Colorado History Professor Dr. Tom Noel: ‘It’s been fun following the South Platte River and its rejuvenation’

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Here’s a recap of a recent presentation at a Fort Morgan brown-bag lunch affair, from Jenni Grubbs writing for The Fort Morgan Times. Thanks to Downstream Neighbor (@downstream2012) for the link. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“The South Platte has been the mainstream of Colorado history,” [Dr. Noel] said. “That’s how the gold-rushers came in.” Yet, he pointed out that the origins of the word “platte” are none too auspicious; it comes from a French word that means “flat” or “insipid.”

“When they called it ‘insipid’ or ‘flat,’ they didn’t venture far enough,” he said, smiling and pointing to the river’s start up in the Rockies near South Park and Long’s Peak.

Dr. [Noel] said that Maj. Stephen Harriman Long gave the first recorded report of about the South Platte, which mentioned flat-bottomed steamboats travelling on it. “Any of you ever tried to navigate the Platte?” Dr. [Noel] asked to laughs. “The steamboat pilots had various names for the Platte, none very flattering.”

When the explorers couldn’t get through Waterton Canyon, they went south instead, missing the non-flat parts of the South Platte, he said.

He also pointed out that they called what is now Castle Rock “pound cake,” saying, “They must have been hungry.”[…]

By the late 1850s, though, the South Platte and Cherry Creek became famous as the start of the gold rush in Colorado, which brought many, many fortune seekers across the Eastern Plains and along the river to Denver. At this time, the Rocky Mountain News “encouraged people to ‘come to the promised land'” by following the Platte River, Dr. [Noel] said…

“As the Platte gets liberated from Denver, it’s fun to walk along it,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see how the Plains agriculture sprouted. The Great American Desert turned into the breadbasket.”[…]

… he also spoke about water diversions and current efforts to revitalize the river, including projects to make it a “greenway” in Denver at its confluence with Cherry Creek. And he pointed to history alongside the river, such as the fact that the current site of Elitch Gardens amusement park in LoDo was once where the city’s “biggest car junk yard” was located.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Cotter terminating Cañon City radioactive materials license at the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A letter from Cotter president Amory Quinn says Cotter “will not seek to renew” the radioactive materials license Cotter has from the state health department. Cotter plans to decommission and decontaminate the mill site and to request license termination, Quinn said in the Dec. 12 letter…

The decision marks a possible turning point in a long-running controversy over the mill.

Cañon City residents opposed to the mill applauded the move.”We think this is the first sign of serious progress on getting this place cleaned up. They have stated now that they are going away. The challenge is to see that they clean it up properly before they do,” said Sharyn Cunningham, leader of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, who praised Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office “for engaging” on the issue…

Cotter’s operating license expires Jan. 31. The company could have submitted a renewal application 30 days before the expiration. Now the company must submit a decommissioning plan and schedule, the state health department said this morning. Under the state Radiation Control Act, decommissioned uranium mill sites must be thoroughly cleaned up and restored at the operator’s expense.

For months, Cotter work crews have been jack-hammering concrete foundations and ripping apart contaminated remaining buildings a the mill. Quinn’s letter says that, by Dec. 31, only eight structures will remain at the site. The work aims to consolidate all waste in a massive impoundment pond. Next year, workers are expected to dig out toxic soil and bury that, too. The dismantling work has cost about $3.5 million, according to Cotter mill manager John Hamrick, and eventually will include construction of a new evaporative waste pond to store water pumped from a potentially contaminated creek that flows near Cotter’s property.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Jeannine Natterman):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced today Cotter Corp. has notified the department of its decision to terminate its Cañon City Uranium Mill radioactive materials license.

The current license expires Jan. 31, 2012, and Cotter was faced with submitting a renewal application 30 days prior to that expiration date. Instead, Cotter now must submit a decommissioning plan and schedule as defined in the regulations.

