Statewide Roundtable Summit March 1, registration closes Thursday

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From email from the IBCC:

The Statewide Roundtable Summit is scheduled for March 1st, 2012 from 8 am to 5 pm at the Omni Interlocken Resort, 500 Interlocken Boulevard, Broomfield, CO. In addition, the IBCC is meeting during the afternoon of February 29th and a reception will follow. Conference attendees are encouraged to attend both events.

Governor Hickenlooper is invited, and John Stulp and Jennifer Gimbel will be speaking on the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Process, risk management and other topics. In addition, there will table discussion in which roundtable members and other interested parties will engage in discussions and problem solving to accomplish the following meeting goals:

Goal 1: Explore roundtable portfolios for several scenarios and their commonalities and differences
Goal 2: Brainstorm initial common implementation elements across portfolios to help inform further Basin
Roundtable portfolio development
Goal 3: Identify implementation elements that need cross basin dialogue
Goal 4: Initiate long and short-term implementation efforts to meet both consumptive and nonconsumptive
needs

Register here.

More IBCC — basin roundtable coverage here.

The latest newsletter from the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District is hot off the press

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Here’s the link to the current newsletter.

More San Juan River basin coverage here.

Coloradans support conservation Colorado College study finds

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From The Denver Post (Walt Hecox/Debbie Kelley):

As [Governor Hickenlooper] moves forward with the privately funded TBD Colorado effort, it would behoove him to review the results of the bipartisan 2012 Conservation in the West survey, sponsored by Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Results show that despite challenging economic conditions, Colorado residents are holding steady in their belief that economic development can and must be in harmony with protecting the air, water and other natural resources.

Other findings from the Colorado survey include:

• Voters across the political spectrum think of themselves as conservationists and support upholding and strengthening protections for clean air, clean water and the region’s parks and public lands, for the sake of the economy and their way of life.

• Ninety-three percent agree that “Our national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of Colorado’s economy.”

• When asked whether environmental regulations have a positive or negative impact on jobs, 44 percent said “positive impact,” compared with 29 percent responding “negative.”

• While voters believe that regulation and conservation are needed, 86 percent believe that “even with state budget problems, we should still find money to protect and maintain Colorado’s land, air and wildlife”; 82 percent say the same about state parks.

More conservation coverage here.

Adaptive Management Work Group to Meet in Tempe, Ariz., on Colorado River Topics, February 22-23

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Lisa Iams):

The Bureau of Reclamation announced that the Adaptive Management Work Group will meet on February 22 – 23, 2012 in Tempe, Ariz., to address topics related to the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. The AMWG committee provides a forum for discussion of topics related to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam and ongoing monitoring of resource conditions downstream of the dam.
A number of agenda items will be covered during the two-day meeting including status updates for on-going work to define desired future conditions, socioeconomic implementation plan elements, and Colorado River resource monitoring and mitigation work. Other key agenda topics include current Upper Colorado River Basin hydrology and Glen Canyon Dam operations, the proposed water year 2013 hydrograph, the status of two Glen Canyon Dam-related environmental assessments, and an update on the environmental analysis for the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan including recently concluded public scoping input.

The AMWG is a federal advisory committee appointed by the Secretary of the Interior with representatives from federal agencies, Colorado River Basin states, Native American Tribal governments, environmental groups, recreation interests, and contractors for federal power from Glen Canyon Dam. The Secretary receives recommendations on how to best protect downstream resources and balance river operations through the varied stakeholder interests represented by the AMWG.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Senator Udall to keep the pressure on the EPA to allow good samaritan cleanups of abandoned mines

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Here’s the release from Senator Udall’s office:

Today, Mark Udall spoke on the Senate floor about the ongoing pollution occuring at abandoned hardrock mines across the West, raising the issue to gain support from his colleagues to find ways for Good Samaritans to clean up those contaminated sites without assuming full legal liability for contamination they did not create. Last week, Udall sent a letter specifically asking the Environmental Protection Agency for a policy that gives Good Samaritans some legal certainty for abandoned mine cleanups. Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California also signed the letter.

