Stacy Tellinghuisen (Western Resource Advocates): ‘The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a zombie’

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Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane) sent this release via email:

In an unusual denial report, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) officially dismissed a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline this morning. This marks the second federal agency to dismiss an application from Aaron Million (in July 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers terminated its review of the pipeline proposal) and casts new doubts on whether the State of Colorado should continue to spend taxpayer money studying the flawed plan.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a zombie,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, Water & Energy Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates. “It’s just staggering around looking for anything to latch onto to keep it alive, while everyone else is running away screaming.”

In its order dismissing a preliminary permit application from Aaron Million and Wyco Power and Water, Inc., FERC was clear that the project is nowhere near being ready for even an introductory review:

“Until some certainty regarding the authorization of the pipeline is presented, Wyco will not be able to gather and obtain the information required to prepare a license application for a proposed hydropower project. Therefore, there is no purpose under the FPA for issuing a permit to Wyco for its proposed hydropower project at this time. For this reason, Wyco’s preliminary permit application is dismissed as premature.”

Said Robert Harris, Staff Attorney with Western Resource Advocates: “I can’t recall ever seeing a similar decision. The rejection here isn’t being made on minor technical deficiencies, which is what happens most commonly. We’re pleased with this ruling because it essentially acknowledges that there are significant, fundamental holes in the basic premise of the pipeline proposal.”

The decision from FERC that the pipeline is not ready for additional review should inform other studies on this project, including discussion via an “exploratory committee” funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB ) last fall. Governor John Hickenlooper should take a new look at the necessity of continuing to use taxpayer-funded resources to explore the Flaming Gorge Pipeline.

“There are a lot of local governments, nonprofit organizations and individual stakeholders who came to this same conclusion a long time ago,” said Becky Long with Colorado Environmental Coalition. “The Flaming Gorge Pipeline idea just doesn’t make sense no matter how many different times you look at it, and that’s not going to change.”

Million had been seeking a federal permit from FERC to review his ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) proposal to pump 81 billion gallons of water a year for more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates (WRA) filed objections to the application in representing itself, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC); in total, more than 5,000 objections were filed in December 2011 to Wyco’s proposal.

Opposition to the Flaming Gorge Pipeline has continued to grow since December. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has formally objected to the proposal, as have numerous local governments in both Colorado and Wyoming (such as Grand Junction, CO and Laramie, WY).

For More Information on the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, go to: http://www.westernresourceadvocates.org/water/pipeline/million.php

To read the FERC denial in full, go to: http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/OpenNat.asp?fileID=12900017.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: Paonia Reservoir turns 50

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From the Delta County Independent (Kathy Browning):

The Paonia Reservoir was the first project to be completed in the Colorado River Storage Project. Crawford Reservoir was another of those projects but it was not completed until later.

“We are going to have a 50 year celebration this summer,” Dixie Luke of the Gunnison Round Table said. “Paonia Reservoir was built for and by the people of the United States.”

The celebration will be Aug. 6. A lot of the details are still being completed at this time…

Luke would like those who have historic photographs of the Paonia Reservoir to send those to the Hotchkiss-Crawford Historical Society.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Sand Creek: Benzene laden groundwater flows are still reaching the creek

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

State regulators say they’re working with Suncor to find a way to block the toxic material from burbling into the bed of Sand Creek. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data — from samples taken by Suncor — showed benzene concentrations at 720 parts per billion on Jan. 9 at the point where Sand Creek meets the South Platte, up from 190 on Jan. 6, and 144 times higher than the 5 ppb national drinking-water standard. Benzene is a chemical found in crude oil that is classified as cancer-causing, especially affecting blood. Downriver on the South Platte, the data show benzene at 240 ppb on Jan. 9, a decrease from 590 on Jan. 6 but still 48 times higher than the standard…

Spilled contaminants from decades of refinery operations at the site have seeped underground, “and it is snaking through. The pressures change. It finds the path of least resistance, and that’s apparently what has happened: It has found the path of least resistance to get into Sand Creek,” Colorado health department environmental-programs director Martha Rudolph said in an interview last week…

Preventing further pollution of Sand Creek has become a top-tier priority, Rudolph said. “We need to accelerate our responding to that particular issue — to get it out of Sand Creek, to stop that.”[…]

OSHA lacks jurisdiction to look into the situation at the nearby Metro Wastewater plant, where toxic vapors forced workers to wear respirators and the closure of a technical-services building.
That building was reopened last week. Workers no longer wear respirators, and after three rounds of drinking-water tests, no benzene has been detected, Metro Wastewater spokesman Steve Frank said…

Suncor will build a large slurry wall made of claylike material along Sand Creek and collector trenches to protect waterways — as well as a trench system and wall on Suncor’s property to prevent the spread of hydrocarbons, she said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Wildlife area named to honor water leaders

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife:

To pay tribute to two former community leaders who advocated for land and water conservation in the San Luis Valley, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has renamed a portion of the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area in their honor.

