Snowpack news: Steamboat Springs gets dumped on, Yampa River basin snowpack at 75%, South Platte — 90%

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the latest snowpack map for Colorado from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. We finally have a “green” basin again — the South Platte basin.

From Steamboat Today (Jack Weinstein):

Steamboat Smokehouse owner Fritz Aurin said the snowstorm that has left behind more than 3 feet of snow in the past two days is nothing but good news, not only for him but also for many local businesses.

And he’s not alone in attributing the potential for local businesses to generate more revenue to the recent snowfall — nearly 6 feet in the past two weeks. Some local business owners said more snow leads to more visitors who become customers and provide a boost for Steamboat’s economy.

“From my point of view, people who come to Steamboat for any reason are good possible restaurant customers,” he said. “The key is to get them here and to have a reason to get them here. … There’s no doubt that it’s never too late to get the big snow.”

Colorado Water 2012: Hydrography — The science of measuring streamflow

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Here’s the latest installment in their Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

For the Rio Grande Compact, seven streamflow gaging stations are operated in the San Luis Valley to account for the water originating in the Conejos and Rio Grande systems and the water delivered from these systems to New Mexico. The Hydrographic Branch of the Colorado Division of Water Resources operates these seven gaging stations along with 73 other gaging stations across the San Luis Valley.

In addition to the Compact gages, stations are operated on natural streams and creeks to help water commissioners allocate the available water to water users, maintain a historic record of water in the stream, account for trans-mountain water brought into the basin, record water diverted at critical diversion structures, and provide valuable information to recreational enthusiasts such as kayakers and fishermen.

The data from these sites may be later used for water supply planning, flood warning, environmental studies, and basin modeling, such as the Rio Grande Decision Support System (RGDSS).

Meanwhile, USGS streamflow gages are facing funding cuts. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

…for years, ranchers, town planners and even angler and kayakers have relied on a huge network of streamflow gages maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey to help monitor water quality, measure and predict peak spring runoff and flooding potential, or even just the best time run some whitewater or to go fishing. In some places, the streamflow information is critical to helping protect endangered species.

But that network is shrinking, due mainly to budget constraints that already forced the USGS to shut down stations around the country. Just in the past few years, the agency stopped operating 133 water quality stations, many in New Mexico and Florida.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: ‘A day without water’ video contest

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Click here for the announcement from Your Colorado Water Blog and the Water 2012 gang.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

2012 Colorado November election: The Colorado Water Congress is beating the drum against initiatives 3 and 45

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Initiatives 3 and 45, sponsored by Richard Hamilton of Fairplay and his attorney Phil Doe, seek to apply the public trust doctrine to Colorado water rights with a constitutional change.

The Water Congress, which represents varied statewide water interests, has hired Steve Leonhardt to appeal a state title board decision on the grounds that the initiatives do not adhere to the single-subject rule, said Doug Kemper, CWC executive director.

If the initiative reaches the [ballot], CWC as a group will have less ability to fight it, because the group has many members from public-funded entities. Other groups, such as the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Pueblo Board of Water Works have expressed similar concerns in recent weeks.

More 2012 Colorado November election coverage here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: Aaron Million plans to try again for a FERC permit for the project

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From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

…Million says he’ll resubmit the application in a couple of weeks. The commission said Million’s application was premature because there is no pipeline and no specifics about the proposed pipeline. Million says he sees FERC’s objections as relatively minor…

The idea has drawn strong opposition from the state of Wyoming, local governments and various conservation groups…

Million this week issued a request for proposals to permit and build the project. He said he plans to continue working to develop the project and resubmit the application with updated information.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

Opponents of the proposal, which include the state of Wyoming, hope any subsequent applications meet the same demise. “FERC is still going to have to consider public comment, and I think maybe this guy’s not listening to what people are trying to tell him,” Green River Mayor Hank Castillon said.

The commission on Thursday issued an order through Jeff Wright, director of FERC’s office of energy projects, saying Million’s application was premature and lacked specifics about the proposed pipeline.

Opponents hailed the decision while Million downplayed its significance…

The state of Wyoming, local governments and various groups have opposed the plan, worrying it would draw down Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is fed mainly by the Green River. They maintain recreation, the local economy and the environment would all be hurt. “This is a pipeline that’s going to devastate the Green River,” said McCrystie Adams, staff attorney for Earthjustice…

Steve Jones, watershed protection program attorney with the Wyoming Outdoor Council in Lander, said the “hydropower part of this project was more sort of a subterfuge than anything else” in order for Million to avoid going through the Army Corps of Engineers. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead also questioned whether FERC was the proper agency to handle the permitting.

Thursday’s FERC order did not specifically say it was not the proper agency to review the project, but it noted that it could not properly consider Million’s application because no pipeline exists and there was no information from Million about seeking authorization for a pipeline.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a zombie. It’s just staggering around looking for anything to latch onto to keep it alive,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, a Western Resources Advocates energy policy analyst. But Aaron Million says he’s undaunted and soliciting bids after investing millions in planning the pipeline. He’ll submit new engineering and pipeline details within two weeks.

