the Lower Ark district. THK Associates was the primary contractor. “This plan defines the elements that are included in a healthy reach of the creek versus an unhealthy reach of the creek,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district. “The plan establishes a series of restoration techniques, including conservation, that are intended to be the toolbox of techniques used as a part of revitalizing Fountain Creek.”

The plan notes that most of the land in the unincorporated areas along Fountain Creek is privately owned, and generally healthy. The problem areas in Fountain and Pueblo, on mostly public land, receive the most attention. To improve the health of the stream, the plan recommends bank restoration, side detention ponds, wetlands and removal of invasive species that choke out other vegetation. The plan also seeks ways to connect communities to Fountain Creek to treat it as an asset rather than a problem…

The U.S. Geological Survey, in connection with the district, is studying the impact of a dam or series of dams on Fountain Creek. Results from that study are expected next year.

Comments on the corridor master plan may be made to fountainck dist@aol.com.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Saturday October 29 is a National Take Back Initiative day — an attempt by the DEA to keep prescription drugs out of the wastewater stream

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Here’s the webpage. Here’s the link to their National Take Back Initiative Collection Site Search page. They ask you for your zip code and then present you with a list of locations.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

State of the Rockies Project: Should the Colorado River Compact be updated for the realities of the 21st Century?

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Last Monday Justice Greg Hobbs and law professor Larry MacDonnell were the guests of the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project. The subject was the Colorado River and its future, including Native American claims. Also discussed was the need to water population growth in Colorado and elswhere and whether or not the river has the water necessary to do so without drying up agriculture and recreation across the basin.

Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs marveled at how a river basin labeled by some early explorers as uninhabitable 150 years ago now supports 30 million people in seven states. The reason it can do that is because of the foresight of those who wrote the 1922 Colorado River Compact and subsequent legal instruments, which continue to be adapted over time.

Legal scholar Larry MacDonnell, of the University of Wyoming’s College of Law, said the water resources of the Colorado River are being squandered by unwise uses and the states should stop banking on further diversions and start looking at conserving what they now use. He advocated moving more agricultural water to urban uses to avoid the continued need to import water.

Hobbs and MacDonnell spoke on the Law of the River, and the compact documents are known, as part of the 2012 State of the Rockies Project, which is focusing on the Colorado River. The project, which includes research and field work by Colorado College staff and students, is in its ninth year. The project features a series of speakers on Colorado River issues over the next few months…

The West traditionally has brought in more water when it exhausts the natural supply, but MacDonnell believes it is time to re-evaluate how water is used instead. “Are we content with how the basin is using water?” MacDonnell asked, and then listed some instances where it is not being used wisely:

– The Imperial Valley uses one-fifth of the total volume of the Colorado River, and two-fifths of that grows alfalfa.

– A $1 billion desalinization plant treats water for $144 per acre-foot for delivery to Mexican farms.

– Water is applied at the rate of 10 acre-feet per acre to grow crops in the Arizona desert.

– One-fifth of the water stored in the lower basin simply evaporates

“Is this a sensible use of water?” MacDonnell asked. “In compromise, projects have been built that waste water.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: State regulators, ‘…ignored warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency, independent firms and their own engineers,’ according to The Denver Post

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Here’s an exposé from Karen Crummy writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. They’re running a series of photos and a aerial view of the area. Check out the cool photo of the construction of one of the leaky ponds. Here’s an excerpt:

Allowing the radioactive waste to remain on site is just the latest chapter in a 50-year saga during which regulators for the state, which owned the land during 20 years that Cotter polluted it, ignored warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency, independent firms and their own engineers.

The result is that while polluted sites such as Rocky Flats became a national model for nuclear decontamination and towns like Grand Junction and Leadville evolved from environmental tragedies to recreation destinations, the cleanup of Cotter has dragged on for nearly 30 years and is at least a decade away from completion. “They were great people. They helped the industry a lot,” said Richard Ziegler, the former executive vice president of Cotter who left the firm six years ago, regarding state health regulators.

