Snowpack news: Eagle River basin snowpack at 74% of average


From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The Colorado River Basin snowpack, Eagle County’s river basin, started February at 69 percent of average, slightly lower than the statewide 72 percent average, but managed to creep up a few percentage points to 74 percent due to a few snow storms here and there, said Mage Skordahl, the assistant snow survey supervisor at the National Resources Conservation Center’s Snow Survey Office in Denver…

“We finally started getting some snow storms on the western side of the (Continental) Divide, which we hadn’t had much of that,” Skordahl said. “Conditions are improving, but at this point in the season you really have to be well above average for the rest of the season to meet our April 1 average numbers. I would say at this point, that’s pretty unlikely.” The forecast for stream flow volumes from April through July are all below average as of now, at about 70 percent for the state, she said. But luckily, this winter comes on the heels of a really good winter in 2010-11, so many of the reservoirs are full. “Statewide, (water) storage is average or above average,” Skordahl said. “About 80 percent of spring and summer stream flow comes from mountain snowpack.”[…]

Locally, reservoir storage is healthy, but reservoirs are less important to Eagle County than they are to other areas in the state. Diane Johnson, spokeswoman for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said reservoirs here are “more strategic — they do not serve as a direct water supply.” “Our reservoirs serve to replace our depletion in the streams,” Johnson said. “It’s still important for us to have them full — we expect them to fill this year.”

From The Durango Herald (Doug Ramsey):

While many people I talk to think that we have had a good winter, the true information is that we are quite a bit behind on our snowpack and water supply in Southwest Colorado, as is most of the rest of the state. As of Tuesday, the San Juan Mountains are only holding about 81 percent of the average snowpack and stored water. From this data, the NRCS forecasts that we will have only 70 to 80 percent of our average stream flows this spring.

As an irrigator on the La Plata River, I could be in for a tough year if we continue in the current La Niña weather patterns that have prevailed this winter. With warm storms and limited precipitation, the outlook for everyone who depends on our rivers could be disappointing. With the threat of an early spring and possible dust storms to coat the snow, we could see our runoff gone before it can be enjoyed.

As I make my plans for the summer, the limited irrigation supply will affect how I fertilize, irrigate and make pasture rotations. As I look forward to spring, I will have to wait and see just how much irrigation water the mountains will give us. Until then, I will keep busy: It is almost shearing time, and then there will be baby lambs greeting me in the mornings.

Outfitter Reed Dils: A voice for recreation and the environment on the committee evaluating the Flaming Gorge pipeline


From The Mountain Mail (Cailey McDermott):

Reed Dils of Salida is serving on the 20-member committee studying issues related to the proposed 578-mile pipeline to move water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to the Colorado Front Range…

Dils said he has served on the Arkansas Basin Round Table as a recreational-environmental representative since its inception…

Dils said the committee’s task is to study all related issues, but “it’s not a process of determining whether the project is good or bad.” Effects to Western Slope water providers, environmental impacts to endangered fish in the Green River and the effects of water leaving the gorge are a few issues, he said.

So far, Dils has attended one meeting and said about four more are planned. He said anticipation is for study completion in the fall.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Commerce City: Council vote on oil and gas moratorium February 27


From YourHub (Joey Kirchmer) via The Denver Post:

The city will review an ordinance to place a six-month moratorium on oil and gas activities at its Feb. 27 meeting. The measure passed unanimously on first reading in December, but council has delayed the second reading to allow more time for dialogue.

The issue comes largely in response to public outcry over plans for an existing well at East 96th Avenue and Tower Road in Commerce City…

The oil and gas review committee, which is comprised of residents, industry, interest groups and council members, has been meeting for the past month and a half, but has not come to a consensus on any recommendations for City Council, she said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

The Republican River Water Conservation District is offering a tour of the Republican River compliance pipeline project March 9


From The Yuma Pioneer:

The Republican River Water Conservation District is offering a tour of the pipeline project for the public on Friday, March 9, beginning at 1:30 pm at the District meeting room located at 410 Main Street in Wray. Due to safety concerns, there will be a limited number of participants allowed to attend the tour.

Garney Construction will be installing 36 inch ductile-iron transmission pipe during the tour. Sessions Construction of Wray will be installing pvc pipe connecting the collection lines in the well field.

Anyone interested in attending the tour must contact the District office at (970) 332-3552. The District is limiting the number of participants for the tour and will offer additional tour dates if there is enough interest expressed from the public. If you have any questions concerning the pipeline or the tour please contact the District office at 970-332-3552.

More Republican River basin coverage here and here.

Moffat County: The COGCC is requiring baseline testing of groundwater as a condition for most permits in the Niobrara shale play


From the Craig Daily Press (Joe Moylan):

Although groundwater testing is currently done on a voluntary basis by the energy industry, Kerr said the COGCC will mandate baseline testing of water wells, groundwater aquifers and springs as a condition of drilling permit approval.

The circumstances under which baseline testing must occur varies, Kerr said. Sometimes the COGCC requires groundwater testing based on the recommendations of local government officials, as was the case in the Raton Field of southeastern Colorado, the Piceance Basin near Rifle and the San Juan Basin outside of Durango. “In the San Juan Basin we wanted to do testing because they are working shallow coal seams, which are very close to the ground water aquifers,” Kerr said…

“We like to have baseline testing done in areas that are new to exploration and development,” Kerr said. “That part of the Niobrara is right in the midst of the exploration play, and we have made (baseline) testing a requirement for most of the companies working there.”

