Sand Creek: Aurora comments on the spill and water quality — no effects

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From the Aurora Sentinel (Sara Castellanos):

Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Matthew Allen said Monday a 240-foot trench completed over the weekend is preventing a gasoline-like substance from seeping from the Suncor Energy refinery into Sand Creek and the South Platte River.

The city’s Prairie Waters Project pumps groundwater from the South Platte downstream of the spill back to Aurora for treatment and use in the city’s water system…

Aurora’s water supply is derived primarily from snowmelt runoff in the Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte river basins far upstream of the and unrelated to the toxic spill. Aurora Water officials received notice from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about an unknown substance potentially in a tributary of the South Platte River on Nov. 28, said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water…

“While a small percentage (of Aurora’s water) comes from the South Platte downstream of the impacted site, we are not currently taking water from the river because of our typical, seasonal, low water demands,” [Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water] said. “If contamination were to occur at a time when we were using our South Platte River supply, we have numerous protocols in place to ensure that any impact on the river will not affect our drinking water supply.”

More coverage from TheDenverChannel.com (Ryan Budnick). From the article:

Matthew Allen, spokesman with the EPA, said work crews have pulled 3,500 gallons of gas-like material during the site cleanup…

The plume of highly-toxic liquid was noticed spilling into nearby Sand Creek in the end of November from a Suncor Energy refinery. Since it was identified, the EPA, Suncor Energy and the State of Colorado have been working around the clock to contain the pollution and clean up its remains.

More Sand Creek spill coverage here. More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Windy Gap Firming: Recently released final EIS acknowledges potential declines in streamflow in the Upper Colorado River basin

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Even more worrisome to conservation advocates are the projected declines in summer flows. Below Windy Gap Reservoir, July flows could drip by as much as 20 percent, according to the Bureau’s study, which also acknowledged that extensive mitigation measures will be needed to protect West Slope aquatic ecoystems…

But the proposed mitigation falls short of what’s needed to protect the Upper Colorado, according to Trout Unlimited, a cold-water fisheries conservation group.

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

A new federal report on the environmental impacts of a plan to expand the Windy Gap water diversion project in Colorado falls short of recommending what’s needed to protect the fragile Upper Colorado River, according to Trout Unlimited.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement, released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Nov. 30, outlines the anticipated effects of the proposed project and recommends needed mitigation.

“This new document is an improvement over the previous version in that it acknowledges the Windy Gap project will worsen conditions in the Upper Colorado River and Grand Lake unless measures are taken,” said Drew Peternell, executive director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. However, the mitigation proposed by the bureau falls far short of what is needed and critical problems continue to be ignored. We urge the Bureau to require additional protective measures to preserve this irreplaceable natural resource.”

“Trout Unlimited’s concerns with the Environmental Impact Statement are echoed by the Upper Colorado River Alliance, a nonprofit group that is also seeking to require more mitigation to protect the river,” said Boulder attorney Steven J. Bushong, a representative of the Alliance.

The report comes out as Trout Unlimited is launching a petition campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River and its tributary, the Fraser River, and the mountain communities, businesses, people and wildlife that depend on them. The petition campaign, based online at DefendTheColorado.org, is being spearheaded by Trout Unlimited to engage advocates for the iconic but threatened rivers. The website allows advocates to sign on to a petition that will be delivered to decision makers before the bureau makes a final decision on the Windy Gap project. That decision is expected in early January.

“The good news is that the Bureau of Reclamation’s Environmental Impact Statement says additional mitigation measures may be added before the agency makes a final decision. That highlights the importance of taking action to stand up for the river now,” Peternell said.

Already 60 percent of the Upper Colorado is diverted to supply Front Range water users. The Windy Gap proposal, along with a separate Moffat Tunnel water project, could divert as much as 80 percent of the Upper Colorado’s natural flows. According to Trout Unlimited, steps must be taken to protect the rivers including:

· Managing the water supply to keep the rivers cool, clear and healthy.
· Funding to deepen river channels and create streamside shade.
· Monitoring of the rivers’ health and a commitment to take action if needed to protect them.
· Bypassing the Windy Gap dam to reconnect Colorado River and restore river quality.

