Colorado Water Congress 2012 Annual Convention: Governor Hickenlooper announces 2012 as the Year of Water


Here’s the link to the video announcement. Here’s a report from via The Denver Post. From the article:

The year 2012 is a big, wet milestone for water in Colorado. In a state almost entirely defined as desert or semidesert, 2012 is a milestone anniversary for many of the organizations and policies that protect our precious water resources.

Colorado Water 2012 started as an idea to celebrate these milestones. It has since grown into an unprecedented statewide celebration of water, its uses and its value. By celebrating these anniversaries collectively we hope to increase awareness about the importance of Colorado’s water resources.

Colorado Water 2012 launches with Governor Hickenlooper’s declaration of 2012 as the Year of Water at the Colorado Water Congress being held on January 25-27. Understanding the importance of water to the economic and social prosperity of our state, Governor Hickenlooper is supporting Colorado Water 2012 by officially declaring 2012 the ‘Year of Water’. See the video announcement

Colorado Water 2012 is organizing several activities throughout the year including: Water 2012 Book Club: Featuring Colorado authors: Peter McBride, Jonathan Waterman, Craig Childs, Will Hobbs, Greg Hobbs, George Sibley and Patty Limerick, Library and Museum Displays scheduled yearlong and statewide, K-12 lesson plans and poetry contests, Higher education social networking events, and a traveling speaker presentation covering water challenges and successes in Colorado.

Click here to go to Your Water Colorado Blog for updates and to take part in the conversation.


Here’s the latest installment from the weekly Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier (Allen Davey). The article is a primer on the hydrology of the San Luis Valley. Here’s an excerpt:

Precipitation on the Valley floor is approximately seven inches per year…

The geological formation of the Valley has provided high mountain ranges around its edges that receive significant snow in the winter which then melts and flows together with water from summer rains into the Valley through streams and rivers. These mountains form a watershed of approximately 4,700 square miles. Water from these streams is then diverted by ditches and canals which provide irrigation water to crops on the floor of the Valley. Most of the streamflow is derived from snowmelt and averages about 1,500,000 acre-feet per year…

The San Luis Valley is located within a geologic feature called the Rio Grande rift. This rift can be visualized as a trough probably resulting from the earth’s crust pulling apart resulting in stress faulting and down dropping of a block of the crust. This several 1,000 foot deep trough extends in a nearly north-south direction generally along the center of the Valley.

Through the erosional process over millions of years in the nearby mountains, this trough has been largely filled with sand, gravel and clay layers. It is likely that many of the clay layers were formed through a soil evolutionary process with a large part of the process occurring at the bottom of a lake that covered the Valley floor. In 1822 trapper Jacob Fowler wrote in his journal of the probability of a lake, similarly in 1910 C.E. Siebenthal studied the Valley and described evidence of a historic lake, and finally U.S. Geological Survey investigators in 2007 published a report concerning ancient Lake Alamosa. The combination of erosional material filling this rift trough and Lake Alamosa’s existence created a very large aquifer system into which wells were drilled beginning in the 1880’s.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Sand Creek: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment orders Suncor to prevent new offsite contamination

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (Warren Smith):

The Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment today issued additional orders to Suncor Energy (USA) Inc. as the company works to clean up a release of petroleum products from its Commerce City refinery.

The new order responds to liquid hydrocarbons from petroleum contamination detected on the water table at the southwest corner of Suncor’s Plant 1, near the Suncor property boundary with Republic Paperboard Co., 5501 Brighton Blvd in Commerce City.

“We are concerned that the petroleum contamination may begin to move from the Suncor property to the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District property in a second location,” said Walter Avramenko, leader of the Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Unit. “We also want to prevent contamination of the Burlington Ditch and impacts to indoor air quality at Republic Paperboard. We can’t afford to wait for the problem to emerge, and we believe that something must be done immediately to slow and reverse what we suspect may be happening under this section of Suncor’s property.”

The department ordered Suncor to perform the following interim measures by the specified deadlines:

Suncor must immediately begin securing access and sampling indoor air in all Republic Paperboard Co. buildings to determine indoor air quality, comparing test results to the department’s action levels for workers including, but not limited to, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylenes. Suncor also must collect outdoor air samples to help distinguish between vapors coming from contaminated groundwater and vapors in the outside air.

