Find the time today to thank a veteran for their service


And while you’re at it, think about what you can do to get the congress to take care of these men and women properly when they finally get to come home.

Yesterday’s jobs vote in the Senate (94-1) may help.

The Dolores Water Conservancy district reaches the half-century mark November 20


Here’s a report from Shannon Livick writing for the Cortez Journal. Click through for the photos of construction of the tunnel that brings water from the Dolores River watershed into Montezuma and Dolores counties in the San Juan basin. Here’s an excerpt:

The Dolores Water Conservancy District will host a 50th anniversary of the formation of the district and the 25th anniversary of water deliveries to farms and towns from McPhee Reservoir at the Dolores Community Center with a barbecue dinner at noon, followed by a brief recognition ceremony.

The star of the show will be McPhee Reservoir, a project that some say was more than 100 years in the making. “They have been talking about the McPhee dam site since the 1900s,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. It has been said that the McPhee Reservoir site was seen as so ideal for a reservoir that President Teddy Roosevelt chose the site for the dam in 1906 during a hunting trip here.

“The Dolores Water Conservancy District was formed to try to get the dam built,” Preston said. The project was authorized in 1968 and the project began in 1977, after voters in Montezuma and Dolores counties within the Dolores Water Conservancy District approved a repayment contract by a unheard of 95 percent favorable vote. The McPhee Dam project cost an estimated $403 million…

The project doubled the amount of irrigated acreage in the area and gives the towns a 100-year supply of water. “This water project is something most communities would die for,” Preston said.

Since the water started to be delivered 25 years ago, the number of irrigated acres in Montezuma and Dolores counties has gone up from 35,000 irrigated acres to 70,000, some of those as far away as south of Towaoc…

The $403 million project also saw the construction of the $11.6 million Dolores tunnel that was dug underneath the landscape for more than one mile. It also saw the construction of pumping plants, numerous canals and two major recreation areas named McPhee and House Creek. It also saw the flooding of the old lumber town, McPhee, and countless archaeology sites, bringing in archaeologists from around the world who excavated the areas. Those artifacts are housed in the Anasazi Heritage Center, also built as part of this project.

More coverage from Reid Wright writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

According to information from the Dolores Water Conservancy District, an average of 351,000 acre feet of water flows into the McPhee Reservoir annually. Not including spring spillover, an average of 31,798 acre feet of water is released down the Lower Dolores River.

With a storage capacity of 381,000 acre feet of water, the project essentially doubled the amount of irrigated land in the area and extended the irrigation season for most farmers by nearly three months to mid October — allowing farmers to produce substantially more.

With current crop values, Mike Preston, DWCD general manager, estimates Dolores Project lands will generate $20 million in income for the area this year.

More coverage from Kimberly Benedict writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Beyond the obvious recreation benefits of the reservoir, the Dolores Project also provided recreation opportunities through the creation of Joe Rowell Park in Dolores and enhanced flows on the Lower Dolores River, below the McPhee dam.

“The other thing that McPhee provided, is a means of managing the flows below the reservoir,” said Dolores Water Conservation District General Manager Mike Preston. “Usually we were in drought early and the flows would trail off. But now, those flows are managed to provide rafting flows in and around Memorial Day and so on. It gave us the ability to manage recreation opportunities in regards to recreational boating.”

The flows from the reservoir into the Lower Dolores also provide additional fishing opportunities, particularly for those interested in fly fishing.

Additionally, the presence of the reservoir has benefited wildlife. Three native fish species call the Lower Dolores home, including the flannelmouth sucker, the bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub. All three benefit from the managed flows from the reservoir, according to a report from the Lower Dolores Working Group. And according to the bureau of reclamation’s website, land acquired and managed for wildlife conservation has provided habitat for a variety of wildlife species.

More coverage from Kimberly Benedict writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

“The Anasazi Heritage Center was built by the (U.S.) Bureau of Reclamation as a repository for the artifacts gathered during the DAP,” said center Manager Marietta Eaton. “The Heritage Center is here because of the DAP, and that in and of itself is full of ramifications for the area.”

The Heritage Center’s creation was a unique aspect of the Dolores Archaeological Program. Most archaeological programs see collected artifacts shipped to larger repositories, often far from the actual sites. The creation of a local repository allowed the local community to retain a sense of ownership of their history.

“The fact that the Bureau of Reclamation saw the importance of a local repository is significant,” said Tracy Murphy, assistant curator at the center. “With the presence of the center, the artifacts and research are here for the people of this area.”

