2012 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair recap: Groundwater subdistrict one was on everyone’s mind


From The Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

The management plan’s purpose is to recharge the Valley’s aquifer, and one way to fill it back up is to stop taking water out. The RGWCD Subdistrict 1 is offering a tiered district fallowing program to persuade water users to do just that.

Water users qualify for the program if they have a three-year average of 50 percent reduced pumped groundwater. Contract prices for the 2012 irrigation begin at $300 an irrigated acre for zero groundwater use, $200 an irrigated acre for up to six inches of groundwater use and $100 an irrigated acre for up to 10 inches. The program is not offering incentives for more than 10 inches.

The deadline for fallow acreage bids is Wed., Feb. 15, but the board could extend the deadline if interest grows.

RGWCD Manager Mike Mitchell said that the program is calling for a significant irrigation reduction.

“Twenty-four inches is what is used on the common crops,” Mitchell said. “The whole focus of this is to see how much we can save.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack at 72% of average, Colorado River basin — 68%


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Despite above-average January snowfall in a few localized spots in Colorado, the state’s snowpack recovered only slightly from the early winter snow drought, reaching just 72 percent of normal (and 62 percent of last year’s reading) as of Feb. 1.

The low readings were most evident in the Yampa and White river basins, where the combined snowpack was only 60 percent of average. Forecasts for spring and summer water supplies in these basins reflect the below average snowpack. Reservoir storage across the state continues to remain in good condition which should help ease potential shortages this season…

The Arkansas basin was at 81 percent of average on February 1 down from 94 percent at the beginning of January. The greatest decrease was measured in the Upper Rio Grande basin, where the snowpack dropped 15 percent from the Jan. 1 reading.

Union Pacific Railroad Company to pay $1.5 million for Clean Water Act violations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming


Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Donna Inman/Matthew Allen):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a settlement with Union Pacific Railroad Company regarding alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.

This settlement resolves a Clean Water Act enforcement action against Union Pacific that involves continuing operations at 20 rail yards in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as spills of oil and coal in 2003 and 2004 along railroad lines in all three states.

For the railyards, EPA alleges Union Pacific violated EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) and Facility Response Plan (FRP) regulations. These regulations are the first line of defense for preventing oil spills and providing immediate containment measures when an oil spill does occur.

“Today we have secured a settlement that will help prevent spills, protect water quality, and improve the safety of Union Pacific’s operations in 20 communities across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming,” said Jim Martin, EPA regional administrator. “Union Pacific has already begun putting necessary measures in place and we will ensure they continue to do so.”

As part of the settlement, Union Pacific will pay a civil penalty of $1.5 million of which approximately $1.4 million will be deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a fund used by federal agencies to respond to oil spills. The remaining $100,000 will be deposited in the U.S. Treasury for the coal spills and stormwater violations. In addition, the settlement requires the company to develop a management and reporting system to ensure compliance with SPCC regulations, FRP regulations, and storm water requirements at 20 rail yards in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Union Pacific must take further actions to control stormwater runoff at the Burnham Rail Yard in Denver, which are anticipated to prevent the discharge of approximately 2,500 pounds of chemical oxygen demand, 50 pounds of nitrate, 11,000 pounds of total suspended solids, and 30 pounds of zinc annually to waters in the Denver area.

This settlement will benefit many communities in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, many of which are disadvantaged, by requiring Union Pacific to install secondary containment to safely store oil and prevent oil spills from leaving its properties. Further, it will require the company to designate an environmental vice-president responsible for complying with oil spill prevention and stormwater control requirements at the 20 railyards. The majority of the 20 locations cited in the settlement are in disadvantaged areas with significant low-income and/ or minority populations.

The complaint alleges the following violations:

· Six oil spills in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming
· Three coal spills in Colorado
· Inadequate SPCC plans and/or inadequate SPCC plan implementation (e.g., inadequate secondary containment) at the following 20 rail yards:

o Denver 36th Street, Burnham, Denver North, East Portal Moffatt Tunnel, Grand Junction, Kremmling, Pueblo, and Rifle, all in Colorado
o Helper, Ogden, Provo, Roper, Salt Lake City North, and Summit, all in Utah

§ Also for six rail yards in Utah, failure to provide certifications and reports for storm water pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs) as required by the Utah Multi-Sector General Permit.

o Bill, Buford, Cheyenne, Green River, Laramie, and Rawlins, all in Wyoming

§ Also for the Rawlins, Wyoming rail yard, an inadequate FRP and a failed Government Initiated Unannounced Exercise

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here and here.