If indoor air samples exceed worker action levels and are determined to come from contaminated groundwater, Suncor Energy must install a mitigation system on any affected buildings within seven days. All the buildings on the Republic Paperboard property must be sampled and, if necessary, mitigated by Feb. 29. Suncor also must report air sampling results and mitigation status to the department by that date. Suncor must inventory and sample all water taps used by employees in Republic Paperboard buildings for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing and report the results to the department by Feb. 29. Suncor also must submit detailed information about Republic Paperboard’s water distribution system to the department by that date.

Suncor must immediately begin a quick-turnaround field investigation of groundwater beneath Republic Paperboard property and the south end of the Burlington Ditch slurry wall (an underground wall designed to intercept groundwater flow) to verify that contamination has not migrated around, under or into the ditch. Results are due to the department by Jan. 31.

Suncor must immediately begin a long-term groundwater investigation beneath Republic Paperboard property and the Burlington Ditch slurry wall to determine whether additional steps are needed to contain contamination on Suncor property, and to determine if contamination is affecting the Burlington Ditch or Republic Paperboard. This investigation will require Suncor to install new, permanent monitoring wells. Suncor must submit laboratory results to the department by March 16.

Suncor must begin evaluating options for extending the southern end of the Burlington Ditch slurry wall to prevent contamination from migrating under the ditch. Suncor must submit a proposal to the department by March 16.

The Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division is coordinating with the department’s Water Quality Control Division, the Environmental Protection Agency, Tri- County Health Department, Denver Water and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Previous orders remain in effect, including those requiring water sampling in Sand Creek and South Platte River. Suncor is responsible for cleaning up the effects of releases from its refinery regardless of how far downstream they extend.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will continue to update the public as the situation changes and additional orders refining the cleanup operation are issued.

Governor Hickenlooper seeks additional federal drought assistance


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

Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to provide drought assistance to Lincoln County.

“Farmers and ranchers have seen winter wheat wither due to lack of precipitation beginning in October 2011 and continuing into this year,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to Vilsack. “Winter wheat production is estimated to be reduced by 36 percent, and native grass pastures are producing 40 percent less forage for livestock.”

The drought declaration, if approved, would allow farmers and ranchers to apply for emergency loans if they are unable to obtain credit elsewhere.

Water use in hydraulic fracturing by Colorado drillers will increase but will remain a small part of overall water use


From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

“In relative terms, the amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing is a very small percentage of the water that’s used in the state of Colorado — most of it is used for agriculture,” said David Neslin, the director of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates industry activities in the state.

The report — “Water Source and Demand for the Hydraulic Fracturing of Oil and Gas Wells in Colorado from 2010 through 2015,” available for download here — cautioned that predicting water use related to oil and gas operations is difficult.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Rural Community Assistance Corporation announces the initiation of its Household Water Well System Loan program for homeowners in rural areas of Colorado


Here’s the release from the Rural Commnunity Assistance Corporation:

Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) announces the initiation of its Household Water Well System Loan program for homeowners in rural areas of Colorado and Utah. The program makes 1 percent interest loans available to homeowners in rural areas to construct, refurbish or replace a household water well system. The program provides low-cost financing to homeowners that rely on well water as their primary access to clean, reliable drinking water.

RCAC was awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Utilities Service, to develop the water well loan program. The program offers loans of up to $11,000 for a term of up to 20 years. Applicants must own and occupy the home being improved or be purchasing the home. The program cannot be used as a substitute for an existing community water system and cannot pay for plumbing or septic tank repair.

Applications for a Household Water Well System Loan are accepted throughout the year on a first come, first served basis. Household income may not exceed $49,793 for Colorado and $46,711 for Utah.

Anyone with interest or questions should contact: Josh Griff, RCAC loan officer, by telephone at 720/898-9463 or by e-mail at

Founded in 1978, RCAC provides a wide range of community development services for rural Native American communities, agricultural workers and community-based organizations in 13 Western states. RCAC has strong core services and expertise in housing, environmental infrastructure (water, wastewater and solid waste), leadership training, economic development and financing. To find out more about RCAC’s services, visit

Thanks to The Chaffee County Times for the heads up.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Study shows restored wetlands rarely equal condition of original wetlands


Here’s the release from the University of California at Berkeley (Robert Sanders):

Wetland restoration is a billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States that aims to create ecosystems similar to those that disappeared over the past century. But a new analysis of restoration projects shows that restored wetlands seldom reach the quality of a natural wetland.