So far, the big players in Moffat County are Shell Oil Company, Quicksilver Resources and Gulfport Energy…

Baseline testing is simply choosing water wells near a proposed drill site and checking for the presence of certain chemicals and natural gas. Chemical presence may occur naturally along with natural gas, but companies are required to return to water well test sites a year after drilling is complete to see if chemical or natural gas levels have changed. In some instances, companies may be required to return to test water wells again three and six years after drilling is complete.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

The USDA yank’s the dough for Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District’s new wastewater facility


From the Pagosa Daily Post (Jim McQuiggin):

Last Wednesday, the Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District (PSSGID) received word from the USDA that an application for those funds had been considered, “voluntarily withdrawn” and that the money would be, “de-obligated.” Over a year ago, the Town of Pagosa Springs received notice from the USDA that it would receive funds for the construction of a wastewater treatment facility. The money included $3,145,000 in loans (at 2-percent interest) and $787,000 in grants. Along with other funds secured three years ago (a $2 million loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and a $1.25 million grant from the Department of Local Affairs), the Town of Pagosa Springs had just over $7 million to construct the plant…

Bids for construction of the wastewater treatment plant, submitted in mid-April 2009, ranged from $5.9 million to $8.8 million. Unfortunately for PSSGID, even low bids for the project came in around $1.15 million over budget.

USDA funds, although obligating the town to nearly four decades of debt and town sewer customers to fees almost 130 percent above Colorado average rates, would have allowed the PSSGID to construct a plant meeting CDPHE standards for wastewater treatment.

With that funding pulled, it is unclear how the town will treat its sewage, despite a plan proposed late last year by Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District representatives to pump the town’s sewage to a newly-constructed $9.3 million facility operated by PAWSD.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

The City of Pueblo supports the phosphorus-only alternative for proposed new nutrient standards for wastewater treatment plants


Here’s a guest column written by Gene Michael [wastewater director for the city of Pueblo] running in The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The state’s original proposal, Regulation 31, would set stringent standards for phosphorus and nitrogen that would cost approximately $25 billion to implement statewide, according to a cost-benefit study conducted by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

An alternative, Regulation 85, would reduce the immediate cost to about $2.5 billion statewide by postponing the more stringent requirement for 10 years. In addition to cost considerations, there are flaws in the scientific methods used to develop the proposed standards that are too complex to discuss here.

Either of these alternatives would require a greater level of wastewater treatment than Pueblo’s water reclamation facility can provide. It will be necessary to raise wastewater rates to comply.

Pueblo supports the third alternative, which sets standards for phosphorus only. The phosphorus-only alternative would cost only about $521 million statewide, because removing nitrogen to low levels is much more costly than removing phosphorus. We know it will work because Colorado has successfully used phosphorus-only controls to protect large lakes and drinking water reservoirs, including Lake Dillon, Chatfield Reservoir, and Cherry Creek Reservoir for more than 20 years. Pueblo’s water reclamation facility will be able to meet a phosphorus-only limit without taking on more debt for construction of new facilities.

Pueblo and the United States in general have a split personality when it comes to water quality. On one hand, everyone knows we need and want clean water. On the other hand, nobody wants to pay. And therein lies the issue. The living cells of your body produce waste products that the body has to eliminate. And when we do, the materials we flush away are rich in phosphorus and nitrogen. With nutrients, you cause the issue, and you have to pay for it.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Loveland and other municipalities are seeing increased revenues selling water for hydraulic fracturing


From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

As gas producers expand their operations into the western fringe of the Wattenberg field in Larimer and Boulder counties, their demands for water reach into municipalities up and down the Front Range, Loveland among them. “We’re not selling as much as other providers, because we’re further away from most of the activity,” said Loveland water resources engineer Greg Dewey. “But it has become a significant source of income for us.”[…]

Loveland does not disclose names of water customers for privacy reasons, nor do other cities in the region. But the dominant supplier of water to the industry, Fort Lupton-based A&W Water Service Inc., sends its tanker trucks to Loveland on a regular basis to load water at designated city hydrants to take to drilling sites…

Loveland water manager Dewey said A&W and other suppliers draw about 2 million gallons monthly, a tiny fraction of what other municipalities in the region provide. They pay at the rate of $1 for 300 gallons, more than twice what Loveland homeowners pay for their usage. And, the industry’s purchases from Loveland make scarcely a dent in the city’s supply…

Greeley, located in the heart of the Wattenberg field, has a long history of providing water to the petroleum industry and its supply share is vastly greater than Loveland’s. That city’s sales are measured in acre-feet rather than gallons. “The amount has risen rather dramatically in the past couple of years,” Greeley water manager Jon Monson said. “And, the industry is telling us to expect something like a 30 percent increase this year.” In 2010, the city sold 860 acre-feet of water, equal to 280 million gallons. Last year, the number climbed to 1,500 acre-feet, or just under half a billion gallons. By comparison, the city used 22,000 acre-feet last year and rented another 26 acre-feet to farmers.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

The Pueblo Chieftain’s Chris Woodka snags three awards from the Colorado Press Association


Readers will recognize Chris Woodka’s name from the numerous mentions here’s on Coyote Gulch. Prolific, accurate and professional are words that come to mind to describe Chris and his work. He picked up three well-deserved awards this week from the Colorado Press Association. Here’s a report from The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

– The Chieftain’s special report “Coming Up Short,” examining the plight of Southern Colorado’s water supply, was a double-winner. It placed first in the series category and doubled up with a second place as a special section. The stories were written by Chris Woodka, photographs were taken by Bryan Kelsen and the pages were designed by Cheri Zanotelli.

– Woodka also received a third place for agriculture reporting.

Congratulations Chris and keep that incisive eye on water issues across the state. The Chieftain has become the paper of record for water issues in Colorado — largely due to your efforts.