Water 2012: Logan County Historical Society presentation about the history of water in Colorado February 13


From the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

At its regular meeting on Feb. 13, the Logan County Historical Society will have a presentation on the history of water in Colorado. Jim Yahn, PE, manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs, will present information on this important issue of water in Colorado, especially the South Platte Basin…

Municipal water use in the South Platte Basin in now about 25 percent of the total available and rising. Chief Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs believes Colorado has done a remarkable job of setting water priorities and allocating the finite resource. He sees the current laws as being the best way to appropriate water to its different uses.

University of Wyoming legal scholar Larry MacDonnell disagrees. He believes the resources of the Colorado River are being squandered and advocates moving more agriculture water to urban areas.

Yahn says the large metropolitan areas of the South Platte are working very hard and expending a lot of money to conserve and otherwise make good use of the water they get. But the reality, according to Jim and other water experts, is that the population of the South Platte Basin is going to increase dramatically in the next 25 years and they will have to get more water. Conservation and high prices alone won’t do the job…

The LCHS meeting will be at 7 p.m., Monday, Feb. 13, at the Church of the Nazarene, 1600 Sidney Ave., Sterling Colorado. The meeting is open to the public.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here. More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Sand Creek: Suncor spill may have started a year ago


From CBSDenver.com:

“Our focus right now is to try to contain it onto Suncor’s property,” [Robert Beierle with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment] said. The health department says they were notified of the problem’s start last February. “Of the pipeline that failed pressure testing, which was thought to be probably the source or one of the sources of this material we’re migrating off site right now,” Beierle said. “It’s the only source were aware of and it’s certainly in their best interest to stop it on their property.”

Suncor hasn’t confirmed where the gasoline-like leak began but is cooperating with all aspects of the clean-up, according the health department. Once the trench is complete the Canadian-based energy company will then move back onto their property to install a second trench.

Suncor says they do not believe there is any leak at this time.

More coverage from Carlos Illescas writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Suncor Energy crews are working on a collector trench on property owned by Metro Wastewater, trying to stop the black gunk flowing from under its refinery north of Denver from reaching Burlington Ditch, Sand Creek and the South Platte River. An access agreement was reached last week, and Suncor started work on the trench Monday, said Suncor’s vice president for refining, John Gallagher. The goal, Gallagher said, is to prevent more petroleum-based contaminants from reaching the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s property, which is adjacent to the refinery and the waterways…

Gallagher said the trench should be completed by the end of the month. The company also is working to complete an underground clay wall at the refinery to block toxic material from leaving the Suncor property, which has been home to oil-refining activities since the 1930s. “We’ll do everything we can to make this situation right,” Gallagher said Tuesday.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Flows in the Black Canyon around 600 cfs, forecasted inflows to Blue Mesa — 450,000 acre-feet


From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The February 1st forecast is out and the prediction is still for 450,000 acre-feet of inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir during the April-July runoff period. This represents 67% of the current 30 year average. In response to the continuing dry conditions, releases at Crystal Dam will be reduced by 200 cfs on Wednesday, February 8th. This will bring releases down to 600 cfs and with no Gunnison Tunnel diversions, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should also be around 600 cfs.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: Check out Your Colorado Water Blog for a primer explaining what a water footprint is and how to calculate yours


Here’s the link to their post, What’s Your Water Footprint?. Click through and read the whole post and then take part in the conversation in the comments. Here’s an excerpt:

Calculate your water footprint using National Geographic’s personal water footprint calculator and let us know– how big is your water footprint? Are you doing anything to cut back on personal water use? Do you think about the water used to create the products you purchase? Is there anything that the state of Colorado or your utility should be doing to make people more aware of the water we’re using?

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here. More conservation coverage here.

CU-Boulder study shows global glaciers, ice caps shedding billions of tons of mass annually


Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (John Wahr/Tad Pfeffer/Jim Scott):

Earth’s glaciers and ice caps outside of the regions of Greenland and Antarctica are shedding roughly 150 billion tons of ice annually, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The research effort is the first comprehensive satellite study of the contribution of the world’s melting glaciers and ice caps to global sea level rise and indicates they are adding roughly 0.4 millimeters annually, said CU-Boulder physics Professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study. The measurements are important because the melting of the world’s glaciers and ice caps, along with Greenland and Antarctica, pose the greatest threat to sea level increases in the future, Wahr said.

The researchers used satellite measurements taken with the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a joint effort of NASA and Germany, to calculate that the world’s glaciers and ice caps had lost about 148 billion tons, or about 39 cubic miles of ice annually from 2003 to 2010. The total does not count the mass from individual glacier and ice caps on the fringes of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets — roughly an additional 80 billion tons.