State regulators say the ponds’ leaks do not pose an immediate threat because residents no longer drink well water. “Cotter is isolated and not as environmentally dangerous” as some other sites, said Steve Tarlton, who has overseen the Superfund site for the state since 2003…

When Cotter moved to expand its mill in 1978, the EPA issued its first of many warnings ignored by the state: Consider moving the mill to a different site because of the “significant” health concerns, wrote David Wagoner, the EPA’s director of air and hazardous materials. The CBI also asked Al Hazle, head of the radiation control department, not to issue Cotter a new license until the bureau received documents it requested from Cotter. He agreed. The next day, Hazle granted the license. In a 1981 report commissioned by the EPA, the health department questioned why Hazle was not heeding advice from Robert Shukle with the state’s water quality division. Shukle inundated his boss with memos about Cotter’s shortcomings, repeatedly informing the radiation chief that Cotter was continuing to flout regulations, especially by its refusal to put “tracer” chemicals in the newly constructed impoundment ponds to see whether they were leaking.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site coverage here and here.

Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District rate-payers are worried about the district’s debt load

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From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Lisa Collacott):

During the Oct. 17 meeting board members voted unanimously to purchase the ranch east of Fountain Creek. It is estimated that the cost of the ranch’s decreed water rights — 3,500 acre-feet annually — will range between $25 and $31 million. More than 100 residents attended the meeting and many were in opposition to the purchase of the ranch.

Woodmoor resident Bob Gountanis agrees that the water district needs to look at renewable water but is opposed to this particular decision. “I think the idea is OK, but the way they went about it is not,” he said. Gountanis said there is not a contract to convert the water from agricultural use to commercial use and there are no estimates on how much it will cost to deliver the water up to Woodmoor.

The water district hosted three public meeting — Sept. 27, 29 and Oct. 8 — to discuss the need for renewable water and the impact it will have on customer’s water bills. Jessie Shaffer, general manager for the water district, said the expected cost for the ranch is expected to be between $25 and $31 million but that is dependent on the water rights that are still to be determined in water court. The cost of delivery is estimated to be between $30 and $100 million.

The water district is looking at a 25-year revenue bond to pay for the purchase of the ranch. The average homeowner will see a $48.50 water investment fee beginning in January 2012 which comes out to an increase of $600 per year. Gountanis said an extra $600 a year may not seem like a lot to some people, however it is a lot for families who are having a tough time because of the economy.

More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here and here.

The Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe is taking over water quality monitoring on their reservation

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Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (George Parrish/Richard Mylott/Colin Larrick/Scott Clow):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the Water Quality Standards for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe with Reservation lands in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The Tribe submitted its Water Quality Standards to EPA earlier this year for review and an approval determination under the Clean Water Act. The Tribe’s standards will be implemented for all Clean Water Act purposes, including issuing and enforcing discharge permits for Reservation surface waters.

Water Quality Standards are the cornerstone of State and Tribal water quality management programs established under the Clean Water Act. These standards define the goals for specific waterbodies by designating their uses, setting criteria to protect those uses, and establishing provisions such as anti-degradation policies to protect waterbodies from pollutants.

The Ute Mountain Ute received program authority from EPA for Water Quality Standards in 2005, and submitted their standards in 2011. EPA has determined that the Tribe’s standards are consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The approved standards will be used by the Tribe to assess the health of aquatic ecosystems, identify water quality problems, and target and prioritize remediation and restoration projects.

EPA’s approval of the Tribe’s Water Quality Standards is the latest step forward for a tribal water quality program that has been working to protect Reservation waters for over 20 years. The Tribe is currently working collaboratively with surrounding states and federal agencies on a broad range of water quality issues. These include recovery efforts for endangered aquatic species, reducing pollution from mining, irrigated agriculture and livestock, and protecting culturally significant resources.

Out of 46 tribes nationally that have received the authority to establish Water Quality Standards, the Ute Mountain Ute becomes the 37th tribe with EPA-approved standards.

The Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation includes lands in southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah, straddling much of the arid four corners area. Major Reservation waterbodies include the San Juan and Mancos Rivers, and McElmo Creek. The Reservation’s population includes approximately 2,100 enrolled members and its largest community, Towaoc, Colo., serves as the Tribal Government seat. The local economy consists mainly of ranching and farming, oil and gas production, and a tourism trade showcasing western landscapes, natural history and cultural sites.

The Tribe maintains a copy of its Water Quality Standards on its website: http://www.utemountainuteenvironmental.org/index.cfm/water-quality/surface-water/surface-water-quality-standards/

The Tribal Environmental Program website: http://www.utemountainuteenvironmental.org/

For more information on Water Quality Standards and the Clean Water Act visit: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/index.cfm

More coverage from The Durango Herald:

The newly approved rules will be used for issuing and enforcing discharge permits for surface waters on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, which straddles three states and much of the Four Corners. They also will protect specific water bodies, including McElmo Creek and the San Juan and Mancos rivers, on the reservation.

