Castle Rock: The town council delays ballot question to fund a renewable water supply infrastructure

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From the Castle Rock News Press (Rhonda Moore):

Castle Rock Town Council will hold off on an election date for a ballot question to fund long-term water with a property tax increase and TABOR question.

Councilmembers on Dec. 6 opted against the town’s original plan to ask voters for a decision in the April 2012 election pending a recommendation from town staff on the preferred water provider.

Castle Rock is in the process of reviewing four proposals from water providers to secure a long-term renewable water supply that is expected to cost up to $200 million. The town’s original plan to invest in the WISE proposal, a coalition of south metro municipalities and metro districts to buy water from Denver and Aurora, was derailed earlier this year when other water providers decried the absence of a competitive bid process. The resulting public bid invitation netted four proposals to provide water to Castle Rock. Those proposals are under review by town staff, which is creating a comparative analysis to take to town council for consideration. Until that analysis is complete and town council has made its selection, the town cannot accurately tell voters what they would be paying for in an election question, said Ron Redd, Castle Rock director of utilities.

“It was always our intention to go to the voters with a complete project and have everything identified,” Redd said. “Voters like to see an actual project versus thoughts, ideas or studies. The perception would be the town would be given a blank check. Recent history shows that hasn’t been very successful at the voting booth.”[…]

While town staff favors a November 2012 ballot question, election strategists recommend against a property tax question in a general election, Redd said…

“If you want a tax to pass you’d better start getting the public involved in how that plan is going to come together,” said Ben Cox, a Castle Rock resident who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. “So they can see we’re not buying into something like Hess Reservoir, (which) looks to the public right now that we made a very big expenditure with no idea as to how we are going to fill it.”

More Denver Basin aquifer system coverage here.

‘The River Red’ a documentary film from the Redford Center is planned for release in early 2012

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From the Switchboard (Barry Nelson):

Early next year, the Redford Center will release a documentary on the Colorado River called The River Red, directed by Mark Decena. (Take a moment to follow the film on Facebook) [ed. and Twitter @riverredfilm]. The film couldn’t come at a better time. The Colorado, and the seven Western states that depend on it, face unprecedented challenges…

The team producing The River Red is hoping to help meet this challenge for a new vision of the future of the Colorado River. They’ve spent the past year filming people across the Basin, examining the importance of the river, the challenges facing it today (like oil shale production) and pointing the way to promising solutions.

Especially if you live in the West, take a moment to forward The River Red’s web site to friends and colleagues. More than 20 million people, from Denver to San Diego, have a great deal at stake. And all of them can be part of the solution.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Denver: Hydraulic fracturing disclosure rulemaking moved to Tuesday, December 13

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

The Parties to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s hydraulic fracturing disclosure rulemaking are engaged in discussions to attempt to resolve the remaining rulemaking issues. To allow these discussions to continue, the continuation of the Rulemaking Hearing will move from 8:00 a.m. Monday at the COGCC hearing room, to 8:00 a.m. Tuesday at the COGCC hearing room. The COGCC hearing room is on the 8th floor of the Chancery building at 1120 Lincoln St. in Denver.

The Commission’s regular December hearing will still commence at 1:00 p.m. in Greeley, on Monday Dec. 12, as previously scheduled. The Greeley meeting will be held at the Weld County Administration Building, 1150 O Street.

More coverage from The Wall Street Journal (Stephanie Simon And Daniel Gilbert). From the article:

The proposed Colorado regulations also would allow companies to withhold some chemical names from public disclosure, since trade secrets are protected by both federal and state law. But at an emotional 11-hour hearing last week, environmental activists pleaded with state officials to limit that privilege. The activists renewed that call on Friday, in light of the EPA’s findings in Wyoming. “That should be a gut check for the state,” said Mike Chiropolos of Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group in Boulder, Colo…

Industry executives in Colorado say they do support some mandatory disclosure. But they have resisted some of the specific proposals pushed by environmentalists, such as a requirement that they publicly disclose the concentration of each chemical in their fracking fluid. They say that would in effect give a recipe book to rivals looking to copy their technique.