More coverage from Dale Shrull writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Finding a good water storage solution for Montezuma County was discussed as far back as the 1880s. Today, looking at the massive McPhee Reservoir, it’s impossible to comprehend a lack of water. But [John Porter] remembers. The 78-year-old Lewis native spent 23 years as the Dolores Water Conservancy general manager, retiring in 2002. “Everyone was looking for more water but there was never enough,” he says. “Every time there was a drought, all people would talk about was we need a dependable supply of water…

Even though a dam on the Dolores was thought to be the solution, Porter wasn’t surprised it took so long to complete. “Anything you do with water, it takes time. There’s regular time and there’s water time. Water time goes very slow,” he says…

As early as 1884, plans were made and projects developed to take water from the Dolores, Porter explains. A tunnel was bored and canals were used to get water to the south, while the Great Cut Dike and canals were developed to flow water to the west. And they sucked the river nearly dry. “Back then, the Dolores River was basically a dry river during the summer,” Porter says. To store water in the early days, three small reservoirs were dug: Groundhog, Totten and Narraguinnep…

Remnants of old wooden flumes, which were used to transport water around the region, can still be spotted around the area. Most of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company canal system are still used today, Porter says…

Porter says he thinks the water rights of the Ute Mountain tribe helped save the project. The tribe needed water and made the argument that future development was dependent on water from the Dolores Project.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here and here.

After a five year review the EPA has approved the remediation plan for the Standard Mine superfund site


From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

The two-phase plan would control the flow of water through the mine to reduce contamination, and if needed, use passive water treatment to further treat runoff.

The record of decision, signed in September, has the support of the local nonprofit Standard Mine Technical Advisory Group but still needs to be selected for federal funding. It could take until 2013 before the plan is implemented, complementing remediation work already done from 2007 through 2009.

The Standard Mine, which is about five miles west of Crested Butte and drains into Elk Creek, was added to the National Priority List in 2005 because of elevated levels of metals in the soil and the creek. Elk Creek flows into Coal Creek, which is the site of the municipal water intake for Crested Butte.

“We were really fortunate that when the EPA first came in 2006, they had the funding to do some surface cleanup first,” said Anthony Poponi, executive director of Coal Creek Watershed Coalition and grant administrator for the advisory group. That work included building a repository for mine tailings that included waste rock and tailings rich in pyrite, a metal that creates acid mine drainage when exposed to air. After removing waste rock and tailings from Elk Creek, the EPA also reconfigured the creek.

“The miners had produced a creek channel around and through the mill site, which was not the natural orientation, so once we took the tailings out, we dropped the creek back to its natural alignment,” explained EPA superfund project manager Christina Progess. That alignment includes small wetlands and riparian areas and has led to a measureable reduction in metals in Coal Creek and Elk Creek…

“There are three connected mine levels,” said Poponi, “and the EPA knew water coming in at the highest level was in pretty good condition and by the time it came out at level 1 [at the bottom] it was really bad, so they did some investigations and what they came up with was the proposed plan.” The first phase of the remediation plan proposes filling the entrance at level 3, toward the top of the mine, with a flowable fill and foam. That fill, a concrete mixture, would seal off the entrance to the mine so that clean water could be prevented from entering mine workings and would reduce the amount of water coming out of level 1…

A flowthrough bulkhead would be installed at level 1 to control the water flowing out of the bottom of the mine. The bulkhead would allow for what Progess calls the “metered release” of water from the mine…

Residents interested in learning more about the plan are invited to attend an EPA-hosted community meeting on November 30, at 1 p.m. in Town Hall.

More Standard Mine coverage here and here.

West Elk Mine environmental impact statement affirmed by U.S. District Court


From the Delta County Independent:

The lawsuit, filed over a 2008 decision, alleged that the Forest Service failed to analyze alternatives that would mitigate the effects of methane, a greenhouse gas that is released from the mine into the atmosphere to meet Mine Safety Health Administration requirements. WildEarth Guardians claimed that the Forest Service analysis, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), for flaring of methane and capture of methane was insufficient. The plaintiffs also challenged the agency’s evaluation of the effects of methane on global warming.

After a thorough review of the documents associated with this case and hearing the arguments of the parties, the judge found that the Forest Service had satisfied its legal obligations under NEPA in analyzing the environmental effects of this project.

Forest supervisor Charlie Richmond stated, “We are always pleased when a federal judge rules in our favor, especially on such an important case that helps to preserve the economic future of the area.

More coal coverage here.

The EPA green-lights the tailings pond at the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill in the Dolores River watershed


From The Durango Telegraph (Missy Votel/Tracy Chamberlin):

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a conditional permit for a tailings pond at the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill in Paradox Valley. The approval comes on the heels of a federal court ruling that ordered environmental impact statements for uranium mines throughout the West. The conditional approval requires Vancouver-based Energy Fuels Inc. to submit a comprehensive ground and surface water-monitoring plan, subject to additional EPA review and approval.