“This is good news for the Cañon City community,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said. “We appreciate Cotter Corp.’s containment and cleanup efforts and look forward to the company’s continued involved in the community as remediation and decommissioning activities occur over the next 10 to 15 years.”

The decision not to seek licensure sets the mill on a course for closure. The Radiation Control Act requires decommissioned uranium mill sites to be thoroughly cleaned up and restored at the operator’s expense.

“A comprehensive, meaningful public involvement process will be followed for the license termination,” said Steve Tarlton, radioactive materials program manager for the department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division. “Through transparent and open communication, the state is committed to getting community input as the termination process moves forward.”

The current license conditions will remain in effect beyond the expiration date until the Department of Public Health and Environment notifies Cotter in writing that the license is terminated. No operations are allowed under the current license conditions and the termination process precludes restarting operations.

Specific documents required in the decommissioning plan must be submitted to the department and made available for public review and comment prior to any final approval. The documents include:

• An on-site conceptual characterization plan that describes how Cotter will address on-site and windblown soils, and on-site groundwater — due Dec. 19, 2011
• An impoundment reclamation plan that includes an alternative disposal analysis – due March 31, 2012
• A review and documentation of historic cleanup actions – due March 31, 2012 • A contaminated groundwater cleanup analysis – due Feb. 17, 2012

For more background and technical information about the Cotter Cañon City Uranium Mill, see: www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/cotter/licenseinfo.htm.

More coverage from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“We are just beside ourselves,” said Sharyn Cunningham of Canon City, co-chairwoman of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, an opposition group that formed 10 years ago to fight a Cotter proposal to bring new radioactive waste to the mill for disposal. “Finally, we can focus on a really good cleanup, set out by absolute standards and planning that will involve public participation,” Cunningham said. “The mill has been in no man’s land for so long and I just feel so happy about this.”

“I have worked on (opposing) this for 40 to 50 hours a week for years and I just never let up. We all worked together and kept applying pressure,” Cunningham said.

State health officials have been overseeing the cleanup of “legacy” contamination at the Cotter mill and the neighboring Lincoln Park community, which became part of a Superfund site in 1984 after the 1958-79 use of unlined tailings impoundments allowed uranium and molybdenum contamination to seep into the groundwater…

“If the mill is headed to decommissioning, I certainly hope the finances are in place to see the reclamation is paid for,” said Ed Norden, Fremont County Commission chairman. “I doubted we would ever see uranium processing out there again since there has been so much cleanup and I hope the company is committed to reclamation and the financial obligation that goes with that.” Cotter employs a dozen workers and makes use of contractors for specific jobs.

Norden said he knows some residents in the community will be disappointed there will never be high-paying mill jobs at Cotter again. “But it will be interesting to see how many jobs are created through the cleanup and reclamation. I think it is going to be a massive project,” Norden said.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Durango Herald. From the article:

Cotter once processed uranium for weapons and fuel at the mill. Federal authorities placed the mill on a national list for Superfund cleanups in 1984 after radioactive materials traced to the mill were found to have contaminated the soil and groundwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually turned oversight of cleanup work to state officials. Uranium hasn’t been processed at the mill since 2006. The state requires sites that are being decommissioned to be thoroughly cleaned and restored at the operator’s expense. It’s expected to be a multimillion-dollar effort. One of Cotter’s first steps will be to submit a conceptual characterization plan describing how Cotter will address on-site and windblown soils and on-site groundwater. That’s due Monday.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Cortez: Water rates going up January 1

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

For the water fund, [City Public Works director Jack Nickerson] asked for a 25 cent increase in the residential base rate for water service from $13.50 to $13.75 per month. A 10 cent increase is proposed to the additional usage rate from $1.65 per 1,000 gallons to $1.75. He said the increase is necessary to keep up with the rising costs of water treatment chemicals and replacement projects. He cited the recently completed South Broadway waterline replacement project costing approximately $700,000 and approximately $25,000 still needed for water tank repairs.