The state’s regulatory body, the nine-member Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, will debate the issue on Tuesday. Also up for debate: whether private citizens should be able to challenge drilling companies over their use of the trade-secret privilege to withhold chemical names.

More coverage from Alan Prendergast writing for Westword. From the article:

The EPA draft report comes after three years of resident complaints about fouled drinking water around the town of Pavilion in west-central Wyoming, where the gas giant Encana operates 169 production wells. Monitoring wells detected numerous chemical compounds used in the fluids energy companies inject into the ground to force out pockets of oil and gas, including benzene and toluene. “Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to groundwater contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time,” the agency noted in a statement on the report.

Environmental activists contend that the Pavilion results show that the industry’s claims about the safety of the process are overblown. While supporters of fracking say the chemicals are injected thousands of feet below aquifers and can’t possibly reach them, the Wyoming wells were fracked at a shallow level, around a thousand feet below the surface, and the casing that’s supposed to protect the groundwater went down less than 400 feet.

But at least Wyoming officials know what toxic chemicals the company was using. The Cowboy State passed a law last year requiring the companies to disclose their fracking recipes, while Colorado is still mulling over such a measure.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Colorado’s conservation community wants to make sure oil and gas regulators get it right the first time Tuesday when they decide on a new hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure rule. Otherwise, they say state officials should keep working on the new rule.

And getting it right means taking into consideration new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) findings in Pavillion, Wyo., showing chemicals used in fracking present in groundwater testing wells near where residents have been warned not to drink their tainted well water.

Getting it right also means pre-disclosure of chemicals before fracking (which is required in Wyoming and Montana), full disclosure of any toxic chemicals (no trade secret exemptions) and full public access (requiring immediate website access so the public can sort by type of chemical, date and location of a frack job). In its draft rule, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) may not require full sorting on http://www.fracfocus.org until 2013.

Most of all, says former oil and gas commissioner Trési Houpt, the COGCC should not adopt an inadequate rule on Tuesday in hopes that it can later revisit and correct deficiencies.

More coverage from Joe Moylan writing for the Craig Daily Press. From the article:

“The Environmental Protection Agency and the COGCC are both on public record stating there has never been a case of fracking polluting a water source. I think there is some public misconception that there is this great risk and I think there is a middle ground between the extreme environmental viewpoint and common sense.” — Tom Gray, Moffat County Commissioner[…]

Gov. John Hickenlooper has said oil and natural gas companies need to be up front with state residents about the potential danger hydraulic fracturing poses to ground water reserves. Currently, oil and natural gas companies can voluntarily disclose the fluids used in fracking at http://www.fracfocus.com. The governor wants to make reporting mandatory…

However, the Colorado Environmental Coalition believes the draft rule includes a loophole that would allow oil and natural gas companies to hide certain chemicals from the public by listing them as trade secrets. “We understand the need for trade secrets,” CEC energy organizer Charlie Montgomery said. “Every business needs trade secrets, but we are looking for some type of approval process. The way the rule is currently drafted allows companies to simply ask for the exemption and they’ll get it.”

David Ludlam, executive director of The West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, believes the rule is appropriate in its drafted form. “Stakeholders operating in good faith recognize that all Colorado businesses have reasonable legal protections of research and inventions,” Ludlam said. “Stakeholders not operating in good faith might be tempted to ignore the fact that citizens will have a very clear pathway to challenge trade secrets they believe are not valid…

The CEC, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, National Wildlife Federation, San Juan Citizens Alliance and High Country Citizens Alliance pressed the COGCC to close the trade secret loophole through its collective legal representative Earth Justice during Monday’s meeting.

More coverage from the Dallas Business Journal (Matt Joyce). From the article:

Encana Corp. takes exception to an Environmental Protection Agency report that suggests a link between hydraulic fracturing and contaminated groundwater in Pavillion, Wyo., and says the town’s poor water quality has been known since before natural gas development took place there…

Encana has used hydraulic fracturing – the same drilling technique used to develop natural gas in the Barnett Shale of north Texas – to drill natural gas wells in the Pavillion area. Encana sold its Barnett Shale assets in November.