The move is the latest in the tribe’s 20-year effort to protect its reservation waters, and officials said it is among other crucial collaborations to protect endangered species, reduce mining pollution, provide irrigation and protect water resources.

More San Juan River basin coverage here and here.

U.S. District Judge William Martinez orders halt to the DOE approval of exploration, mining and all other activities on 31 leases in southwestern Colorado

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Matthew Beaudin):

…but the actual effect of the ruling is unclear: The DOE had already halted activity in the region while it conducted its own departmental environmental review…

In his 53-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William Martinez said federal officials violated environmental laws when they opened those lands back up to leasing, and even ran afoul of the Endangered Species Act. The ruling invalidates environmental reports that indicated that reviving mining operations would have what the department calls “no significant impact” in the region.

The ruling also says the 31 leases in existence under the program and halts the DOE from further mining-related activities and issuing any new leases until a more thorough environmental analysis is undertaken — something the department was, as of this summer, in the process of doing itself. The DOE, though, may have to widen its scope now.

Martinez scolded the department for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of renewed mining in the region, noting that “considerable exploration and mining has already occurred on these lands: indeed, uranium and vanadium mining has been taking place on these lands (on and off) since 1949.” The department, he wrote, should also consider the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill’s impacts on the region, rather than ignore it because it’s not yet built, as it had done initially.

“Not only does the DOE know that uranium continues to exist under the ULMP lands, but the DOE has precise estimates for the amount of uranium that exists and the rate that it can be extracted makes sense to point out that it appears that the Piñon Ridge Mill is in a much more advanced stage as of the date of this decision,” Martinez wrote…

Curtis Moore, a spokesperson for Energy Fuels, the company hoping to build the mill, said the decision doesn’t affect the mill, and that, even though the company held some of the frozen leases, Energy Fuels wasn’t planning on tapping them any time soon. The business model for the mill won’t change, he said. “It looks like this is the court basically ordering the Department of Energy to do already what it was in the process of doing,” Moore said.

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

The decision throws out 31 leases to six companies, including the firm that wants to build a uranium mill near Naturita and a company owned by state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

U.S. District Judge William Martinez invalidated the leases because the Department of Energy did not do a deep enough environmental study before it issued them. The DOE said this summer it would do the study, but Martinez issued the ruling anyway on Wednesday, saying he wanted to make sure DOE leaders did not change their minds again…

Coram, who represents part of Montezuma County, owns Gold Eagle Mining. The company holds three of the leases that were overturned, but Coram said the court ruling is not a problem. The DOE already has said it would take 12 to 15 months to do another environmental study. “It puts everything down the road to about 2014, as far as we’re concerned. That was the schedule we were working on anyway,” Coram said. “I’m certainly not concerned about it.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Loveland: 2011 Colorado Ag Water Summit December 1

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Here’s the webpage with registration details from the Colorado Ag Water Summit. The Interbasin Compact Committee is meeting the day before.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Water and its impact on agriculture, municipalities and public policy will be the focus of the 2011 Ag Water Summit on Dec. 1 at The Ranch at the Larimer County Fairgrounds in Loveland.

Topics include public policy, developing water storage and delivery projects, working with municipalities and environmental groups, new technology, alternatives to ag water transfers and recent litigation and rules impacting ag water.

Featured speakers include John Stulp of the governor’s office, Department of Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, Jim Martin of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jennifer Gimbel of the Colorado Water Conser-vation Board, Bob Streeter of the Colorado Wildlife Commission and others.

For more information and to register, visit http://www.coagwater.org.

Cost for agricultural producers before Nov. 4 is $50 and $75 after that date. Nonproducers are $75 before Nov. 4 and $100 after. Students are free, but registration is required.