More infrastructure coverage here.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission green lights new ‘toughest in nation’ hydraulic fracturing disclosure rule

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Sharon Sullivan):

Colorado’s rule, approved Tuesday, goes further than other states regarding mandatory disclosure of chemicals and their concentrations. Some states are required to disclose chemicals deemed hazardous in the workplace by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Until now, that disclosure has been voluntary in Colorado…

“We support transparency,” [Encana spokesman Doug Hock] said. “We’re already participating in FracFocus” — an online chemical disclosure registry, a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission…

The rule does allow for a disclosure exemption in some cases because of the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act which allows companies to protect their trade secrets. “If a company wants to claim a trade secret, they have to file a claim with the oil and gas commission and explain why they deserve trade secret protection,” [COGCC commissioner Richard Alward] said. Chemicals will be listed, but not the makeup of a particular formula deemed a trade secret thus preserving a “company’s competitive advantage while revealing to the public the names of chemicals,” Alward said…

“Developing policy is always a compromise,” Alward said. “I think we’ve taken a real positive step forward.”

Here’s a release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today applauded the collaborative efforts of the oil and gas industry, many environmental groups and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in approving new hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure rules.

The new rules, endorsed by industry and environmental groups and approved by the nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), require oil and gas operators to publicly disclose all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing of their wells, while still recognizing and protecting trade secrets.

The mandatory disclosure rules will take effect April 1, 2012, and apply to all oil and gas wells hydraulically fractured in Colorado.

“These new rules give Colorado the fairest and most transparent set of fracking regulations in the country and will likely serve as a model for other states,” Hickenlooper said. “We commend everyone involved for coming together to create a chemical disclosure rule that marks another big step forward for Colorado’s responsible regulation of this important industry. We believe oil and gas development can thrive while also meeting our high standards for protection of public health, water and the environment.”

The amended rules adopted today require that operators post the hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals used to hydraulically fracture a well, as well as the concentrations of each chemical, to the disclosure website http://www.FracFocus.org. Disclosure must be made within 60 days of completion of hydraulic fracturing.

The rules strike a balance by recognizing and protecting industry trade secrets. Such confidential business information is already protected by state laws, including the Colorado Open Records Act and the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act, and major federal environmental statutes. Regulators and medical professionals, however, can still obtain trade secret information upon request under the rules. Further, operators must file a form ensuring trade secret claims meet the appropriate definition, and sign an affidavit – under penalty of perjury – that chemicals cited qualify for trade secret protection.

The rule builds upon major progress in chemical disclosure associated with oil and gas development. In 2008, nationally groundbreaking amendments to COGCC rules mandated disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals to state regulators and health professionals upon request. Earlier this year, the COGCC worked with industry for voluntary disclosure to the publicly available FracFocus.org website. Since then, operators have posted information on about half of the wells drilled this year in Colorado to the site, with substantially all of the state’s largest operators participating.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Northern Water is seeking to make sure that Colorado-Big Thompson Project water is not used outside the project boundaries

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Porter):

The rule, proposed by the district’s board of directors, is intended to keep cities and towns and others with C-BT water rights from selling the water for use outside the district. In this case, that means selling it to oil-and-gas companies or water haulers who intend to use it on hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – operations in the region. Federal and state laws prohibit the use of C-BT water outside the district, but oil-and-gas companies and the water haulers who serve them have been eagerly buying water from any source available to them.

Brian Werner, Northern spokesman, said the rule was proposed because the district has been contacted by some of the 33 communities it serves about whether selling C-BT and Windy Gap Project water is allowed under their contracts. “My guess is the vast majority of them have been approached by water haulers,” he said…

Northern’s proposed rules explicitly target the use of C-BT and Windy Gap water: “The use of C-BT Project water and the first use of Windy Gap Project water as well development water cannot and shall not be made for any oil or gas well located outside the boundaries of Northern Water or the Subdistrict.” The proposed rule also calls for the water supplier – city, town or other possessor of C-BT or Windy Gap water – to keep strict accounting records to assure that the water is being beneficially used within district boundaries. Penalties for violating the rules would include the water supplier being fined $500 per acre-foot of C-BT and Windy Gap water illegally delivered to a water hauler. Other possible corrective actions include requiring water suppliers to provide a replacement water supply to Northern Water or the subdistrict…