“Hardrock mine pollution is a terrible reminder of irresponsible mining in the West. Where Good Samaritans are willing and able to responsibly clean up pollution, leaving our treasured landscapes and watersheds better than they were before, we should do everything we can to support them,” Udall said.

“Good Samaritans are too valuable of a resource to keep on the sidelines. Congress should do what is necessary to bring their efforts to bear on the cleanup of abandoned mine pollution,” Udall concluded in the speech. “Good Samaritans can’t solve all of our abandoned mine pollution problems, but we can’t afford to turn away those willing to help any longer.”

The mines pollute watersheds and endanger the health of communities and wildlife that depend on the clean water downstream. Udall has advocated for a fix to this problem since his days in the House. In 2009, Udall introduced the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act in the Senate (S.1777), which would free Good Samaritan volunteers to help clean up abandoned mines without taking on the liability. Since then, Udall has met with Good Samaritan groups to discuss their efforts, and he continues to work with the EPA to find a way to legally protect these groups that are willing and able to responsibly clean up polluted sites around the state.

Below is text of the speech as prepared for delivery:

Mr./Madam President, I have come to the Floor today to talk about an environmental problem that affects many parts of Colorado as well as other Western states: abandoned hardrock mines. These mines pollute thousands of miles of streams and rivers in America with a toxic soup of heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury. This pollution impairs drinking water and kills aquatic and plant life for miles downstream.

This is a problem that does not get enough attention in Congress. It is my hope that by speaking today I can spur this body and the administration to take greater steps to help solve the problem. I invite my colleagues to join me in this effort.

First, a little background: Starting in the 1800s, miners flocked to the West in search of fortune following the discovery of precious minerals like gold, lead, copper and silver. They settled in places with names like Leadville and Silverton and Gypsum. Mining became an important part of our history, settlement and development in Colorado. But it also left a deadly and dirty legacy.

When a claim was mined for all it was worth, the miner frequently packed up and left without a thought about the lasting problems the mine would cause. This was an era before modern mining laws that hold miners accountable for their impacts on the land. In many cases, it is impossible to identify today the persons responsible for the vast majority of these abandoned mines.

The Government Accountability Office estimates there are over 160,000 such abandoned hardrock mines in the West: 73 hundred are in Colorado, 47 thousand are in California, and another 50 thousand are in Arizona.

Today, highly acidic water still drains from these mines, polluting entire watersheds.

Following the logic that a picture is worth a thousand words, I want to show my colleagues what acid mine drainage looks like. This is the Red and Bonita mine in San Juan County, Colorado, near Silverton. For scale, note the pickup truck on the left hand side. Over 300 gallons of water drain from this mine every minute. The water is contaminated with all kinds of heavy metals that produce the orange and red streaks you see here.

Highly acidic water flows into Cement Creek and eventually into the Animas River, impairing water quality and aquatic life. For a region of Colorado that thrives on tourism, including angling, this situation is extremely harmful.

From EPA data we can conservatively estimate that over 10 thousand miles of streams and rivers and nearly 350 thousand acres of lakes are impaired in this country as a result of acid mine drainage.

So, what is being done?

For one, at those sites where a responsible party can be identified, the federal government has tools at its disposable to hold them accountable.

Also, the federal land management agencies have a variety of programs that mitigate abandoned hardrock mine pollution.

However, the efforts I want to focus on today are those undertaken by a third category of people – entities that had no role in creating the pollution at an abandoned mine yet want to make the site better. Appropriately enough, we refer to these entities as Good Samaritans.

One such Good Samaritan is the Animas River Stakeholders Group in southwestern Colorado. They are working to find solutions to clean up the Red and Bonita Mine.

Often these Good Samaritans are non-profits whose mission is to restore the natural environment. Sometimes they are community groups who want to improve their cities and towns. Sometimes they are mining companies looking to be good stewards in the communities they operate. And sometimes they are state and local governments.