The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District heard a pitch for a potential cloud-seeding program at their last meeting

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Cloud-seeding, using silver iodide crystals fired from ground cannons, is already widely used in Colorado. Mainly using for increased snowpack in the mountains, the cannons are also used for hail suppression in some areas like the San Luis Valley. There are 111 generators in the state, said Joe Busto, who coordinates cloud-seeding for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Programs have continued for decades and in the last six years, the state and cooperating agencies have spent $3.9 million for cloud-seeding programs…

Just over the state line, Kansas has been conducted summer cloud seeding to suppress hail and increase rainfall since 1975, said Walt Geiger, meteorologist for the Kansas program. He explained the Kansas program to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week, and suggested a similar approach could help Eastern Colorado…

Airplanes fly both into and below thunderstorms, using dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) and silver iodide both to reduce the size of hail and increase rainfall. Updrafts allow silver iodide crystals to flow into the clouds from below. Dry ice is released into the clouds by planes flying near the edges of storms…

The theory behind cloud-seeding is that it increases precipitation by injecting trillions of nuclei into clouds. That encourages more rain or snow, and reduces the size of hail by creating more targets for loose droplets to cling to in the clouds. Large hailstones gain size as droplets attach to them as they move through clouds. Airplanes are are used on the plains because ground cannons are not effective in reaching the zone where hail forms — about 11,000-16,000 feet above ground, where there are freezing temperatures, even in summer. Above that zone, ice crystals don’t precipitate as easily.

More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.

Coyote Gulch outage: I’m heading over Kenosha Pass to Salida for the Colorado Central Magazine annual shindig

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Potluck at Ed and Martha Quillen’s place today for the annual get-together of friends and purveyors of Colorado Central Magazine.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

Forecast for the start of water year 2012: Dry across the U.S. southern tier including southeastern Colorado

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the November precipitation outlook from the Climate Prediction Center. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday released its forecast for coming months, based on new observations that show La Nina will influence weather patterns. La Niña is a cooling trend in the Pacific Ocean that sends moisture to the northern tier of the United States, often causing drought in the southern plains…

“The evolving La Nina will shape this winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “There is a wild card, though. The erratic Arctic oscillation can generate strong shifts in the climate patterns that could overwhelm or amplify La Nina’s typical impacts.” The oscillation could cause wide swings in temperatures and precipitation patterns over the winter months, although it is impossible to predict when or where they will occur. The Arctic oscillation is always present and fluctuates between positive and negative phases. The negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation pushes cold air into the U.S. from Canada. The Arctic oscillation went strongly negative at times the last two winters, causing outbreaks of cold and snowy conditions in the U.S. such as the “snowmaggedon” storms of 2009-10 on the East Coast. Strong episodes typically last a few weeks and are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance, according to NOAA.

Here’s the Prognostic Discussion For Monthly Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center. As is often the case with La Niña, Colorado is in an area that is hard to predict. From the discussion:

ABOVE NORMAL TEMPERATURES ARE FAVORED FOR A LARGE AREA ACROSS THE SOUTHERN CENTRAL US, WITH AN EXTENSION INTO THE GREAT LAKES…

FOR REMAINING AREAS THAT ARE NOT HIGHLIGHTED, THERE ARE EQUAL CHANCES (EC) FOR BELOW, NEAR, AND ABOVE-NORMAL MEAN TEMPERATURE DURING THE PERIOD AS THERE WERE NO STRONG AND CONSISTENT CLIMATE SIGNALS AMONGST THE AVAILABLE FORECAST TOOLS IN THESE AREAS.

THE NOVEMBER MONTHLY PRECIPITATION OUTLOOK INDICATES ENHANCED PROBABILITIES FOR BELOW-MEDIAN PRECIPITATION FOR THE SOUTHWEST AND ACROSS TEXAS INTO THE SOUTHEAST…

FOR REMAINING AREAS THAT ARE NOT HIGHLIGHTED, THERE ARE EQUAL CHANCES (EC) FOR BELOW, NEAR, AND ABOVE-MEDIAN TOTAL PRECIPITATION DURING THE PERIOD AS THERE WERE NO STRONG AND CONSISTENT CLIMATE SIGNALS AMONGST THE AVAILABLE FORECAST TOOLS IN THESE AREAS.

Click through and check out the forecast. They link to a glossary for many of the terms used in the forecast.

Herschel Finds Oceans of Water in Disk of Nearby Star

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Here’s the release from NASA:

Using data from the Herschel Space Observatory, astronomers have detected for the first time cold water vapor enveloping a dusty disk around a young star. The findings suggest that this disk, which is poised to develop into a solar system, contains great quantities of water, suggesting that water-covered planets like Earth may be common in the universe. Herschel is a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions.

Scientists previously found warm water vapor in planet-forming disks close to a central star. Evidence for vast quantities of water extending out into the cooler, far reaches of disks where comets take shape had not been seen until now. The more water available in disks for icy comets to form, the greater the chances that large amounts eventually will reach new planets through impacts.