Werner said Northern’s board will take the matter up again at its Jan. 13 meeting. He said written comments can be submitted through Jan. 3…

While the city of Greeley has become one of the region’s biggest suppliers of water to the oil and gas industry, Longmont, Loveland, Fort Lupton, Frederick and Firestone are also reportedly selling water.

Jon Monson, Greeley’s water and sewer director, said the city has been selling surplus water to the oil-and-gas industry for the last five years, an amount that held relatively steady through 2010 but which jumped by 50 percent this year. “This extra revenue can lower the bond costs and the amount of bonds we need to issue,” he said. “This lowers the cost of the bonds to the ratepayers and will cut down future water bills.”

Here’s the announcement (including to proposed rule) from Northern Water.

McCrystie Adams, ‘The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States’

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As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Monday deadline for comments on the proposed project approaches conservationists have galvanized their opposition to Aaron Million and Wyco Power and Water and the 500 mile pipeline. Western Resource Advocates, on Thursday, labeled it a boondoggle. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Colorado River Protection Coalition, representing 10 environmental groups, also filed to intervene in the case.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States,” said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice, the coalition’s lead attorney. “The pipeline would devastate the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harm the Colorado River downstream.”

Communities Protecting the Green River, which includes the cities of Green River and Rock Springs, Wyo. and Sweetwater County, Wyo., filed in opposition to the project earlier this week…

Million has said the pipeline is cost-competitive with other plans to import water and environmentally friendly because it would prevent worse impacts from occurring within Colorado.
The project also has attracted interest from Colorado and Wyoming municipalities, which have launched their own study of the project’s viability. They are awaiting revised water availability studies by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Interbasin Compact Committee, formed by the Colorado Legislature in 2005 to sort out state water issues, at the request of member roundtables, has formed a task force to identify impacts of Flaming Gorge. The task force is being funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, over the objections of the environmental groups, as a model to develop a way to talk about statewide water projects.

Here’s the release from Earthjustice (McCrystie Adams/Gary Wockner/Steve Jones/Taylor McKinnon):

Today a coalition of 10 conservation groups from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona—the Colorado River Protection Coalition—moved to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) review of the Regional Watershed Supply Project, more commonly known as the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. FERC is currently evaluating a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline from Wyco Power and Water Inc. FERC allows members of the public with a stake in projects to intervene in preliminary permit proceedings, and the Colorado River Protection Coalition, represented by Earthjustice, has called upon FERC to deny the permit on numerous grounds.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States,” said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice, the Coalition’s lead attorney. “The Pipeline would devastate the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harm the Colorado River downstream.”

In its intervention comments, the Colorado River Protection Coalition asserted that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline is extremely unlikely to be permitted because it would likely violate the Endangered Species Act, would adversely affect four national wildlife refuges, and part of the project would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area. The Coalition also argued that the permit should be denied because the applicant failed to meet various requirements during a previous attempt at permitting a nearly identical project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Further, the Coalition asserted that the Pipeline is an extremely environmentally damaging water supply project that would irrevocably harm the Green and Colorado Rivers, not a “hydropower project,” and thus FERC is not the appropriate agency to lead federal review of the proposal.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would severely harm the Wyoming landscape it crosses,” said Steve Jones of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Our state’s heritage, wildlife, and economy are dependent on protecting roadless and wilderness areas.”

“Four endangered fish—the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, and bonytail chub—are dependent on the water this pipeline proposes to drain out of the Green and Colorado Rivers,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff, Arizona. “The pipeline would spell disaster for those fish and the river ecosystems we and they depend on. It’s a foolish proposal in the face of global warming and projected declines in river flows.”

