The dearth of snow in town in November was not, however, reflected on the ski slopes. The upper slopes of Snowmass collected 41 inches of snow in November — more than the 36 inches that fell at the ski area during the same month a year ago. Still, most of this year’s snow came early in the month, with two storms during the first week of November. The water plant recorded 8 inches of new snow on the morning of Nov. 2 and measured another 6 inches on Nov. 6. Other forecast storms were a bust, but the plant recorded 2.1 inches of snow on Nov. 14 and lesser amounts on other days.
The latest forecast from the state’s Water Availability Task Force, a consortium of agencies coordinated through the state Department of Natural Resources, predicts a drier, hotter autumn for the region. The task force met last week. “The long-term seasonal climate forecast indicates that the return of La Nina conditions will likely result in drier conditions than last year,” said Veva DeHeza of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Below average conditions in the southeastern portion of the state are likely to persist with a chance of normal precipitation in the mountains for the midwinter.”
Here’s the executive summary from the most recent Water Availability Task Force meeting (Veva Deheza/Kevin Rein):
Exceptional and extreme drought conditions continue to impact Baca County in southeast Colorado. However, drought conditions in other areas of the state have seen significant improvement over the last two months. Moderate to severe conditions remain throughout the southeastern and south central portions of the state, including the San Luis Valley.
Reservoir storage remains above average in the Yampa/White, Gunnison, Colorado, South Platte Basins, and San Miguel/ Dolores/ Animas/ San Juan. Statewide, reservoir storage is 103% of average. The Rio Grande and the Arkansas River basins continue to be the regions with the lowest reservoir storage levels in the state at 60 and 88% of average, respectively. Municipalities present at the November WATF meeting feel that they have adequate storage and have transitioned to winter operations.
– As of November 22, 34% of the state is now experiencing some level of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a decrease from previous months. D3 and D4 conditions remain only in Baca County, while D2 and D1 conditions are impacting much of the rest of the southeastern parts of the state. D0-D4 represents abnormally dry, moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional drought conditions, respectively.
– Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values range from 0 in the San Miguel/ Dolores/ Animas/ San Juan to +3.5 in the Yampa/ White basin. According to the revised SWSI, the Dolores and Animas in the southwest were drier than the other southwestern basins at -2.61and -2.03 respectively. The San Miguel and San Juan both experienced near normal conditions.
– At the Walsh weather station, in southeastern Colorado, a new record low for precipitation was recorded for the month of August and September ending the water year far below normal at just 35%. While they did not set new records, Pueblo, Alamosa, and Del Norte also finished the water year well below normal at 60, 61 and 49% respectively.
– The long term seasonal climate forecast indicates that the return of La Nina conditions will likely result in drier conditions than last year which was extremely wet in our north-central mountains. Nevertheless, the current precipitation outlook for early next year is near-normal in most of the state, with a chance of even above-normal precipitation in the north-central mountains.
– It is too early to tell what the implications of the seasonal drought of 2011 may have on fish and wildlife populations in the southern portion of the state, and the habitats upon which they depend. So far, there have been no reports of significant or widespread adverse impacts that can be directly attributed to the drought. Task force members are keeping a watchful eye on the availability of food supplies and water needed to sustain major life cycle events of existing populations and species.
– The Agricultural Impact Task Force (AITF) has recommended to the Drought Task Force that regular meeting be suspended until the early part of 2012 when more information on winter precipitation will be available. However the AITF remains activated should conditions in the southeastern portions of the state require immediate response.
Colorado Springs’ city council on Wednesday voted 8-0 to impose an “emergency ordinance” creating a six-month moratorium on applications for oil and gas operations within city limits, a move that could delay Houston’s Ultra Petroleum Corp. to drill on its land in the city…
Council President Scott Hente told the Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper that the proposed moratorium would give the city “some breathing room” to ensure it has the right regulations and ordinances in place.
More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Debbie Kelley):
While Colorado Springs City Council on Wednesday enacted a six-month moratorium on oil and gas exploration within city limits, Ultra Resources has submitted temporary use permit applications with El Paso County. Ultra is seeking county approval for three well sites in eastern El Paso County. The company also is getting state approval for the drilling. The applications are being worked through the county’s permitting system, said Craig Dossey, a county project manager and planner.
More coverage from The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón). From the article:
The six-month moratorium comes after a Texas-based energy company said in June that it wanted to drill for oil and gas on the sprawling Banning Lewis Ranch on the east side of the city. “I think it’s absolutely irresponsible for us not to look at our future and identify what the potential is for damage to us — or the good things that could come out of this if it’s done right,” City Councilman Merv Bennett said.