And Parker water manager Frank Jaeger is moving ahead with a rival project to divert water from Wyoming. Jaeger says he has 19 water utilities committed — mostly in southern suburbs dependent on depleted underground aquifers. State natural resources planners also are exploring possibilities for diverting unallocated water from Wyoming and have planned a forum featuring both Million and Jaeger…

[Population growth] control is one possibility, said Zeke Hersh, owner of Blue River Anglers in Frisco, part of a recreation-oriented business coalition opposed to a permit for Million’s project. “Growth’s great, but we need jobs. People come here for a reason and, if there’s no water in rivers, people aren’t going to be coming here.”[…]

Meanwhile Jaeger, manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District, has enlisted 19 public water providers in Cheyenne, Castle Rock, Parker and elsewhere around south metro Denver who have committed to buy 105,000 acre-feet of diverted water. Jaeger said he’ll complete a full investigation before applying for permits. “Conservation is not the solution. Conservation is a management tool.”

A state task force, launched last year using funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is exploring water diversions from Wyoming despite opposition from Wyoming’s governor. Task force leaders invited Million and Jaeger to discuss their ideas on March 27. “FERC’s action does not affect Colorado’s plans, which at this stage are simply to learn more about the project proposal as part of our ongoing conversation about addressing the challenge of meeting the state’s long-term water needs,” state natural resources spokesman Todd Hartman said.

More coverage from Troy Hooper writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

“Our region’s economy depends upon river flows that can support recreation and tourism,” said Arvin Ramgoolam, owner of Rumors Coffee and Townie Books in Crested Butte. “The state should be working to protect and promote jobs out here rather than pursuing dead end projects that will rob the resources on which our jobs depend,” Ramgoolam said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board recently funded a “project exploration committee” that is considering the Flaming Gorge pipeline. The task force held its first meeting Jan. 12 in Silverthorne, and is scheduled to continue meeting to discuss the pipeline through the end of the year…

A Western Resource Advocates study said the pipeline would deprive the Green River of almost a quarter of its flow, and result in a $58.5 million annual loss to the region’s recreation economy. The same study said it would produce the most expensive water ever seen in Colorado.

Protect the Flows, a coalition of over 370 businesses who depend upon the Colorado River system, says it is rounding up resolutions opposing the pipeline from local governments. “This is a victory for Colorado’s economy, the West Slope’s Economy, water users and our communities. It’s time to get past this proposal once and for all,” Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.

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

After the proposal faltered and languished in the early review stages by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Million suddenly tried to reinvent the pipeline as an energy project, switching the review process to the FERC.

The pipeline was controversial from day one, drawing opposition from the environmental community as well as from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, representing the Colorado Western Slope. The River District characterized the project as speculative and said there was no evidence that any of the projected users could pay for the pipeline. Environmental groups tabbed it as a boondoggle that would result in the most expensive water developement project ever in Colorado. The agency said it received more than 200 comments.

Proponent Aaron Million said his understanding is that FERC wanted more details on the exact route. He plans to resubmit his plans well within the 60-[day] rehearing period. “We’ll have something in within a couple of weeks. We’ve cowboyed through worse,” he said, describing the rejection as just another step in the permitting process.

More coverage from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

Since Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water, submitted its application to FERC in September, the federal government’s chief hydropower regulator received hundreds of public comments from residents, city governments and a host of environmental groups in Wyoming and Colorado objecting to the pipeline partly because of the volume of water it would remove from the Green River and its possible impact on Fort Collins’ Soapstone Prairie Natural Area…

“These hydropower projects are exclusively dependent on water from the proposed water supply pipeline,” FERC Energy Projects Office Director Jeff Wright said in the agency’s dismissal letter Thursday. “However, this pipeline does not currently exist, and Wyco’s application does not provide any information about the timeline for seeking and obtaining the necessary authorizations for the construction and operation of such a pipeline.” Until the pipeline is built, permissions for its route obtained or the process to establish the pipeline’s route nearly completed, Million has no ability to provide the information necessary for FERC to issue him a permit, Wright said…

He said he’s so confident the project will move ahead that Wyco issued a request for proposals this week, “a $3 billion RFP for design-build-finance-operate.” “Our first call was out of Australia,” he said. “The big national and international engineering and construction firms have shown tremendous interest in this project. We’re getting calls from all over the world.”[…]

McCrystie Adams, an attorney for Earthjustice in Denver, called the pipeline a “water grab.” “This pipeline would have devastated the Green River – one of the West’s last great rivers – to enable unfettered development and sprawl. FERC made the right decision,” Adams said.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

FERC’s permission was needed for the pipeline’s water to be used to generate electricity. FERC isn’t the only federal agency to review the project. In May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted its review of the pipeline proposal. At the time, Million told the Corps that he was shifting the pipeline’s focus from moving water to generating electricity and was shifting his focus from the Corps’ permitting process to FERC.