“Once you degrade a wetland, it doesn’t recover its normal assemblage of plants or its rich stores of organic soil carbon, which both affect natural cycles of water and nutrients, for many years,” said David Moreno-Mateos, a University of California, Berkeley, postdoctoral fellow. “Even after 100 years, the restored wetland is still different from what was there before, and it may never recover.”

Moreno-Mateos’s analysis calls into question a common mitigation strategy exploited by land developers: create a new wetland to replace a wetland that will be destroyed and the land put to other uses. At a time of accelerated climate change caused by increased carbon entering the atmosphere, carbon storage in wetlands is increasingly important, he said.

“Wetlands accumulate a lot of carbon, so when you dry up a wetland for agricultural use or to build houses, you are just pouring this carbon into the atmosphere,” he said. “If we keep degrading or destroying wetlands, for example through the use of mitigation banks, it is going to take centuries to recover the carbon we are losing.”

The study showed that wetlands tend to recover most slowly if they are in cold regions, if they are small – less than 100 contiguous hectares, or 250 acres, in area – or if they are disconnected from the ebb and flood of tides or river flows.

“These context dependencies aren’t necessarily surprising, but this paper quantifies them in ways that could guide decisions about restoration, or about whether to damage wetlands in the first place,” said coauthor Mary Power, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology.

Moreno-Mateos, Power and their colleagues will publish their analysis in the Jan. 24 issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology.

Wetlands provide many societal benefits, Moreno-Mateos noted, such as biodiversity conservation, fish production, water purification, erosion control and carbon storage.

He found, however, that restored wetlands contained about 23 percent less carbon than untouched wetlands, while the variety of native plants was 26 percent lower, on average, after 50 to 100 years of restoration. While restored wetlands may look superficially similar – and the animal and insect populations may be similar, too – the plants take much longer to return to normal and establish the carbon resources in the soil that make for a healthy ecosystem.

Moreno-Mateos noted that numerous studies have shown that specific wetlands recover slowly, but his meta-analysis “might be a proof that this is happening in most wetlands.”

“To prevent this, preserve the wetland, don’t degrade the wetland,” he said.

Moreno-Mateos, who obtained his Ph.D. while studying wetland restoration in Spain, conducted a meta-analysis of 124 wetland studies monitoring work at 621 wetlands around the world and comparing them with natural wetlands. Nearly 80 percent were in the United States and some were restored more than 100 years ago, reflecting of a long-standing American interest in restoration and a common belief that it’s possible to essentially recreate destroyed wetlands. Half of all wetlands in North America, Europe, China and Australia were lost during the 20th century, he said.

Though Moreno-Mateos found that, on average, restored wetlands are 25 percent less productive than natural wetlands, there was much variation. For example, wetlands in boreal and cold temperate forests tend to recover more slowly than do warm wetlands. One review of wetland restoration projects in New York state, for example, found that “after 55 years, barely 50 percent of the organic matter had accumulated on average in all these wetlands” compared to what was there before, he said.

“Current thinking holds that many ecosystems just reach an alternative state that is different, and you never will recover the original,” he said.

In future studies, he will explore whether the slower carbon accumulation is due to a slow recovery of the native plant community or invasion by non-native plants.

Coauthors with Moreno-Mateos and Power are Francisco A. Comin of the Department of Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Zaragoza, Spain; and Roxana Yockteng of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. Moreno-Mateos recently accepted a position as the restoration fellow at Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

The work was supported by the Spanish Ministry for Innovation and Science, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology and the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics of the U.S. National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center.

More restoration coverage here.

Senate Joint Resolution 4 passes the state senate 33-2


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

[Senator Ellen Roberts] got senators to agree to her Senate Joint Resolution 4, which points out the dangers of spending down the accounts Colorado uses to build pipelines, repair dams and increase the size of reservoirs. The resolution simply states that the Legislature “should avoid future diversions” of money set aside for water projects…

But legislators are unlikely to heed their own warning. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2012-13 budget calls for another $33.9 million transfer out of the water account, and no serious effort has emerged among legislators to block the transfer.

More 2012 Colorado legislation coverage here.