Issues the city might consider include water quality, soil erosion, wastewater disposal, wildlife and vegetation, geologic hazard and road degradation, City Attorney Chris Melcher said during the council’s special meeting…
The council’s moratorium, approved on an 8-0 vote, was created under an “emergency ordinance” that required only one reading. Nearly every ordinance that goes before council requires two readings…
About six people spoke in favor of the moratorium. Only one person, a representative from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association who drove to the Springs from Denver, spoke in opposition. Andrew Casper, the association’s regulatory counsel, said the oil and gas industry already faces extensive regulations at the state level. He encouraged the city to work within the state process and not to “rush” by enacting a moratorium.
More coverage from the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
About a half-dozen residents voiced support for the hiatus, including Mary Talbott. “Six months will not make a huge difference in the oil and gas industry,” Talbott said. “The fact that you take the time to develop a coherent set of rules that protect our … environment and long-term prosperity is very important.”
Other residents expressed concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution and a heavy industrial activity that could discourage the area’s prime economic driver — tourism.
The vote was 8-0 in favor of the moratorium, with Councilman Bernie Herpin absent
The City of Delta has embarked on the next step in the process to create a stormwater utility program. The results of a needs analysis study, identified as Phase 1 in the process, were presented to the city council earlier this month.
By a unanimous vote, they agreed to proceed with Phase 2, program development, and Phase 3, establishing rates and implementing a billing system which will be applied to every home and business in the city.
The City of Delta has been working with URS to develop a long-term strategic plan for addressing the city’s stormwater needs.
Although there is some infrastructure in place, the downtown stormwater collection system is “significantly undersized and lacks the capability to convey the 100-year storm event.” As a result, low-lying areas with no outlet tend to flood after heavy rains.
Update: Here’s a correction sent in by Joellen Lampman with Audubon International:
The post states that the National Audubon Society recognized the course. In fact, the course was recognized by Audubon International through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses. Audubon International has no relationship with the National Audubon Society.
Here’s the release from Boulder Parks and Recreation:
The Parks and Recreation Department’s Flatirons Golf Course has acheived a one-year milestone as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” through the International Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses. Flatirons was the 35th golf course in Colorado to achieve full Audubon certification. Doug Cook, PGA Director of Golf, led the effort to obtain sanctuary status. The course was recognized for Environmental Stewardship by Audubon International.
“After a year in the program, I can honestly say that the golf experience has been enhanced by our participation in the Audubon International Sanctuary golf course program,” Cook said. “We are very happy with all of the results of this program.”
To be certified, a course must demonstrate it is maintaining a high degree of environmental quality in a number of areas: environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, outreach and education, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, and water quality management.
The most recent program improvements to Flatirons Golf Course have included improving and installing 12 bird boxes and six bat boxes, and completing an irrigation upgrade that is saving water and electricity at a rate of up to 15 percent.
“The Audubon certification is another way we are achieving our department goal of environmental leadership as well as meeting the City of Boulder’s environmental and sustainability goals,” said Kirk Kincannon, director of the City of Boulder’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We are proud of the environmental achievements at Flatirons Golf Course.”
The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, endorsed by the United States Golf Association, provides information and guidance to help golf courses preserve and enhance wildlife habitat, and protect natural resources. Golf courses from the United States, Africa, Australia, Canada, Central America, Europe and Southeast Asia also participate in this environmental certification program.
Here’s the release from the Colorado River District:
As of December 1st, the Colorado River District is accepting grant applications for projects that protect, enhance or develop water resources within its 15-county region. The Colorado River District includes all watersheds of the Colorado River within western Colorado, except those that drain to the San Juan River.
Projects eligible for the grant program must achieve one or more of the following objectives:
♦ develop a new water supply
♦ improve an existing system
♦ improve instream water quality
♦ increase water use efficiency
♦ reduce sediment loading
♦ implement a watershed management action
♦ control tamarisk
♦ protect pre-1922 Colorado River Compact water rights
Previously funded grants included financial assistance for the construction of new water storage, the enlargement of existing water storage or diversion facilities, rehabilitation of non- functioning or restricted water storage / delivery / diversion structures, implementation of water efficiency improvements and watershed enhancements. Such projects that utilize water rights that are senior to 1922 will be given additional ranking priority over similar projects that do not. Each project will be ranked based upon its own merits in accordance with published ranking criteria.
