USBR: Selenium Management Partners Host Public Forums on Selenium and Water Supply

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Steve McCall/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation and their Selenium Management Program partners will host two public forums on selenium in the Gunnison Basin. The forums will be on Monday, October 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hotchkiss Memorial Hall located at 175 N. 1st St. in Hotchkiss, Colo. and Thursday, October 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Montrose Holiday Inn Express located at 1391 South Townsend Ave. in Montrose, Colo.

The goals of the forums are to: 1) discuss with the public and media how selenium affects the water supply and endangered fish in the Gunnison Basin and 2) receive input from the public about plans to reduce selenium in local waterways while protecting existing and future water uses and avoiding potential Endangered Species Act conflicts in the basin.

Selenium is a trace metal found in Mancos Shale, and soils in many parts of the lower Gunnison Basin are naturally high in selenium and salt. When water comes in contact with these soils it can mobilize the selenium, flushing it into our rivers. Selenium concentrations in the lower Gunnison and Colorado Rivers and many of their tributaries currently exceed levels that are deemed safe for sensitive aquatic life, including endangered fish species.

For more information about SMP visit the selenium program website email seleniuminfo@usbr.gov, or call 970-248-0600.

More Reclamation coverage here.

Aurora, Denver and the South Metro Water Supply Authority embark on the WISE project to share facilities and reuse wastewater treatment plant effluent

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Here’s the release from the partners.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

USGS: Arsenic, Uranium and Other Trace Elements, a Potential Concern in Private Drinking Wells

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Here’s the release from the United States Geological Service (Joe Ayotte/Katie Lettie):

About 20% of untreated water samples from public, private, and monitoring wells across the nation contain concentrations of at least one trace element, such as arsenic, manganese and uranium, at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
“In public wells these contaminants are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and contaminants are removed from the water before people drink it,” said Joe Ayotte, USGS hydrologist and lead author on the study. “However, trace elements could be present in water from private wells at levels that are considered to pose a risk to human health, because they aren’t subject to regulations. In many cases people might not even know that they have an issue.”

Trace elements in groundwater exceed human health benchmarks at a rate that far outpaces most other groundwater contaminants, such as nitrate, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Most trace elements, including manganese and arsenic, get into the water through the natural process of rock weathering. Radon, derived from naturally occurring uranium in aquifers, also occurs frequently at high levels in groundwater. Human activities like mining, waste disposal, and construction also can contribute to trace elements in groundwater.

Major Findings:

– Arsenic, uranium, and manganese, were the trace elements in groundwater that most frequently exceeded USEPA human-health benchmarks. Arsenic was found above the USEPA human health benchmark in 7% of wells. Uranium was found in 4% above the human health benchmark, and manganese was found in 12%. Long-term exposure to arsenic can lead to several types of cancer, and high levels of uranium can cause kidney disease. In doses similar to some of those found in this study, manganese can adversely affect child intellectual function and, in large doses, acts as a neurotoxin, causing symptoms similar to those experienced by sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. Radon, a product of the decay of natural uranium, also exceeded its proposed EPA maximum contaminant level in 65% of wells tested (300 Picocuries per liter).

Climate and land use are important factors in trace element distribution. Differences in the concentration of trace elements are related to the climatic conditions and land use of the area. Drier areas of the United States saw higher concentrations of trace elements in groundwater than humid regions. Meanwhile, wells in agricultural areas more often contained trace elements than those in urban areas. However, wells in urban areas contained concentrations of trace elements that more often exceeded human health benchmarks.

Basic geology and geochemistry of water samples helps to predict occurrence of trace elements in groundwater. Redox conditions (related to dissolved oxygen) and pH seem to affect which trace elements persist in groundwater. For example, aluminum and manganese occurred more often in samples that were characterized as anoxic and had slightly acidic pH. Anoxic and slightly alkaline samples commonly contained arsenic and molybdenum. Uranium in groundwater occurred over a wide range of pH and redox conditions because of its association with other compounds. Additionally, samples from glacial and non-glacial sand and gravel aquifers consistently had more occurrences of trace elements in groundwater than samples from other aquifers.

The effects of mixtures of trace elements are poorly understood and could cause further health concerns. Further analysis of the data showed that about one-fifth of wells had exceedances of human health benchmarks and that, of those, about 10 percent actually contained two or more trace elements exceeding human health benchmarks. This raises additional concerns because contaminants can act together to be more toxic than each individual contaminant.

