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


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


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


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’


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)


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:

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


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


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


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.