Take, for example, the Tiger Mine near Leadville, Colorado. This picture was taken before any remediation actions were taken. You can see the piles of mine waste and drainage coming from the mine flowing beside it. At peak flows, as much as 150 gallons per minute of water contaminated with cadmium, copper, lead, zinc and iron flows out of the Tiger Mine.

Some remediation work has already been completed, as you can see in this second picture. The mine waste was moved out of the way, capped and revegetated. And ditches were put in above the mine to divert surface water runoff and further reduce contamination.

You can also see in this picture that four pits have been dug below the mine. This represents the next phase of the cleanup being led by Trout Unlimited – another Good Samaritan. Eventually, these pits will become what is known as a sulfate-reducing bioreactor.
As the presiding officer knows, I was not a chemistry major. I won’t attempt to describe how this thing works. But the end result is a good thing: acid mine drainage flows in and cleaner water flows out.

However, Trout Unlimited has run into a problem that has frustrated many Good Samaritans. The bioreactor counts as a point source of pollution. Therefore, before Trout Unlimited can turn the bioreactor “on,” they must obtain a Clean Water Act permit. Trout Unlimited cannot meet the stringent permit requirements without investing in far more expensive water treatment options. Nor can they afford to assume the liability that comes with a permit.

As a result, the bioreactor sits unused. Federal law is, in effect, sidelining some of our best hopes for remediation.

I have tried for several years to give Good Samaritans some relief. I have introduced legislation every congress since 2002 that creates a unique permit specifically for this kind of work. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince enough of my colleagues just how good an idea this is. But I will keep trying.

In addition, I have been working with Senator Boxer to encourage EPA to better use the administrative tools they have at their disposal. Good Samaritans report to me that administrative tools have been cumbersome to use so far and don’t offer the full Clean Water Act protection they need.

So Senator Boxer and I, along with Senator Bennet, have asked EPA to make this tool more accessible to Good Samaritans. And last week we asked the agency to provide Good Samaritans with assurances they will not be subject to enforcement for appropriate actions taken to clean up acid mine pollution.

I am grateful for the work EPA has done to focus on these issues and for Senator Boxer’s leadership.

Good Samaritans are too valuable of a resource to keep on the sidelines. Congress should do what is necessary to bring their efforts to bear on the cleanup of abandoned mine pollution.

Good Samaritans can’t solve all of our abandoned mine pollution problems. But we can’t afford to turn away those willing to help any longer.

More coverage Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

In addition to trying to rally political support with a speech on the Senate floor, Udall sent a letter to the EPA asking for a change in policy that would give Good Samaritans some legal certainty when it comes to the liability for cleanup efforts. Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California also signed the letter.

Certain legal hooks in the Clean Water Act make it challenging for volunteers, so Udall is looking for ways that would enable Good Samaritans to clean up those contaminated sites without assuming full legal liability for contamination they did not create.

More water pollution coverage here.

Snowpack news: Current forecast for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project yield at 45,000 acre-feet with average snowfall for the rest of the season

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

However, there are two very different years to track for comparison so far: Snowpack is about the same as in 2002, when the project yield was only 13,200 acre-feet. The region was in a drought that worsened to historic proportions as the year went on. In 2010, when February levels were similar to this year, the final yield was 55,400 acre-feet — roughly average since diversions began in the mid-1970s. Heavier snowfall brought up the yield in March and April…

Statewide, conditions remain drier than usual. In the Colorado River basin, where Fry-Ark water originates, snowpack is at 71 percent [ed. 70% as of last Friday] of average — some sites are only at 50 percent of average. In the Arkansas River basin, snowpack is at 88 [ed. 85% as of last Friday] percent of average.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Low season flows into Lake Powell have been near normal in recent weeks, with the Colorado River delivering about 356,000 acre feet (99 percent of average) during January, leaving the reservoir about 63 feet below full pool…

For now, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water supply forecast for April through July is predicting an inflow of about 5 million acre feet, which is about 71 percent of average — but that outlook comes with a caveat: “At this time of year however, there is a high level of uncertainty in hydrologic forecasts and the annual release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in WY2012 will ultimately be based on the actual inflows that occur during 2012 rather than this Water Supply forecast,” the USBR wrote in the monthly update.