Successful grantees can receive up to a maximum of $150,000 (or approximately 25% of the total project cost whichever is less; in the case of smaller projects, this percentage may be slightly higher) for their project. The total amount available for the 2012 competitive grant program is $250,000. The application deadline is Jan. 31, 2012.
To access the Water Resources Grant Program application, guidelines and policies, please visit www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org/page_193. For additional information please contact Alesha Frederick at 970-945-8522; Colorado River District, 201 Centennial St., Glenwood Springs, CO 80601 or e-mail email@example.com.
A report from an Illinois intelligence fusion center saying that a water utility was hacked cannot be substantiated, according to an announcement released Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security.
Additionally, the department disputes assertions in the fusion center report that an infrastructure-control software vendor was hacked prior to the water utility intrusion in order to obtain user names and passwords to break into the utility company and destroy a water pump.
The DHS notice, released late Tuesday, asserts that information released by the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center earlier this month about the water pump was based on raw and unconfirmed data, implying that it should never have been made public.
Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Barri Wirth/Maureen Oltrogge):
The public’s opportunity to provide input to the preparation of a new Environmental Impact Statement related to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River has been extended to January 31, 2012. The EIS concerns the adoption of a Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan for the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam and is being jointly developed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service, both units of the Department of the Interior.
To date, six open-house scoping meetings have been held in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. Additionally, a national session was held via the internet. The previous comment deadline was December 30, 2011. A number of interested parties requested the extension to enable the public to provide more thorough comments plus accommodate the end-of-year holiday season.
The long-term plan will address routine operations as well as “experimental” flows that provide additional scientific information about how to protect endangered fish and lessen the effects of dam operations on the downstream ecology and other resources. The plan will ensure that regulated flows on the Colorado River meet the goals of supplying hydroelectricity and water for communities, agriculture and industry at the same time they protect the ecologies of the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon. Work on the new plan, known as the Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan, is the first comprehensive review of Glen Canyon Dam operations in 15 years. The purpose of the LTEMP is to use current and newly developed science to improve and protect resources of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park while also complying with the Law of the River, the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other applicable laws. The LTEMP process will determine the need for future modifications to Glen Canyon Dam operations, and whether to establish an Endangered Species Act Recovery Implementation Program for endangered fish species below Glen Canyon Dam.
Changes to dam operations and other actions taken by the Department of the Interior will be evaluated as “alternatives” in an Environmental Impact Statement. The EIS will document and evaluate impacts of the alternatives.
More information on the EIS process may be found on the project web site: http://ltempeis.anl.gov. The public can submit comments by the following methods:
– Website: http://ltempeis.anl.gov. (the preferred method)
– Mail: Glen Canyon LTEMP EIS Scoping, Argonne National Laboratory, EVS/240, 9700 S. Cass Avenue, Argonne, IL 60439
Reclamation and the NPS will accept comments that are received or postmarked by Friday, January 31, 2012.
Here’s a report from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. He, and the Post in general, have done a very comprehensive job of covering the spill so far. Click through for the whole article and video of the cleanup. Here’s an excerpt:
The latest data show the concentration of cancer-causing benzene at levels 69 times higher than the national drinking-water standards at the point where Sand Creek enters the South Platte River.
Once the trench is completed, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emergency-response coordinators said, the EPA will scale back the federal role and rely on Colorado health officials to oversee a long-term cleanup…
About 100 feet of the trench is complete. Suncor refining vice president John Gallagher said he expects the work to be completed next week.
Kimbel said state health and Suncor officials now “have got to figure out what the source is, how it is getting there and what they have to do to address it.”[…]
EPA contractors have begun testing for benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene and on Friday released results from Tuesday and Wednesday. Tests of samples drawn from Sand Creek on Wednesday show benzene concentrations of 1,970 parts per billion at the point where the liquid enters the creek, and 348 ppb at the point where the creek flows into the South Platte. Tests at a location across the main channel of the South Platte showed a concentration of 108 ppb.
More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:
No public health warnings have been issued. Kimbel said today that people who stay on the bike path along the Sand Creek Regional Greenway should be safe. A well-delineated “hot zone” has been set up around the area where clean-up crews are working to stop the flow of contaminants into the creek.
Battling snow, freezing temperatures and mud, they have been pushing to catch and contain the liquid as it seeps from the shoreline, preventing further contamination of the creek and South Platte River. Workers also have used heavy machinery to buttress absorbent booms strung across the creek. Suncor is taking “all the action that we believe is necessary,” said John Gallagher, company vice president for refining.