“The Final Environmental Impact Statement continues to ignore existing problems that will be made much worse by the Windy Gap project,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “A study released by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife earlier this year shows that entire populations of native fish and the insects they feed on have all but disappeared from the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir. The state study blames the reservoir and the lack of spring flows that clean sediments from the stream beds and warns that expansion of the Windy Gap project poses additional threats to the health of the river and the aquatic life in it.” See http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/op/wqcc/Hearings/Rulemaking/93/Responsive/93rphsTUexG.pdf

The Windy Gap project also impacts the health of Grand Lake. “Grand Lake – once a pristine lake of dramatic clarity and scenic beauty – has become cloudy, weedy and silty because of diversion water pumped into the lake from Shadow Mountain reservoir,” said John Stahl of the Greater Grand Lake Shoreline Association. “Nothing in the FEIS mitigation plan is helpful in addressing the existing problems–at best it maintains the status quo while more likely creating even bigger problems.”

The Environmental Impact Statement indicates that the Bureau of Reclamation will monitor to ensure that mitigation is adequate and will impose additional measures if necessary. “That’s helpful but needs to be more clearly articulated. Another critical addition is the construction of a bypass around the Windy Gap dam,” Eberle added.

The DefendTheColorado.org campaign highlights the people who depend on the rivers.

“The Colorado and Fraser rivers aren’t just bodies of water, they are the lifeblood for wildlife, local communities and the state’s recreation economy,” Eberle said. “But many Coloradans are unaware that these rivers are on the brink of collapse because of diversions. DefendTheColorado.org’s purpose is twofold – to raise awareness about the threats facing the Colorado and Fraser and to give people a way to stand up for our rivers.”

Eberle added, “We can’t afford to let these rivers literally go down the drain.”

A new feature of the website called “Voices of the Fraser” profiles local Fraser Valley residents and visitors who speak eloquently about their connection to the Fraser River and the need to preserve healthy flows. Among the individuals profiled are Olympic skier Liz McIntyre, logger Hoppe Southway and landscape artist Karen Vance.

“It would be a shame to see any of these tributaries dry up just for the sake of developing the Front Range,” said Southway in his profile. “It’s the water my children and grandchildren are going to want to see someday, and I hope it’s protected for future generations.”

Visitors to the site also have added their voices about why the river is important to them.

“I have fished and hiked the Fraser and Upper Colorado river regions for over 30 years and am deeply saddened by the degradation of these great watersheds,” a Golden, Colo., resident wrote.

A Bonita Springs, Florida, resident wrote: “I LOVE fishing that stretch of water and find such a simple peace of being in that area. Please don’t mess with such a special place.”

“As a visitor and fisherman to Colorado on a regular basis, my tourist dollars help the local communities,” noted a resident of Blue Springs, Missouri.

More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission delays decision on disclosure rule for hydraulic fracturing fluids

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Here’s a report about Monday’s marathon session from Catharine Tsai writing for the Associated Press via The Durango Herald. From the article:

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission made the decision after hearing about 11 hours of opinions on the proposal from industry officials, conservation groups, residents, local government leaders and water utilities who overflowed a meeting room Monday. All parties generally supported the commission’s efforts but disagreed on the details, including protection for trade secrets and how quickly the information should be disclosed. “We understand disclosures are important to the public,” said Tisha Conoly Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association…

Commission director David Neslin said requiring companies to publicly disclose what chemicals they use is important for protecting public health and the environment. But more critical are the state’s rules for monitoring wells, ensuring proper casing and cementing around oil and gas wells, and sampling water to help detect contamination, Neslin said. “It’s only one tool,” Neslin said of public disclosures. “We have other tools that provide more direct protection.”[…]

Commission staff say a survey of Colorado disclosures on FracFocus.org show only a small percentage claim trade secrets, though the website includes only voluntary disclosures. Neslin said the commission would support creating its own website for disclosures, if FracFocus doesn’t add a way to search listings by chemical or time period. FracFocus already allows searches by other parameters, including by location…