These findings are based on over 5,000 samples collected primarily from public and private wells nationwide. This study is part of efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment Program to monitor the quality of the nation’s groundwater and surface water. Details can be found online.

Human health benchmarks used in this study include U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Levels for regulated contaminants and Health Based Screening Levels (HBSLs) for unregulated contaminants. HBSLs are unenforceable contaminant threshold guidelines developed by the USGS in collaboration with EPA, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. and Oregon Health Sciences University.

Treated drinking water from public wells is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Water utilities, however, are not required to treat water for unregulated contaminants. The EPA uses USGS information on the occurrence of unregulated contaminants to identify contaminants that may require drinking-water regulation in the future.

More groundwater coverage here.

Aspen files motion to dismiss in hydroelectric power generation water rights case

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From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

The Oct. 5 motion states that Saving Our Streams, a nonprofit group made up of several local landowners that filed its complaint with the court in mid-September, has failed to “allege facts sufficient” to back up its claim.

According to the city’s motion, the SOS suit seeks a court judgment that Aspen abandoned one particular component — hydroelectric power production — of the municipal uses that accompany three separate water rights for Castle, Maroon and Midland creeks.

The city’s motion states that the three water rights were granted to various companies in the late 19th century for “municipal customers” and that the city acquired those rights in 1956. Those rights included “hydroelectric generation and domestic purposes” for Castle and Midland creeks, and were confirmed through a court decree in 1949.

The 1949 decree also confirms a water right for a diversion from Maroon Creek “in the amount of 65 cfs [cubic feet per second]” stemming from an appropriation in 1892, according to the motion.

The motion states that the SOS suit “does not identify which plaintiffs own water rights, what water rights they may own or how those water rights are or may be affected with respect to the alleged abandonment of the hydropower component” of the city’s water rights.

Further, “plaintiffs tacitly admit that some of them do not own or control any water rights,” the motion says. “If a plaintiff fails to allege or demonstrate that its rights, status or other legal relations will be affected, the plaintiff has no standing … and a declaratory judgment should not be entered.”

Also, the SOS suit fails to meet the law’s “injury-in-fact requirement” in which the challenged conduct of a defendant causes or threatens to cause injury to the plaintiff’s present or imminent activities.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Back to back La Niña events are expected to trigger similar weather patterns as last year, but drier

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From the Craig Daily Press (Joe Moylan):

[Jim Pringle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction] said back-to-back La Nina patterns are unique and have only occurred on 10 other occasions since 1900. Last year, the country was in a moderate to strong La Nina weather pattern, Pringle said. And 80 percent of the time, the second of consecutive La Nina years usually isn’t as “wet” as the first. “We’re expecting similar storm tracks to last year,” Pringle said. “But, we’re not expecting it to be as severe.”[…]

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center stated in its release that the La Nina pattern is not as strong as it was this time last year. The organization is predicting a weak to moderate winter.

The Clean Water America Alliance is running a three part webinar series about hydraulic fracturing, November 1, 17 and December 1

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Here’s the link to the registration page. Here’s an excerpt:

Hydraulic Fracturing is a hot topic on the public and water sector’s mind, involving a mix of environmental protection, energy security, and economic development considerations. Many agree natural gas has a bright future as a “bridge” fuel to cleaner, renewable energy. But the “Shale Rush,” prompted by technology breakthroughs in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing over the last decade has raised significant questions about the footprint on the environment, impact to public health, and the roles of various government agencies. Water is a particular concern with potential issues down under, downstream, or downwind. Join the Clean Water America Alliance (CWAA) and American Water Resources Association (AWRA) as they explore the “friction over fracking,” including the growing need for energy security and environmental sustainability to be in balance, rather than in battle, and to keep water in mind through it all. An objective look from different perspectives will be offered to evaluate benefits, risks and opportunity costs, for the water and related sectors.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: FERC asks the Million Resources Group for more information, warns that there may be a need to involve other federal agencies

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The Regional Watershed Supply Project, first propossed in 2008 by a private water development entity known as Million Conservation Resource Group, would divert water from the Green River via Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the greater Denver area.

Proponent Aaron Million had at first submitted the project for review and approval to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but earlier this year resubmitted it to FERC as a project that would generate hydropower.