Looking ahead month by month, the forecasted unregulated inflow to Lake Powell is projected at 390,000 acre feet in February (99 percent of average), 550,000 AF in March (83 percent of average) and 800,000 AF in April (78 percent of average), based on a comparison with the 1981-2010 period.

The best-guess forecast for the 2012 water year is for a total of about 8.5 million AF (78 percent of average), but the forecasters tried to cover all the possible weather bases by saying the total could be as low as 5.5 million AF (51 percent of average) to as high as 12.65 million AF (117 percent of average) “depending on the range of precipitation patterns that could occur over the next several months.”

Bureau of Reclamation Historic Dams and Water Projects: Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary

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From the National Park Service website:

The American West is known for its expansive prairies, great mountains, and arid climate. The Bureau of Reclamation, the nation’s largest supplier of water and second-largest producer of hydroelectric power, controlled the wild rivers of the West with its historic dams and water control projects–great engineering feats constructed by many workers. Damming rivers has provided water to reclaim hundreds of thousands of acres transforming sagebrush to lush farmland, and delivered water to create towns and great cities, allowing the “desert to bloom.” Learn about the vital role of the Bureau of Reclamation in managing, developing, and protecting water in the United States. Explore the history of water in the West and visit the historic dams and water projects that created the West we know today. The Bureau of Reclamation Historic Dams and Water Projects Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary was produced by the National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services and its Intermountain Region Heritage Partnerships Program, in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.”

Here’s the release from the National Park Service (Kathy Kupper):

The American West was dramatically transformed in the early 20th century by dams, reservoirs, and canals built to provide water for irrigation and hydropower generation. The introduction of water to the arid landscape spurred settlement, farming, and economic stability. Learn the fascinating history of 25 engineering marvels that permitted the desert to bloom in the National Park Service’s newest online travel itinerary Bureau of Reclamation Historic Dams and Water Projects: Managing Water in the West. The itinerary, loaded with essays, images, information, and maps, is available at http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/ReclamationDamsAndWaterProjects/index.html.

Each of the 25 historic dams in the itinerary is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which is maintained by the National Park Service. The dams represent the complexities and challenges of building water projects and the significant role the Bureau of Reclamation played in shaping life in the West. Bureau of Reclamation projects, today as in the past, have a sweeping impact on irrigation and municipal and industrial water supplies, hydroelectric power, navigation, flood control, and recreational opportunity.

The National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services and its Intermountain Region Heritage Partnerships Program produced this itinerary in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers. This itinerary is the 54th in the online Discover Our Shared Heritage travel itinerary series. The series supports historic preservation, promotes public awareness of history, and encourages visits to historic places throughout the country.

Thanks to Bob Berwyn (Summit County Citizens Voice) for the heads up.

More infrastructure coverage here.

The La Plata Water Conservancy District to turn dirt for the long-proposed Longhollow Reservoir

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The approval of an escrow agreement allows the La Plata Water Conservancy District to break ground on the Longhollow Reservoir. “It’s been 15 or 20 years,” Lee said Friday. “Things move slow, but we’re getting there.”

Groundbreaking could occur as early as next month, said Lee, president of the water district. The reservoir will be located just east of Colorado Highway 140 about five miles north of the New Mexico state line. It will store 5,400 acre-feet of water – 300 of them to help satisfy Colorado’s La Plata River obligation to New Mexico. The remainder is for irrigators in the arid southwest corner of La Plata County…

Longhollow Creek and drainage from Government Draw will fill the reservoir. The project will cost about $22.5 million.

More La Plata River coverage here.

President Obama’s budget request includes dough for the Arkansas Valley Conduit

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

About $3 million is included in the president’s budget to complete the Environmental Impact Statement being prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation. “We’re very, very pleased. This allows us to finish the process and play with some of the technical pieces,” [Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Executive Director Jim Broderick] said.

The draft EIS is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The project would be built by 2022 at the soonest.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.