Area environmental groups, which oppose the mill, expressed doubt over whether Energy Fuels’ plans will pass muster. “Our concern with the 40-acre tailings impoundment and 30-acre evaporation pond at the Piñon Ridge Mill continues to be a great risk to the Dolores River and ground water in Paradox Valley,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “Energy Fuels still has not submitted final, detailed construction plans for the tailings ponds to any agency and hasn’t demonstrated that they can prevent leaks and radioactive, toxic chemical and heavy metal contamination of the watershed.”[…]

The EPA’s approval came a week after a federal judge ordered an environmental impact statement on many of the leased mines expected to supply Piñon Ridge. Energy Fuels must still obtain air emissions and groundwater permits from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

The Environmental Protection Agency has released an outline of planned review of hydraulic fracturing


From the Associated Press (Michael Rubinkam) via The Durango Herald:

Investigators will try to determine the impact of large-scale water withdrawals, above-ground spills of drilling fluids and the fracturing process itself on water quality and quantity in Colorado and other states where tens of thousands of wells have been drilled in recent years…

The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater. The EPA study, mandated by Congress last year, is the agency’s first look at the impact of fracking in shale deposits. EPA will examine drilling sites in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, North Dakota and Texas. The earliest results will be available in 2012…

“The industry has taken the lead in working with state regulators to constantly improve operations, industry practices and guidelines as well as improve communications with local communities,” said Stephanie Meadows, a senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute…

The new EPA study will look at the entire water life cycle of hydraulic fracturing in shale deposits, beginning with the industry’s withdrawal of huge volumes of water from rivers and streams and ending with the treatment and disposal of the tainted wastewater that comes back out of the wells after fracking. Researchers will also study well design and the impact of surface spills of fracking fluids on groundwater.

The EPA has taken steps recently to boost federal regulation of fracking, announcing it will develop national standards for the disposal of the briny, chemical-laced wastewater and proposing for the first time to control air pollution at oil and gas wells, particularly where fracking is used.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Cotter Corp hopes to sell uranium that is being collected from groundwater sump pumps at the Schwartzwalder Mine


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The uranium west of Denver “is not as concentrated as yellowcake” but “is considered source material for licensing purposes,” Cotter vice president John Hamrick said, estimating the value at around $50 a pound. Cotter would like to sell the uranium, Hamrick said. He said the uranium poses little risk. For anybody trying to obtain uranium illegally, “there would be easier low- hanging fruit than us,” he said.

The uranium was collected from tainted groundwater by 10 sump pumps Cotter installed along Ralston Creek, below the mine. The uranium and other captured contaminants are removed before water is pumped into the creek, which flows into a Denver drinking-water-supply reservoir for 1.3 million metro residents.

In an Oct. 11 letter to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Cotter officials said 1,440 pounds of uranium had been removed as of Sept. 16 and was stored at the mine. They also disclosed “elevated concentrations of uranium in alluvial groundwater near the Old Emergency Discharge Pond” near the mine.

State mining regulators ordered Cotter to pump out and treat contaminated water in the mine shaft. Cotter challenged the state orders, and Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt recently ruled in favor of the state. Cotter officials now contend they can clean Ralston Creek simply by relying on their newly expanded pumping system. “Cotter has utilized intensive monitoring efforts and data evaluations to aggressively develop and implement measures to expand capture/treatment of alluvial groundwater in order to improve water quality in Ralston Creek as soon as possible,” the company’s letter said. The sump system has been effective, “significantly increasing capture and generally reducing levels in the creek.”

The system relies on an ion-exchange process using resin beads that the uranium gloms onto to remove it from water. Cotter switches out the loaded resin beads and uses the tanks the resin arrives in to store extracted uranium.

More nuclear coverage here and here

The Pueblo Board of Water Works drops proposed 2012 water rate increase to 3.5% due to a reduction in anticipated electrical costs


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Even though there still are a lot of floating pieces in the puzzle, the water board directed staff to prepare a budget that would increase rates 3.5 percent, rather than the 5 percent anticipated last month. As recently as September, the water board had looked at an 8 to 9 percent increase, but made internal budget adjustments to hold the rates lower. A public hearing on the budget and rate hikes will be at 2 p.m. Nov. 22 at the water board’s offices, 319 W. Fourth St.

“This has been a challenging year not only because of the economy, but because of the Black Hills Energy increases,” Executive Director Alan Hamel told the board at a workshop Thursday. “We’ve been an intervenor in several Black Hills rate increases.”

To save costs, the water board teamed up with the Fountain Valley Authority and city of Pueblo to intervene in rate cases.

“We want dependable electric service,” Hamel said. “We are trying to spread the impact over more years, so we don’t get more rate shock.”

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.