Cotter plans to route Ralston Creek through a temporary pipeline around the Schwartzwalder Mine

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Nobody wants Cotter Corp.’s re-routing of Ralston Creek to be permanent. Federal biologists say the pine-studded creek corridor through a picturesque canyon is habitat for the endangered Preble’s Jumping Mouse

Cotter work crews on Monday were completing a 21-foot-deep concrete-and-steel structure designed to channel all surface and shallow groundwater through an 18-inch-diameter black plastic pipeline running 4,000 feet around the Schwartzwalder Mine, once the nation’s largest underground uranium mine. As a condition of its 10-year federal permit, Cotter must irrigate the creek corridor to ensure that trees and wildlife survive. “This is a temporary bypass that will allow us to do the permanent fix,” Cotter vice president John Hamrick said. “We really are trying to do the right thing here.”[…]

Cotter also has agreed to use excavators and seven sump pumps to remove uranium from contaminated groundwater near the mine’s 2,000-foot-deep shaft, where uranium levels top 24,000 ppb. The sump pumping and subsequent treatment of contaminated groundwater over the past 18 months has removed about 1 ton of uranium that otherwise could have flowed into metro drinking water. That uranium sits in a guarded facility here until it can be trucked to a radioactive-waste dump…

State mining inspectors say uranium-laced water inside the mine shaft “is finding other ways out of the mine pool” and into groundwater and the creek beyond the mine. “The only way to fix that,” [Loretta Pineda, director of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety] said, “is to draw down the mine pool and treat it.”

Cotter favors a different approach. While Hamrick acknowledged there may be some underground pathways between the mine shaft and Ralston Creek, he and Cotter health physicist Randy Whicker on Monday said pumping toxic water out of the mine makes no sense.
Such a project would require construction of a large plastic-lined waste pond, with the cost likely to exceed $10 million, and perpetual pumping of groundwater that would continue to fill up the mine shaft and turn toxic through contact with exposed minerals.

Better, Cotter contends, would be to keep the super-toxic water inside the mine shaft and treat it in there. Mixing molasses and alcohol into uranium-laced water would cause bacteria already present inside the mine shaft to multiply, Hamrick and Whicker said. These bacteria would bond with uranium particles, separating uranium from water so that it could settle deep underground.

More nuclear coverage here. More Schwartzwalder Mine coverage here.

The March NRCS Colorado Snow Survey and Water Supply News Release is hot off the press, statewide storage = 107% of average

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the table from the press release.

Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Mage Skordahl):

February’s weather brought welcome increases to snowpack percentages across Colorado, according to March 1 snowpack surveys conducted by the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The statewide snowpack increased to 81 percent of average, up 9 percentage points from the 72 percent of average recorded on February 1. Despite these gains this year’s snowpack continues to lag well behind last year’s, with the March 1 readings only 71 percent of last year’s totals on this same date, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist with the NRCS.

This year’s La Nina pattern has been dramatically different than the previous La Nina pattern. At this time last year many basins in Colorado had broken records that had been in place since the 1930’s; this year, average would be a welcome benchmark. February’s snowfall seemed to be a turning point for the Yampa, White, and North Platte and combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins. The combined Yampa and White basins snowpack’s increased 14 percentage points reporting at 74 percent of average on March 1. The North Platte basin was at 80 percent of average on March 1 compared to just 69 percent of average on February 1. In the southwest corner of the state, the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins snowpack’s were at 86 percent of average on March 1, a 13 point improvement over last month. The Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande and Colorado basins benefited the least from the February storm systems but their snowpack percentages still improved. Across the state all major river basins received near or above average snowfall for the month of February.

As of March 1, the state’s water supply forecasts closely mirrored the state’s snowpack percentages. All major basins in Colorado are expected to have below average runoff conditions this spring and summer. The South Platte basin has the highest snowpack percentage in the state and boasts some of the highest streamflow forecasts.

Fortunately for most water users, reservoir storage is above or near average across most of the state. This available stored water should help alleviate any late-summer shortages.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Aspen Times:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday that [March 1] statewide snowpack increased to 81 percent of average, up 9 percentage points from the 72 percent of average recorded on Feb. 1.

Forecasters say despite these gains, this year’s snowpack continues to lag well behind last year’s totals.

The South Platte basin is in the best shape with a snowpack that’s 89 percent of average. The Yampa/White basin is the lowest at 74 percent.

Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack approximately 83% of average, Upper Colorado — 80%

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Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for the latest snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the current drought map from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Geologic primer for western Colorado

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Here’s a report from the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Peter Barkmann, and environmental geologist and hydro-geologist for the Colorado Geological Survey, offered a primer on the deep geologic history of western Colorado in a presentation last week to the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum, which meets quarterly in Rifle. Barkmann described the formation of the Mesaverde and other energy-rich rock layers formed from coastal plains sediments deposited 75 million years ago…

The organic deposits of the seaway, laid down over eons, were covered by accumulating layers of rock and sediment. Buried deep underground, subjected to extreme pressure and heat, the organic materials gradually decomposed and permeated the surrounding rock, forming deposits of coal, oil, gas and oil shale.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: CSU Pueblo Water Resources Series Wednesdays through April 18

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Gayle Perez):

The series is scheduled each Wednesday through April 18 from 3 to 4:20 p.m. in Room 109 of the Library and Academic Resource Center. All sessions are free and open to the public…

Wednesday: Tom Cech, director of the One World, One Water Center at Metro State-Denver. Cech is author of “Colorado Water Law for Non-Lawyers.”

March 14: Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs to discuss his latest book, “Living the Four Corners.”

March 21: Scott Lorenz, general manager of the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association, to speak about the interplay between groundwater and surface water management.

March 28: No lecture, spring break.

April 4: Larry Small, general manager of the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District, to give a presentation on restoration principles.

April 11: Reed Dils, co-founder of the Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area, to discuss the voluntary flow program for rafting and fishing the Upper Arkansas River.

April 18: Peter Binney, director of Sustainable Planning for Black and Veatch and namesake of the state-of-the-art Peter D. Binney water purification facility, will discuss sustainability of Western water resources.

For more information about the series, call 549-2045.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Pueblo: Western Landscape Symposium March 17

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Mary Porter):

…Scott Calhoun, an author and a xeric-garden designer and enthusiast from Tucson, Ariz., will talk about the beauty and the economy of low-water landscapes when he gives the keynote address at the sixth annual Western Landscape Symposium. The event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 17 in the Fortino Ballroom at Pueblo Community College, 900 W. Orman Ave…

Calhoun’s topic will be “Lessons from the Southwest: Strategies for Designing Water-thrifty Gardens,” and while it might be preaching to the choir in this Four Corners state, he said, there still are many people who haven’t heard or heeded the message. And for residents of drought-stricken Texas where he recently spoke, for example, the less-water message means a whole new way of doing things. “To me, it’s really exciting to be alive in this time,” Calhoun said. “Climate change is scary, but it also is getting people to convert to landscapes that are low-maintenance and can have stunning beauty. There are so many exciting things to do, interesting things that other people in other (wetter) places can’t; bold, exciting things.”

More conservation coverage here.