New USFS rules that would keep water rights with the land at ski areas are spawning a lawsuit

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From the Associated Press via The Aspen Times:

The Denver Post reported Saturday that the 121-resort National Ski Areas Association plans the lawsuit because it objects to a new permit clause that assigns water rights at a resort on federal land to the federal government.

The industry argues that the change takes away tens of millions of dollars in private water rights. “Water rights in the West are part of the asset base of the ski areas that they have acquired in the marketplace and they are an important part of the balance sheet of a ski area,” said Association president Michael Berry.

The Forest Service, which has already issued three new ski-area permits with the new water clause, contends the clause protects the long-term viability of ski areas by keeping water resources tied to the land, not the operator. The new clause changes a 2004 agreement reached between the agency and the industry that allowed for co-ownership of water rights inside a ski area’s permit area. “If they establish water rights on the national forest, those rights need to remain with the federal government to protect the public’s right to the land,” said Jim Pena, acting chief deputy for the Forest Service.

More water law coverage here.

New EPA rules for coal-fired electrical generation plants may reduce mercury in waterways

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From the Colorado News Connection (Kathleen Ryan) via The Durango Herald:

David Ellenberger, Rocky Mountain regional coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, says the scrubbers will reduce mercury pollution by at least 91 percent. He adds that cleaner air translates into cleaner water for Colorado’s lakes and rivers. “It’s absolutely a huge step forward in protecting public health, our children and our wildlife from these aspects of this hazardous air pollution.”[…]

Elemental mercury finds its way into lakes and reservoirs from prevailing winds, precipitation and runoff. It is converted to toxic methylmercury by microorganisms, the bottom of the food chain. Arsenic and selenium also contaminate fish but to a lesser degree than mercury…

Some utilities criticize the new rules as too onerous, especially as they pertain to older coal plants that may not be suitable for scrubber retrofits. The EPA estimates meeting the standards will cost utilities about $11 million nationwide. Ellenberger claims the savings in health-care costs more than make up for the expense. “The EPA estimates that for every dollar the utilities are about to spend on pollution controls at their coal-fired power plants, public health is going to benefit by about $13, which is pretty impressive,” he said.

More mercury pollution coverage here.

CWQCD’s proposed stricter wastewater treatment plant effluent standards for nitrogen and phosphorus will be costly

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Officials with the Colorado Water Quality Control Division say the new rules are needed to prevent even stricter ones from being imposed on the state by the federal government. At the same time, local wastewater experts say the proposed rules, known as Regulations 31 and 85, will do little to nothing to clean the state’s waterways.

The issue centers on the amount of nutrients that end up in the state’s rivers and lakes. Having too many nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorus — causes algae to grow. That, in turn, saps oxygen from the water, creating so-called dead zones, places where nothing can grow and fish can live, said Steve Gunderson, executive director of the water division.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency isn’t mandating what Colorado is considering, the federal agency ultimately will impose something even more stringent if the state doesn’t act on its own, he said. “The EPA has been pushing for states to do something for quite a few years,” Gunderson said. “It is one of the nation’s biggest water quality challenges. (The nutrients) causes a water body to get choked. It will rob the water body of oxygen, and it will raise the pH, the level of corrosivity, in the water. It can adversely impact aquatic life.”[…]

The division has filed about 600 pages worth of rules and other accompanying documents with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission that call for lowering phosphorus and nitrogen levels to virtually zero over the next 10 years. The commission is holding a public hearing on the rules in the spring, with an expectation of having them go into effect by June 1…

Local wastewater experts…say there’s no scientific evidence that shows all wastewater treatment plants are releasing too many nutrients, and have asked for more time to research the matter…

The commission is to vote on the proposed rule in March, but the city only has until Jan. 20 to file a prehearing statement if it intends to challenge any part of it…

So far, officials from 32 local entities have signed a letter complaining about the proposed rules, including the Clifton and Orchard Mesa sanitation districts, the Grand Valley Drainage District, the Battlement Mesa Metropolitan District and the towns of Rangely, Cedaredge, De Beque and Nucla. In the letter that is to be sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper by the end of the week, the officials say the regulations will cost all of them about $2 billion to be in compliance, and ask that he delay it until more scientific research can be done…

Meanwhile, state Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said he plans to introduce a bill when the Legislature reconvenes next month calling for a five-year moratorium on the rule, to give local communities more time to study its impact…

Gunderson said all this may be much a-do about nothing. He says the division already has limited the scope of the proposed regulation only to larger plants, and is willing to limit it even further to include specific areas of the state.

More wastewater coverage here.