But there’s no easy end in sight to the situation in this industrial zone — a situation that over the past year took a turn for the worse with new hydrocarbon and dissolved petroleum compounds moving in groundwater and surfacing as vapors in nearby Metro Wastewater buildings…
Even before Suncor bought the refinery from Conoco in 2003, pollution now migrating to the wastewater plant — where one building is partly closed and workers have been forced to wear respirators — was documented. Oil refineries have existed at the Suncor property under various owners since the 1930s. About 300 groundwater wells have been drilled around the property and at the wastewater plant to track contamination — 25 of them capable of recovering liquids. Much of what regulators have been monitoring is described as “legacy contamination,” consisting of “mostly tarry asphaltic pockets of petroleum products underground that have not been moving,” said Warren Smith, a state health department spokesman.
More Sand Creek spill coverage here. More oil and gas coverage here and here.
Residents of Leadville and Lake County are invited to celebrate the fact that, after almost 30 years, most are no longer living in a Superfund site. Specifically the celebration is for the deletion of Operable Unit 9 from the California Gulch Superfund Site; OU9 encompasses the downtown area and West Park. The event will be Friday, Dec. 9, from noon to 2 p.m. at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, 120 W. 9th St. It is being held by the city of Leadville, Lake County, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency. Information will be presented on the history of the Superfund site, the OU9 remedy, and current and future cleanup progress. Light refreshments will be served.
On Monday, Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon invited SUN staff into his office to discuss several projects that suggest the town could be on the threshold of significantly expanding the use of its geothermal resources, potentially putting Pagosa Springs on the map as a leader in green energy production and self-sustainability…
Long a pet project of the mayor’s, a geothermal greenhouse may soon be a feature in the core downtown area. With preliminary engineering completed on the project, Aragon indicated that the first of three greenhouses could be installed as soon as early summer…
To be located at the west end of Centennial Park, the project will ultimately include three, 51-foot growing domes, each with a specific purpose. The first to be installed will be used for education, with local K-12 students, as well as college students, studying permaculture practices and geothermal potential. Through their work and research, those students will determine which crops do well in geothermally-heated greenhouses, with the results of that research determining what would be grown in the second dome, used for commercial production…
One project, approved earlier this year by the Pagosa Springs Town Council and the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners, is a study that monitors the town’s geothermal wells in order to gather real-time data, measuring the extent of the geothermal aquifer’s behavior as well as the extent of available resources. To be conducted by Gerry Huttrer, president of the Geothermal Management Company (GMC) and one of the geothermal energy experts who has visited Pagosa Springs on numerous occasions to scope out area geothermal resources, the project would test the hypothesis that (as Huttrer and other geothermal experts proposed in a study released last October) “ … appears as if the geothermal resource is currently underutilized.”[…]
With meters installed on many geothermal wells throughout the area, data collected will measure moment-to-moment flows and temperatures. In a second phase of the study, Pagosa Springs Well No. 3 will be opened up (several times) to test the effects of uninhibited flows on the aquifer’s pressure and temperatures. That second phase has been timed to coincide with low use of geothermal wells to minimize potential effects on well users. A third phase would drill to various depths and then reinject the pumped water back into the aquifer in order to test the effect of cooled water on the reservoir…
Another project (as reported in the Nov. 3 edition of The SUN) will be conducted next May, complementing Huttrer’s research. At that time, Dr. Terry Young (head of the Geophysics Department at the Colorado School of Mines), Dr. Michael Batzle and Dr. André Revil (both professors of geophysics at Mines) will converge on Pagosa Country with dozens of graduate students, researching numerous characteristics of the aquifer…
Finally, Smith described what he calls “The Power Project” — research that would test temperatures and pressures deeper within the aquifer in order to see if conditions are sufficient for power generation. The first phase of the project entails shallow drilling into the aquifer to gather gases generated in the geothermal reservoir. Those samples will be sent to the University of New Mexico to determine what kinds of isotopes are generated in the aquifer. If those isotopes are specific to pressures and temperatures that suggest the potential for power generation, a second phase would drill deeper into the aquifer to determine if phase one results were accurate. Current understanding of the aquifer shows temperatures somewhat below the threshold required for power generation. If research shows that temperatures deep within the aquifer exceed those needed to generate power, “The Power Project” would proceed with the installation of Colorado’s first geothermal power plant.
Fred Henderson and Hank Held of Mt. Princeton Geothermal, LLC, organized the meeting, and Warren Dewhurst provided information about the magnetotelluric survey his company, Dewhurst Group, LLC, will conduct. Held, founder of Mt. Princeton Geothermal, acknowledged the controversial nature of efforts to develop the geothermal resource. He said, “There will continue to be controversy until questions are answered.”