“This is the first time anyone has looked at all of the mass loss from all of Earth’s glaciers and ice caps with GRACE,” said Wahr. “The Earth is losing an incredible amount of ice to the oceans annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet’s cold regions are responding to global change.”

A paper on the subject is being published in the Feb. 9 online edition of the journal Nature. The first author, Thomas Jacob, did his research at CU-Boulder and is now at the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières, in Orléans, France. Other paper co-authors include Professor Tad Pfeffer of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and Sean Swenson, a former CU-Boulder physics doctoral student who is now a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

“The strength of GRACE is that it sees everything in the system,” said Wahr. “Even though we don’t have the resolution to look at individual glaciers, GRACE has proven to be an exceptional tool.” Traditional estimates of Earth’s ice caps and glaciers have been made using ground-based measurements from relatively few glaciers to infer what all of the unmonitored glaciers around the world were doing, he said. Only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers worldwide have been monitored for a decade or more.

Launched in 2002, two GRACE satellites whip around Earth in tandem 16 times a day at an altitude of about 300 miles, sensing subtle variations in Earth’s mass and gravitational pull. Separated by roughly 135 miles, the satellites measure changes in Earth’s gravity field caused by regional changes in the planet’s mass, including ice sheets, oceans and water stored in the soil and in underground aquifers.

A positive change in gravity during a satellite approach over Greenland, for example, tugs the lead GRACE satellite away from the trailing satellite, speeding it up and increasing the distance between the two. As the satellites straddle Greenland, the front satellite slows down and the trailing satellite speeds up. A sensitive ranging system allows researchers to measure the distance of the two satellites down to as small as 1 micron — about 1/100 the width of a human hair — and to calculate ice and water amounts from particular regions of interest around the globe using their gravity fields.

For the global glaciers and ice cap measurements, the study authors created separate “mascons,” large, ice-covered regions of Earth of various ovate-type shapes. Jacob and Wahr blanketed 20 regions of Earth with 175 mascons and calculated the estimated mass balance for each mascon.

The CU-led team also used GRACE data to calculate that the ice loss from both Greenland and Antarctica, including their peripheral ice caps and glaciers, was roughly 385 billion tons of ice annually. The total mass ice loss from Greenland, Antarctica and all Earth’s glaciers and ice caps from 2003 to 2010 was about 1,000 cubic miles, about eight times the water volume of Lake Erie, said Wahr.

“The total amount of ice lost to Earth’s oceans from 2003 to 2010 would cover the entire United States in about 1 and one-half feet of water,” said Wahr, also a fellow at the CU-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

The vast majority of climate scientists agree that human activities like pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is warming the planet, an effect that is most pronounced in the polar regions.

One unexpected study result from GRACE was that the estimated ice loss from high Asia mountains — including ranges like the Himalaya, the Pamir and the Tien Shan — was only about 4 billion tons of ice annually. Some previous ground-based estimates of ice loss in the high Asia mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons annually, Wahr said.

“The GRACE results in this region really were a surprise,” said Wahr. “One possible explanation is that previous estimates were based on measurements taken primarily from some of the lower, more accessible glaciers in Asia and were extrapolated to infer the behavior of higher glaciers. But unlike the lower glaciers, many of the high glaciers would still be too cold to lose mass even in the presence of atmospheric warming.”

“What is still not clear is how these rates of melt may increase and how rapidly glaciers may shrink in the coming decades,” said Pfeffer, also a professor in CU-Boulder’s civil, environmental and architectural engineering department. “That makes it hard to project into the future.”

According to the GRACE data, total sea level rise from all land-based ice on Earth including Greenland and Antarctica was roughly 1.5 millimeters per year annually or about 12 millimeters, or one-half inch, from 2003 to 2010, said Wahr. The sea rise amount does not include the expansion of water due to warming, which is the second key sea-rise component and is roughly equal to melt totals, he said.

“One big question is how sea level rise is going to change in this century,” said Pfeffer. “If we could understand the physics more completely and perfect numerical models to simulate all of the processes controlling sea level — especially glacier and ice sheet changes — we would have a much better means to make predictions. But we are not quite there yet.”

Water Court Division Two judge, Dennis Maes, to retire at the end of May


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

Maes sent a letter Wednesday to Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender announcing his intention to retire May 31. The governor will appoint a replacement to the bench and the state’s high court will decide who will be the next chief. Maes, 66, has been a district court judge since April 1988 and the district’s chief since September 1995.