More coverage from MJ Clark writing for the Wyoming Business Report. From the article:

The $7 billion, 501-mile long pipeline, the brainchild of Fort Collins businessman Aaron Million, had initially applied for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. After working on the application for two years, the Corps cancelled his application on July 14, 2011. A number of claims about this pipeline proposal, such as the amount of power it could potentially generate and the water demand in Colorado necessitating such a project, are not backed by the facts on the ground and deserve further investigation, the corps said.

Million called reporters on July 15, 2011, announcing he would apply instead to the FERC, because of the potential hydro-power component of the project. At the time, he said the FERC application would shorten the time line “dramatically.”[…]

On Oct. 18, 2011 the FERC issued public notice of Wyco’s proposal. Motions to intervene were filed by conservationists, utility companies, outfitting associations, conservation districts and by Sweetwater County in Wyoming (home to both the Green River and most of Flaming Gorge). The pipeline was also opposed by the state of Wyoming. By January, more than 250 businesses from seven states had announced their opposition to the pipeline.

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

[Aaron Million] added the agency seemed most uncertain over the location of the seven hydropower components in his proposal. “We thought we had addressed them, but obviously not well enough,” he said. “They left open the window to get the documentation that is needed.”

More coverage from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

“This is kind of a non-issue,” Million said, saying he expected the rejection. It won’t be difficult to provide “finality” about the pipeline routing or to complete an environmental report over the next 18 months, he said.

Hailing the decision as “a victory for West Slope communities and water users,” [Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca] said the pipeline poses a threat to Colorado’s water future and wellbeing.

The rejection “amounted to a pretty dramatic statement for a federal agency,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. It was as if the agency looked at the project and decided: “How many resources should we be spending on this?” Treese said.[…]

Grand Junction, Fruita, the [Colorado] River District and several other agencies in western Colorado all opposed the project…

“It’s a natural evolution of the development of water in the western U.S.,” Million said. To make it work, “You need to be as tough as they are on the Utah desert.”

Here’s a release from Earth Justice (McCrystie/Taylor McKinnon)

Today, a scheme to build the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline—one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States—was dismissed by a federal agency. The pipeline would have devastated the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harmed the Colorado River downstream. The dismissal of the preliminary permit application by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is a significant setback for the plans of a private developer to turn water into profits.

“FERC made the right call,” said McCrystie Adams, Earthjustice staff attorney in Denver. “This proposal would have drained the Green River, placing local economies, recreation, fish and wildlife in jeopardy. We are confident that this project will never be approved. We will continue to oppose any project that threatens the West’s rivers and way of life like the Flaming Gorge proposal did.”

The applicant, Aaron Million, previously sought a permit for the pipeline from 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 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Despite the modifications, the project remained a huge energy hog—the proposal included at least nine air-polluting natural gas-fired pumping stations that would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Million has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would have used more energy than the project would have created through hydropower.

“It’s hard to imagine a worse idea, in this era of global warming, than burning fossil fuels to pump already-imperiled rivers hundreds of miles across mountains to fuel sprawl,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s decision is a victory for rivers, endangered fish and people—a victory we hope proves fatal for the pipeline proposal.”

A coalition of 10 conservation groups from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona, the Colorado River Protection Coalition, intervened in the FERC review of the pipeline project. The coalition, represented by Earthjustice, called upon FERC to deny the permit on numerous grounds.

The coalition’s lead argument—and the one that FERC adopted in its decision—was that the pipeline was a water supply project requiring environmental review and approval of a massive pipeline and diversion, not merely a “hydropower project,” and thus FERC’s involvement in the process was premature. The Colorado River Protection Coalition argued that the pipeline was unlikely to gain necessary approvals due to the irrevocable harm to the Green and Colorado Rivers and other extreme environmental damage that would be associated with the pipeline’s construction and operation. Specifically, the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline would likely violate the Endangered Species Act, would adversely affect four national wildlife refuges, and would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area, in addition to a number of other impacts.

Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, Utah Rivers Council, Rocky Mountain Wild, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, and Glen Canyon Institute.

Here’s a short audio clip from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead commenting on the FERC action.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

San Luis: Disinfection of the town’s water supply system may be complete today, don’t drink the water (unless you boil it)

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Tyson Ingels, lead drinking water engineer with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said crews planned to fill the system’s 300,000-gallon storage tank with chlorinated water then run it through the distribution pipes that serve 414 taps. Routine sampling of the town’s water supply came back positive for E. coli Wednesday, prompting a boiled water advisory for all of the town’s residents.

As of Thursday evening, there had been no reported illnesses from the contamination, according to the Costilla County Public Health Department…

Still to be determined, is whether the water and sanitation district will have to chlorinate its water after this week. Ron Falco, manager of the state health department’s drinking water program, said the positive test didn’t automatically mean the district would lose its disinfection waiver. But he said the district’s waiver and the contamination would be up for a thorough review once the system is up and operating again. The sanitation district, like six other distribution systems in the valley, delivers untreated groundwater to its customers.

More water treatment coverage here.