Meanwhile the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is laying out new rules for selling water for hydraulic fracturing operations, according to Kirk Siegler writing for KUNC. From the article:

New regulations proposed by Northern Water would ensure that its water is only being leased to fracking companies for use within the agency’s strict boundaries in the South Platte River basin. Much of Northern’s jurisdiction also lies within Weld County where state regulators have permitted some 500 new wells this year alone. “What we’re trying to do is just be proactive,” said Eric Wilkenson, general manager for Northern. “We’ve got a new situation developing that is going to result in an increased water demand, so to address that in a proactive way, we want to put rules and regulations and procedures in place so that we can handle that.”[…]

But oil industry representatives and officials from area cities including Greeley told Wilkenson and the rest of his board Friday that the new regulations are so punitive they could halt the leasing of water for fracking, and curtail economic growth. “This remarkable technology that could help supply domestic energy for many many years to come could be at risk if reliable water supplies are not available to do that,” said Kent Holsinger of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

More oil and gas coverage here.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board approves a $17.2 million budget for 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The major portion of the budget, $11.8 million, goes to repay federal costs of constructing the Fry-Ark Project, which includes the Fountain pipeline. Another $270,000 is revenue from state and federal grants.

The operating budget for the district is $5.1 million, with about 60 percent in the general fund, and 40 percent in the enterprise fund.

Of the $3 million district fund, $1.36 million goes toward personnel.

The budget also includes a capital expenditure of $850,000 as the district’s share for purchase of the Red Top Ranch near Lake Granby. That cost will total $1.7 million over two years. The ranch purchase is part of a plan by Front Range water users, including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, to provide flows for endangered fish species in the Colorado River. Participation in the program is a condition for importing Fry-Ark water each year.

The major project in the $2.1 million enterprise fund will be the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is preparing an environmental impact statement for the conduit.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Rules designed to limit consumptive use now cover nearly 20,000 acres in the Arkansas Valley

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Understanding irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley

Consumptive use refers to the amount of water a crop uses to grow, either through uptake into the plant and transpiration, or through evaporation. Usually it is measured in inches, but presumptive factors have been incorporated into the hydrologic-institutional model under the U.S. Supreme Court Kansas v. Colorado case.

Return flow is excess water applied to fields that runs off as tailwater or infiltrates soil. Water also can seep out of earthen ditches as it makes its way to the fields.

Water-short ditches, such as the Fort Lyon Canal or Holbrook Ditch, typically have more ground available to irrigate than water supplies will cover. Other ditches, such as the Catlin or High Line canals, have plentiful water except in very dry years.

Sprinklers, drip irrigation and ditch lining allow water to be applied more efficiently to fields. In the process, more water could be consumed as more acreage is planted on water-short ditches or used more often on ditches with adequate water. Return flows could be reduced as a result.

State engineer rules were adopted in Division 2 water court in 2009 to prevent shortages of return flows on the Arkansas River, to downstream users in both Colorado and Kansas…

This year, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District established a group plan for farmers who use ponds to feed sprinklers to comply using formulas under Rule 10 of the surface irrigation rules. The plan also covers other types of improvements such as ditch lining and drip irrigation, but sprinklers account for nearly all of the impact so far. The Lower Ark district will use water from other sources, such as a five-year lease agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works, to provide augmentation water to make up depletions from increased consumptive use.

While the group plan requires a retainer fee and payment for augmentation water if the formula shows depletion, the payment is far less than farmers otherwise would spend on engineering at each site to show losses. So far, 88 farms with 104 improvements covering 19,767 acres are enrolled in the Lower Ark’s Rule 10 plan, said Heath Kuntz, the district’s engineering consultant. “We’re anticipating a lot of growth over the next few years,” Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, told the compact administration.

From the state’s point of view, the program has been the backbone for enforcing the new rules. About 75 farms were signed up at the beginning of the program in April, and the others have signed on at the end of the irrigation season as the state assessed impacts, said Bill Tyner, assistant engineer for Water Division 2. “The Rule 10 plan has turned out to be the most successful part of the rules,” Tyner said, thanking the Lower Ark district and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the seed money which launched the group plan.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.