“Our observations of this cold vapor indicate enough water exists in the disk to fill thousands of Earth oceans,” said astronomer Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands. Hogerheijde is the lead author of a paper describing these findings in the Oct. 21 issue of the journal Science.

The star with this waterlogged disk, called TW Hydrae, is 10 million years old and located about 175 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Hydra. The frigid, watery haze detected by Hogerheijde and his team is thought to originate from ice-coated grains of dust near the disk’s surface. Ultraviolet light from the star causes some water molecules to break free of this ice, creating a thin layer of gas with a light signature detected by Herschel’s Heterodyne Instrument for the Far-Infrared, or HIFI.

“These are the most sensitive HIFI observations to date,” said Paul Goldsmith, NASA project scientist for the Herschel Space Observatory at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It is a testament to the instrument builders that such weak signals can be detected.”

TW Hydrae is an orange dwarf star, somewhat smaller and cooler than our yellow-white sun. The giant disk of material that encircles the star has a size nearly 200 times the distance between Earth and the sun. Over the next few million years, astronomers believe matter within the disk will collide and grow into planets, asteroids and other cosmic bodies. Dust and ice particles will assemble as comets.

As the new solar system evolves, icy comets are likely to deposit much of the water they contain on freshly created worlds through impacts, giving rise to oceans. Astronomers believe TW Hydrae and its icy disk may be representative of many other young star systems, providing new insights on how planets with abundant water could form throughout the universe.

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission launched in 2009, carrying science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes. NASA’s Herschel Project Office based at JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For NASA’s Herschel website, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/herschel and http://www.herschel.caltech.edu.

For ESA’s Herschel website, visit: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Herschel/index.html.

More coverage from the National Journal (Kenneth Chamberlain):

NASA released evidence Thursday from the Herschel Space Observatory that a vast ocean of water vapor is enveloping a nearby disk of dust that surrounds a young star. Although scientists previously have found evidence of warm water near developing stars, this is the first time water vapor has been found out towards the cold edge of the star’s dust disk, which will eventually become planets. The water in this region may eventually form comets, which will rain down on young planets, seeding their future oceans.

So far there is no word of a pipeline project to bring the water to the Front Range.

The Park County Commissioners ink a $3 million deal with Colorado Open Lands, including a sediment study for the Middle and South forks of the South Platte and Taryall Creek

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From The Fairplay Flume (Lynda James):

In 2009, Colorado Open Lands completed a sediment assessment on watersheds of the Middle Fork and South Fork of the South Platte River and Tarryall Creek. The resulting map and report identified major sources of sedimentation and areas of the watersheds in need of restoration, mitigation and protection to reduce the effects of sedimentation. This year, the North Fork of the South Platte River watershed will be studied for sediment loads. All four watersheds are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s watch list of streams and rivers impaired by sediment.

The North Fork assessment will cost $13,000. Of that, the Park County Land and Water Trust Fund will pay $3,500. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will pay $7,000, and Colorado Open Lands will provide $2,500 of in-kind costs for mapping and administration of the project. Other partners include the South Park Wetlands Focus Committee and EcoMetrics.

[Colorado Open Lands Director of Conservation Operations Dieter Erdmann] said that over the years, those in the business of river restoration have learned that the best management practices and also the most cost-effective way to maintain reduced sediment is to use natural vegetation instead of building structures in the riverbed.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Four Colorado irrigation districts receive federal dough to help control Colorado River basin salinity

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From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via KJCT8.com:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday that when complete, the projects to line irrigation canals or place them into pipe should prevent more than 23,000 tons of salt from entering the river every year…

The Interior Department says Stewart Ditch and Reservoir Co. of Paonia was awarded $6 million. The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association of Montrose is receiving $7.4 million. The Grand Valley Irrigation Co. of Grand Junction was awarded $2.8 million. Minnesota Canal and Reservoir Co. of Paonia was awarded $3.9 million.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

EPA Announces Schedule to Develop Natural Gas Wastewater Standards/Announcement is part of administration’s priority to ensure natural gas development continues safely and responsibly

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Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Enesta Jones):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing a schedule to develop standards for wastewater discharges produced by natural gas extraction from underground coalbed and shale formations. No comprehensive set of national standards exists at this time for the disposal of wastewater discharged from natural gas extraction activities, and over the coming months EPA will begin the process of developing a proposed standard with the input of stakeholders – including industry and public health groups. Today’s announcement is in line with the priorities identified in the president’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, and is consistent with the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board recommendations on steps to support the safe development of natural gas resources.