The rule-making process has prompted suggestions, including adding tracers in fracking fluid so that any contamination can be traced and banning diesel or carcinogens in fracking fluid. Neslin said commissioners could consider those ideas separately later and also adjust the disclosure rule if needed in the future.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

More than 70 people packed into the Colorado State Land Board’s conference room and hallways at 1127 Sherman Street Monday morning for two hours of public comment.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Ben Noreen to Colorado Springs residents (and the Front Range), ‘Your faucet depends on a dwindling resource’

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Ben Noreen was at the State of the Rockies speakers series presentation Monday night and penned this wakeup call for Colorado Springs residents, running in The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the column:

In Colorado Springs there is a tendency to think the [Colorado River] is far away, even though 70 to 80 percent of the water city residents use comes from the Colorado River Basin…the inescapable conclusion is that the city must promote conservation while developing other sources of supply. The same is true for the Denver metro area, where some customers depend on Colorado River water while others pump from groundwater supplies that eventually will be gone…

Whether you believe, as reputable scientists do, in global warming, there is no debate about some hard facts: Major reservoirs on the Colorado, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have been drying up for decades and there is little chance they’ll ever be full again…

“The system is being run very close to the edge already,” said Jeff Lukas of Western Water Assessment, an organization that has focused on the Colorado. “What lies ahead for the Colorado River? Lower average flow is likely.”

I was at the presentation Monday as well and covered it live on my Twitter feed, @coyotegulch.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

The Preferred Options Storage Plan surfaces again after dismissal of lawsuit over Aurora’s excess capacity contract with Reclamation

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In the late 20th century the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy Board floated the idea of expanding Pueblo Reseroir since new mainstem reservoirs are nearly impossible to permit nowadays and more storage is identified as one of Colorado’s big needs going forward. Aurora’s insistence on being part of the authorization legislation stalled the project. They are out now so expansion of storage in Lake Pueblo is back on the table. Here’s report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“This allows us in the basin to concentrate on storage and move the PSOP process ahead,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

PSOP stands for the Preferred Storage Option Plan, developed by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy district in the late 1990s, when Hamel was president of the Southeastern board.

Aurora remained at the table during PSOP discussions through 2007, when talks organized by U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar broke off when the Lower Ark district sued the Bureau of Reclamation over an Aurora storage contract. In the newest agreement, reached as part of the conditions of a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit, Aurora has dropped its claim to be included in PSOP legislation, while agreeing to support the 2001 PSOP implementation report.

Here’s a look at the settlement that led to the dismissal, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A joint motion filed by all parties in the case asks federal District Judge Philip Brimmer to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be reopened. Stipulations attached to the case require Aurora to abide by an intergovernmental agreement reached with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2009.

“It means the lawsuit is completely over,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think this puts the final part of the fence around Aurora. Our agreement restricts them from putting any more infrastructure into the valley to move more water out of here.”

The agreement also reinforces past agreements Aurora has made to limit the amount of water it can move from the valley and defines the service area in which water from the Arkansas River basin can be used. Aurora also has agreed to withdraw its claims from any future legislation to study the enlargement of Lake Pueblo.

Aurora, a city of 300,000 east of Denver, owns water rights in Otero, Crowley and Lake counties and pumps it from Twin Lakes into the South Platte River basin through the Homestake Project, which is operated jointly with Colorado Springs…

One year ago, the case was administratively closed by Brimmer, but Aurora and the Lower Ark initially continued to work for federal legislation to study the enlargement of Lake Pueblo, a condition of the 2009 IGA…

As part of the final IGA, Aurora agreed to withdraw its insistence for a clause allowing it to use the Fry-Ark Project in any legislation to enlarge Lake Pueblo. That has been a sticking point for 10 years, and was one reason for the 2003 agreement. Aurora will unconditionally support a federal study of the enlargement of Lake Pueblo. Aurora also has agreed to fully support projects backed by the Lower Ark District, including Fountain Creek improvements, the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The city will contribute $2 million over 10 years to such projects. It will also continue funding and support of water quality projects in the Arkansas River basin. The agreement also strengthens Aurora’s commitment to continue revegetation of farmland it dried up with the purchase of water from Crowley County.

More Preferred Options Storage Plan coverage here and here. More Aurora coverage here and here