Those questions will not be answered without drilling a deep test well, and Henderson, chief scientist with Mt. Princeton Geothermal, said an investor is interested in drilling a deep well in the area. He said the investor requested the magnetotelluric survey, which, along with shallow temperature measurements, will identify the best place to drill a deep well.
Dewhurst said the survey will be completed before the end of the month, will not involve any drilling and will require at least 100 sites for good results…
Dewhurst said the survey will involve technicians placing five electrodes and two magnetometers on the ground at each site and taking readings for two hours before moving to the next site…
Dewhurst said his company’s technology is capable of modeling subsurface electrical conductivity to 10 kilometers (6 miles) or deeper. It works well for geothermal exploration because geothermal water is an electrical conductor…
More information about the magnetotelluric technology used by Dewhurst Group is at www.dewhurstgroup.us.
As of Thursday afternoon, they had drilled down 1,003 feet. They had expected to reach water, for temperature-taking, by 1,000 feet underground. The city’s drilling permit allows them to drill as far as 1,500 feet…
She said the city does not have a precise finish date at this time, but the driller — California-based Dan’s Water Well & Pump Service — believes it’s on the verge of hitting water. “Our experts believe it’s close but it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact depth until we reach it,” [Lauren McDonell, the city of Aspen’s environmental programs manager] said…
The work has…been slowed, at points, by the density of the Leadville limestone through which the crew is drilling. A partial collapse of the 6-inch-diameter hole Wednesday also delayed their progress. The drillers were installing steel casing Wednesday to reinforce the hole, before they begin to drill deeper…
Anecdotal reports from 19th century miners about the extreme heat in mines below town have indicated that geothermal could be harnessed for 21st century needs. A 2008 geothermal feasibility study boosted hopes further, indicating that the temperature of local underground water ranges from 90 to 140 degrees. To heat or cool buildings with geothermal energy, 100-degree water is required.
In September, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the dam, submitted a draft environmental assessment examining a lease agreement with the Tri-County Water Conservancy District, the agency that would build the plant and sell electricity to the grid. Public comment on the environmental assessment recently ended, and a spokesperson from the Bureau said that public input generally favored the project.
Tri-County manages Ridgway Dam, providing 28,100 acre-feet of water to 7,500 domestic water taps and 11,200 acre-feet to more than 50,000 acres of agricultural land. (An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land with a foot of water, or about 326,000 gallons.) Tri-County District Manager Mike Berry said that aside from storing municipal and irrigation water, the dam was originally intended to include a hydroelectric plant. Although the Bureau of Reclamation owns the dam, it can allow a non-federal agency to develop hydropower with a lease of power agreement. “The dam has been there a long time, so it’s time to use the power that comes from the release of water,” Berry said. “It’s clean, green energy and everyone likes it.”
Berry added that the district is in the process of seeking buyers for the electricity, and hopes to get a purchase of power agreement signed within the next 90 days. Without contracts in place, the project will not proceed, but the City of Aspen and a few other entities have expressed interest in buying power from the district…
Conceptual plans for the new plant call for two turbines, one rated at 4.9 megawatts and the other at 2.1. Berry said half the electricity produced by the plant would be cranked out between June and September, with the rest trickling in during the other eight months of the year.
Berry said that based upon federal biological studies, the way the turbines and their attendant pipework are designed could improve water quality. The turbines, planned to be independent of the dam’s current spillway, will discharge water through submerged pipes, slowing it down. Berry said the design aims to ameliorate a nitrogen-rich condition affecting fish downstream of the dam. Justyn Hock, a Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson, said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and environmental groups including Trout Unlimited and the High Country Citizens Alliance gave the project a thumbs-up during the comment period.
More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.
“At times, there will be water available for storage, but the question is when and how,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water. “Otherwise, the burden will fall on irrigated agriculture.” Pifher is a member of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which met Monday to discuss how a study of risks for future water supply should be structured.
The IBCC agreed to work with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the study. The CWCB in November voted to include $2 million in next year’s water projects bill request from the Legislature to do the study and get started on the second phase of the Colorado River Availability Study. The first phase was disappointing to nearly everyone because it identified a range of zero to 1 million acre-feet available for Colorado to develop. The second phase would identify strategies for going forward…
“I’m just a cowboy irrigator,” said Bill Trampe, who represents the Gunnison River basin. “But I expect that we will come up with a process whereby we continue to develop Colorado River water, but use caution so we don’t fall off the cliff.”