“The president has made clear that natural gas has a central role to play in our energy economy. That is why we are taking steps — in coordination with our federal partners and informed by the input of industry experts, states and public health organizations — to make sure the needs of our energy future are met safely and responsibly,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We can protect the health of American families and communities at the same time we ensure access to all of the important resources that make up our energy economy. The American people expect and deserve nothing less.”

Recent technology and operational improvements in extracting natural gas resources, particularly shale gas, have increased gas drilling activities across the country. Production from shale formations has grown from a negligible amount just a few years ago to almost 15 percent of total U.S. natural gas production and this share is expected to triple in the coming decades. The sharp rise in domestic production has improved U.S. energy security and created jobs, and as with any resource the administration is committed to ensuring that we continue to leverage these resources safely and responsibly, including understanding any potential impact on water resources.

Shale Gas Standards:
Currently, wastewater associated with shale gas extraction is prohibited from being directly discharged to waterways and other waters of the U.S. While some of the wastewater from shale gas extraction is reused or re-injected, a significant amount still requires disposal. As a result, some shale gas wastewater is transported to treatment plants, many of which are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater. EPA will consider standards based on demonstrated, economically achievable technologies, for shale gas wastewater that must be met before going to a treatment facility.

Coalbed Methane Standards:
Wastewater associated with coalbed methane extraction is not currently subject to national standards for being directly discharged into waterways and for pre-treatment standards. Its regulation is left to individual states. For coalbed methane, EPA will be considering uniform national standards based on economically achievable technologies.

Information reviewed by EPA, including state supplied wastewater sampling data, have documented elevated levels of pollutants entering surface waters as a result of inadequate treatment at facilities. To ensure that these wastewaters receive proper treatment and can be properly handled by treatment plants, EPA will gather data, consult with stakeholders, including ongoing consultation with industry, and solicit public comment on a proposed rule for coalbed methane in 2013 and a proposed rule for shale gas in 2014.

The schedule for coalbed methane is shorter because EPA has already gathered extensive data and information in this area, EPA will take the additional time to gather comparable data on shale gas. In particular, EPA will be looking at the potential for cost-effective steps for pretreatment of this wastewater based on practices and technologies that are already available and being deployed or tested by industry to reduce pollutants in these discharges.

This announcement is part of the effluent guidelines program, which sets national standards for industrial wastewater discharges based on best available technologies that are economically achievable. EPA is required to publish a biennial outline of all industrial wastewater discharge rulemakings underway. EPA has issued national technology-based regulations for 57 industries since 1972. These regulations have prevented the discharge of more than 1.2 billion pounds of toxic pollutants each year into US waters.

More information: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/cwa/304m/

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

Information reviewed by EPA, including state-supplied wastewater sampling data, have documented elevated levels of pollutants entering surface waters as a result of inadequate treatment at facilities.

Some of the chemicals in fracking fluids are known carcinogens and the health effects of many additives are not fully understood, in large part because industry officials have refused to disclose precisely what they are using.

Tisha Schuller, President and CEO, Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said wastewater disposal is covered under state regulations. “We are looking over EPA’s information. In the meantime, we want our communities to know that in Colorado, all oil and gas wastewater is handled in accordance with state regulation,” Schuller said. “While there are not federal standards, there are strict state standards through both Colorado Oil and Gas Commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for handling and disposal of wastewaters.”

“We applaud the Environmental Protection Agency for announcing it will limit wastewater pollution from gas development, including the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking,” said Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg.

“The nation is in the midst of a fracking-fueled gas rush which is generating toxic wastewater faster than treatment plants can handle it. The EPA’s proposal is a common sense solution for this growing public health problem and will help keep poisons out of our rivers, streams, and drinking water,” she added.

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

Most fracking fluids are treated and recycled or injected into disposal wells deep beneath the groundwater table. Those wells are now a source of controversy because scientists believe they could be linked to earthquake swarms in places like Arkansas, where several wells were shut down recently.

In Colorado, where regulators have been working through a backlog of old spill enforcement cases, officials have said disclosure of fracking fluid chemicals won’t necessarily stop accidental leaks associated with faulty pipelines, well casings or pit liners meant to keep fluids stored for reuse from leaking into groundwater.