The Corps terminated its review in late July. And last week, the FERC said Million must provide more specific information on proposed pump stations for the pipelines, as well as new reservoirs that would also be part of the diversion project. The federal agency also seeks more information on other permits that might be needed as part of the project.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund — created in 1965 — is under attack by Congressional Republicans

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From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin) via The Denver Post:

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress created in 1965, helped pay for this open space [along I-25 near Monument], along with large swaths of land in other areas across the country. But there is a fight looming in Washington as Congress plans to drastically cut the program’s budget, and President Barack Obama, who had accepted cuts in the past, appears ready to oppose them. The White House has warned it will veto the House Interior spending bill, in part because of its cuts to the conservation fund.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a telephone interview that the bill would bring conservation “as close to zero as it’s been in modern times.” The fund is supposed to receive $900 million each fiscal year out of U.S. offshore oil and gas revenue to pay for federal land acquisitions. But with the exception of fiscal 1998, its funding has consistently fallen well short of that mark. The 2011 operating plan provided $300.5 million, and although Obama asked for $900 million for fiscal 2012, the pending House appropriations bill for Interior allocates just under $95 million…

Roughly half of the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s money goes toward federal land acquisition, while the rest goes to state and local grants that support recreation areas as well as habitat and forest protection. The program is often used to buy isolated parcels of private land within existing parks, refuges and other federal properties, and is combined with matching funds from elsewhere to complete these deals. In part, the program’s obscurity makes it a tempting target for budget cuts. “Nobody’s ever heard of it outside a few dozen people on Capitol Hill,” said Tim Ahern, spokesman for the Trust for Public Land.

Now, the program’s backers are launching a grassroots drive to enlist Republican support for increased funding. Late last month, the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance posted two billboards aimed at Colorado Republicans: one in Grand Junction praised Rep. Scott Tipton for adding $5 million to the program through a floor amendment, while another in Colorado Springs bashed Rep. Doug Lamborn for trying to zero out the program.

In politically conservative Douglas County, where nearly $2 million from the program helped preserve part of the $105 million worth of land between Denver and Colorado Springs, conservative Republicans have demonstrated a willingness to pay for conservation. County residents paid for $21 million in land preservation through a modest sales tax, while proceeds from a state lottery program and money raised by the Conservation Fund, an environmental group, accounted for the rest of it.

More conservation coverage here.

Writer Thomas Horlacher appeals to the Colorado River compact states to voluntarily give up 350,000 acre-feet per year to Nevada

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Mr. Horlacher — who grew up in western Utah and eastern Nevada where the Southern Nevada Water Authority is planning a pipeline to mine the aquifer — is appealing to the other basin states to right the wrong wrought on southern Nevada when the state was only allocated 300,000 acre-feet per year from the Colorado River Compact. Here’s his guest column from The Deseret News. Here’s an excerpt:

How then is it possible that Nevada is allotted only 2 percent of the total Colorado River water? In 1922, the Nevada delegates to the Colorado River Compact negotiations at Bishop’s Lodge, near Santa Fe, demonstrated an amazing lack of vision relating to the development of the sparsely populated southern part of their state. They were reported to be eager to please the California delegation, and they were observed imbibing copious amounts of freely-flowing alcoholic beverages.

So the delegates that drafted the compact were drunk — that explains everything.

More from the article:

What is to be done? Water is a touchy subject in the arid west and always has been. Arizona has never been happy with the Colorado River Compact (even though its tributary rivers to the Colorado were exempted from the contract), and all of the seven states would like very much to have a larger share. But does anyone really doubt that Nevada’s share is absolutely ridiculous?[…]

Here is a modest proposal: In terms of millions of already allotted acre feet of Colorado River water per year, let the fair-minded citizens of the other states of the compact be appealed upon to mercifully redeem Nevada’s folly by simply voting to freely give the following amounts of their allotments to Nevada: Colorado, .10; California, .10; Utah, .05; Arizona, .05; Wyoming, .05. Adding this to Nevada’s present .30 would leave the compact’s seven states with the following allotments: California, 4.30 million acre feet per year; Colorado, 3.78 million acre feet per year; Arizona, 2.75 million acre feet per year; Utah, 1.68 million acre feet per year; Wyoming, 1.00 million acre feet per year; New Mexico, .84 million acre feet per year; Nevada, .65 million acre feet per year.

Gifting these relatively modest amounts of water to Nevada would represent a type of salvation for both southern Nevada and the Great Basin. In times of drought, the amounts would be reduced proportionately. In times of plenty, the amounts would be increased proportionately…

Surely the good people of California, Colorado, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming can be persuaded to make these modest sacrifices in order to resolve this otherwise intractable crisis.

You have the chance to hear a discussion of the Colorado River Compact next Monday in Colorado Springs.

More Colorado River basin coverage