Doug Shriver and Ray Wright, native sons of the San Luis Valley who were farmers, conservationists and sportsmen, died together in an unfortunate winter accident in 2010.

The new Shriver-Wright State Wildlife Area, encompassing 121 acres, is on the western side of the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area near Monte Vista. Parks and Wildlife is working with the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust to develop the site as a watchable wildlife area, and as a place where people can learn about the convergence of water, agriculture and wildlife in the San Luis Valley.

“This important wildlife area on the Rio Grande is adjacent to a major agricultural area and shows how these two important land-uses coexist throughout the San Luis Valley,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager in Monte Vista. “The memorial established in this place is fitting for men who were farmers, sportsmen and leaders in the world of water.”

The San Luis Valley community is invited to a dedication ceremony at the site at 2:30 p.m., March 10 during the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival. The dedication is a joint effort of Parks and Wildlife and the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust.

“These men were an inspiration to our organization,” said Rio de la Vista, project coordinator for the land trust. “They provided much-needed guidance about the importance of keeping water connected to the land through our conservation efforts.”

Wright, who grew up in Monte Vista and lived in the area his whole life, served for many years as president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and as a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Shriver, also a lifelong resident, was president of the Rio Grande Water Users Association, and served on the Colorado Groundwater Commission.

Besides their roots in agriculture, both were avid outdoorsmen and valued wildlife, de la Vista said.

The land trust, founded in 1999, is dedicated to preserving working ranches and farms, with a focus on the riparian zones along the Rio Grande throughout the San Luis Valley. With the participation of many partners through its Rio Grande Initiative, the trust has secured conservation easements on more than 22,000 acres of land encompassing 36 miles of the Rio Grande.

“This is a way that the community can come together to provide a special place where people can enjoy the river corridor and the wildlife that depends upon it, along with appreciating the precious water that sustains so much of what we all care about here,” de la Vista said.

Some state officials are scheduled to speak at the ceremony: John Salazar, a native of the valley and Colorado’s agricultural commissioner; Mike King, director of the state Department of Natural Resources; and Roxanne White, chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.

For more information about the dedication or to learn more about the land trust, see http://www.riograndelandtrust.org, or call its Del Norte office at 719-657-0800.

To learn more about Colorado’s state wildlife areas, see: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/StateWildlifeAreas/Pages/swa.aspx.

WHAT: Dedication of the new Shriver-Wright State Wildlife Area
WHEN: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, March 10
WHERE: Shriver-Wright State Wildlife Areas (west side of Rio Grande State Wildlife Area) East of Monte Vista, Rio Grande County Road 3E, just north of the Home Lake Veteran’s Home.
INFORMATION: 719-657-0800

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: The snowpack is edging upward across the state, Colorado River basin climbs to 75% of average

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Forecasters are expecting a storm to move through the state Monday and Tuesday. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the current snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The highest totals are still east of the Continenal Divide — unusual for a La Niña year — with an 87 percent reading in the Arkansas Basin, 85 percent in the upper Rio Grande, 75 percent in the North Platte and 90 percent in the South Platte Basin, which is a crucial basin for Front Range water supplies and affects how much water will need to be diverted from the Western Slope. West of the Continental Divide, the Colorado River Basin snowpack is now at 75 percent of average, up slightly from the beginning of the month. The northwest corner of the state made the biggest gains, as the Yampa and White River basins saw the biggest dumps of snow in the past few weeks, lifting the snowpack to 75 percent of average. And in the southwestern corner of the state, the San Miguel, Dolores and Animas basins are now at a respectable 79 percent of average, with the Gunnnison Basin at 75 percent.

DARCA annual conference: Gary Barber — ‘Irrigated land in Colorado is looking very good to investors’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Irrigated land in Colorado is looking very good to investors,” Gary Barber, president of the Two Rivers Water Co. told the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance annual conference Thursday. “Colorado, being at the top of the system, is looking better.” Barber explained that water supply for food is a global problem, with China controlling farms in Africa to grow food for its people. Investors are looking at opportunities for food production worldwide…

Two Rivers, a company that is trying to redevelop Huerfano-Cucharas Irrigation Co. farms in Pueblo County and reservoirs in Huerfano County, has entered into a lease for water at $200 per acre-foot from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. The price is higher than typical spot market purchases by farms in the valley…

Since the historic drought of 2002, the state has focused on a gap in municipal supplies, with the goal of avoiding drying up more farmland. The roundtable formed a committee headed by Beulah rancher Reeves Brown to look at ways to put the gap in ag water on the same plane as the municipal need.

There is a need. This year, the Pueblo Board of Water Works received offers to purchase more than 50,000 acre-feet of water from ditches and farmers, but filled only one-quarter of them. The average price for successful bidders was $74 per acre-foot, about 60 percent higher than recent years.