The EPA conducted a study of fracking before Congress voted to exempt the process from the Safe Drinking Water Act when it passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Now the EPA is conducting what many scientists hope will be a much more thorough examination of the process, including using a test area in Colorado. The agency is also considering drafting tougher air quality standards for fracking operations.

More coverage from The Hill’s E2 Wire weblog (Ben German):

The planned Clean Water Act standards come at a time when Republicans and industry groups are alleging that federal regulations, especially EPA rules, are inhibiting the energy industry and other sectors.

They drew quick skepticism from a member of the Senate’s GOP leadership team.

“[EPA] just continues to make it more difficult to develop some of these domestic energy supplies,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, told The Hill in the Capitol.

Thune cautioned, though, he was just hearing of the planned rule. “While I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, based on their track record it is hard to do that,” Thune said, predicting the rules will make domestic energy development tougher and costlier.

Industry groups, while often critical of federal regulators, are holding their fire for now.

“We stand ready to work with EPA and other stakeholders on the development of these guidelines,” said Barry Russell, CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America…

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who has pressed EPA on the issue, cheered the planned rules. “The EPA is right to heed warnings that the extraction of resources buried deep below the earth can lead to the contamination of the waterways above it,” Markey, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. “The public should not have to choose between increased natural gas production and decreased water quality; we can have both with the right rules in place.”

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

The new standards focus on removal of pollution at wastewater treatment plants and wouldn’t apply to the expanding gas mining across Colorado and other Western states where chemical-laced fracking waste is injected underground and buried, or stored in surface evaporative ponds.

In Colorado, some fracking wastewater is discharged without treatment, under state permit, directly into rivers. Some community groups advocate an overhaul of fracking waste disposal.

The new EPA standards would be set by 2014 and would specify what toxic and cancer-causing chemicals must be removed from wastewater before it is released from treatment plants. EPA leaders cast their move to set standards where none currently exist as essential in the continuing push to increase domestic energy production…

An Aurora-area group called What The Frack called the EPA initiative positive. “But it’s not nearly enough,” said group leader Sonia Skakich-Scrima. “We want no open pits and no underground disposal of the wastewater.”

Industry leaders were looking into the EPA initiative, mindful that companies already face state regulations. “We don’t know anything about this. We’re going to see what the rule-making process will bring,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “We just want communities to know that this is already regulated.”[…]

Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is charged with regulating drilling and production statewide. COGCC President David Neslin said he will discuss the EPA initiative with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. “To our knowledge, none of the (fracking wastewater) is being treated at wastewater treatment plants,” Neslin said.

About 60 percent of fracking water in Colorado is disposed of in underground pits with COGCC oversight, he said. Another 20 percent is stored in lined surface ponds where water can evaporate. The final 20 percent is discharged into rivers, under permits issued by the water quality control commission. That water, Neslin said, tends to be relatively clean.

More oil and gas coverage here and here. More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: FERC accepts the Million Resource Group’s application which opens a sixty day comment period

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From the Associated Press (Ben Neary) via The Columbus Republic:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday notified Fort Collins businessman Aaron Million that it had accepted his preliminary permit application — a decision that opens a 60-day public comment period…

If FERC issues Million a preliminary permit, it would allow him to apply to build the hydroelectric facilities for his project. FERC specified in its notice to Million that it only has jurisdiction over the proposed hydroelectric development elements of the pipeline project. It said construction of other substantial portions of the pipeline would require permits from other federal agencies…

One proposed “pump storage” project associated with the pipeline calls for building a new reservoir on the side of Sheep Mountain, west of Laramie. Million said Thursday that water could drain from the proposed reservoir on Sheep Mountain down to nearby Lake Hattie to generate power while possibly using wind power to pump the water back uphill.

The pipeline would have to move water over the Continental Divide on its way to Colorado. Although Million said the project couldn’t produce more energy than it uses, he said the hydropower could provide a valuable offset to its operating costs. “The hydropower has the potential to be a net benefit of the project. Not zeroing out the energy, that’s not realistic in any scenario,” Million said. But he said the hydropower would be consistent, and could provide a valuable addition to wind energy that’s increasingly under development in southeastern Wyoming…

Several environmental groups have come out against Million’s project. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead also recently said he opposes it. “It makes perfect sense to me that so many people in Wyoming oppose this project,” Mead said in a written statement released by his office. “Water is the state’s most valuable natural resource and everyone wants to ensure it is used wisely. I generally oppose trans-basin diversion projects and in particular I believe Aaron Million’s project is not well thought out.”

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.