“The Green River flows through Utah’s largest roadless area, provides 40 percent of the water entering the Colorado River at Lake Powell each year, and supports a world-famous trout fishery averaging 6,000–8,000 fish per mile” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. “This catastrophic proposal would not only mar these treasures, it would forever alter life in Utah.”

The applicant previously sought a permit for the Pipeline from a different federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). In July of 2011, the Corps terminated its review of the project because the applicant missed multiple deadlines and did not provide information requested by the Corps. A few months later, the applicant redesigned the project to include some incidental hydropower components and requested review through FERC. Despite the modifications, the project remains a huge energy hog—at least nine air-polluting natural gas-fired pumping stations would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Wyco’s president has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would use more energy than the project would create through hydropower.

“We know this project would burn more energy than it produces,” said John Spahr of the Sierra Club. “Claiming it is a hydropower project is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to make an end-run around federal law.”

Since its inception, the extremely controversial Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with great opposition in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Colorado is already a parched state with severely depleted rivers while the majority of the water in Colorado’s cities is used to keep lawns green for three months in the hot, dry summer across sprawling suburban landscapes.

Duane Short of Biodiversity Conservation Alliance noted, “The Coalition believes that Colorado and other western citizens are beginning to realize that unbridled consumption of water from our rivers and aquifers will leave our precious water resources depleted leading to even more severe water shortages for our children and grandchildren. We hope the public will work with us to prevent this shortsighted and irresponsible water grab.”

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be a flaming disaster for Colorado,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “The Pipeline would be a devastating step backwards for water supply policy and river protection in Colorado and the Southwest U.S.—our coalition will work as long and hard as it takes to stop this project.”

This Coalition’s intervention is one of several being filed by public interest groups and local communities. Over a hundred public comments urging FERC to deny the preliminary permit have already been filed before the deadline on Dec. 19th. Comments are posted on FERC’s website. (Search for Docket Number: P-14263.)

View a map of the pipeline’s proposed 550 mile route across Wyoming and down through Colorado.

Read the motion to intervene.

Meanwhile, Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming has submitted his comments on the pipeline. Here’s a report from Ben Neary writing for Associated Press via The Columbus Republic. From the article:

“This project would cut a vast swath across southern Wyoming, with the potential for huge impacts in many significant sectors of our economy and aspects of critical resources to Wyoming and Colorado,” Mead wrote…

“Although in its proposal a hydroelectricity angle has been attempted, it is important to note that hydroelectric production is a minor purpose of the project,” Mead wrote. “The project first, foremost and always is a water supply project.” Mead stated that it appears Million shifted federal agencies “to short-circuit the regulatory process and/or sidestep fundamental issues.”[…]

Mead stated that Million has not shown how much water Colorado is still entitled to under the Colorado River Compact. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Flaming Gorge Reservoir, is working on a study of how much water, if any, it believes could be available for withdrawal there…

Mead wrote that Wyoming has been involved in efforts to recover endangered fish species on the Upper Colorado River for decades. He said the agency’s review must consider the likely effect on the fish both of the pipeline project as well as Wyoming’s possible future use of its share of water from the Green River. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department filed a separate request with FERC to intervene in the permit application to track the issue…

[Aaron Million] said he agrees federal regulators need to consider water supply issues as well as his project’s likely effect on wildlife and recreation.

More coverage from Amy Joi O’Donoghue writing for the Deseret News. From the article:

Since its inception, the controversial Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with opposition in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Although the project would be privately financed, critics say the end water would be so publicly expensive it wouldn’t be viable. It also smacks at tapping water that river watchers say is already over allocated.

Million has said that the water his project proposes to take from the Green River in Wyoming is sustainable, according to a review of water resources by federal water managers with oversight of Flaming Gorge.

According to a Tweet from Jennifer Petersen (@BCAWY): “Last night [December 14], Laramie Council voted unanimously to oppose the Million pipeline & send in a letter intervening in the FERC permitting process.”

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.