Colorado’s Section 303(d) list of impaired waters and monitoring and evaluation list is hot off the press


Click here to find out if your favorite stream is on the list, and why. Here’s the link to the EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 303 webpage.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin


Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the precipitation summary from yesterday’s webinar. Here’s the link to the presentations from the Colorado Climate Center (Noah Newman).

The next meeting of the Rio Grande Compact Commission is March 21 in Austin, TX


From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

[Colorado Division of Water Recourses Division III Division Engineer Craig Cotten] explained that this year’s annual compact meeting would likely be more contentious than others in recent history, mainly because of the dispute between New Mexico and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The bureau operates Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs, the main storage reservoirs for Rio Grande Compact water. New Mexico claimed that the bureau last year released from the Elephant Butte Reservoir about 30,000 acre feet of credit water belonging to New Mexico and Colorado, which it did not have a right to release…

New Mexico sued the Bureau of Reclamation, and that case is pending in U.S. District Court. Cotten said as far as he knew, the state of New Mexico is not asking for a monetary settlement but is seeking a decision “to say that the Bureau of Reclamation does not have unilateral authority to make those changes and some other issues the State of New Mexico has been fighting the bureau on that are part of that whole litigation. It’s a big issue.”

Colorado water authorities agree with New Mexico but are trying to stay out of the litigation, according to Cotten, primarily because Colorado has such a small portion of credit water in compact storage, compared to New Mexico. Colorado has about 2,600 acre feet of credit water, like liquid cash in the bank. New Mexico, on the other hand, has almost 100,000 acre feet of credit water stored in Elephant Butte…

Cotten added that the water levels in the Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs are very low right now, sitting at about 394,000 acre feet, of which only about 266,000 acre feet is useable water, unencumbered for use downstream. Less than 400,000 acre feet total reservoir storage is very low, especially considering the storage capacity in those reservoirs is about 2.2 million acre feet, Cotten explained…

Ditches have not started running yet, and are not scheduled to begin diversions until after the first of April. Cotten indicated the greater amount of water that could run downriver now, the lesser amounts would have to be curtailed later on. At this point he is estimating a 15-percent curtailment on the Rio Grande and 20 percent on the Conejos River system at the beginning of the irrigation season, but he said “those curtailments are very fluid” and dependent on what happens in the next few weeks.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Colorado Water 2012: Jay Winner — ‘Acquiring irrigation water is the easiest, most efficient and lowest cost way for growing Front Range municipalities to obtain additional water supplies’


Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Today, Jay Winner, General Manager, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, discusses rotational fallowing. In particular he explains the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch project being spearheaded by the Lower Ark district. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2002, residents of the Lower Valley voted two to one to create the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (“Lower District”) to protect the Valley’s water resources, and with them, their social and economic future.

While the Lower District has aggressively fought additional agricultural to municipal transfers, it has just as steadfastly worked to develop an alternative that will meet inexorable municipal demands while protecting and enhancing the value of remaining irrigation water.

LEASING. Water leasing, pioneered during California’s 1990s drought, emerged as the most promising answer for several reasons.

First, leasing would not require current irrigators to sell their water to realize its current value, preserving the long-term ownership of the water in the Valley.

Second, most irrigated land would remain in production every year.

Third, water leasing would create a “new crop,” one with a predictable cash flow that irrigators could use for on-farm improvements, debt reduction, equipment upgrades and the like.

Fourth, cities could obtain the water supplies they need – an irrigated field is functionally equivalent to a reservoir that can be tapped (dried up) when needed for municipal uses…

Shareholders of the Rocky Ford High Line Canal, Oxford Farmers Ditch, Otero Canal, Catlin Canal, Holbrook Canal, and the Fort Lyon Canal (later joined by the Bessemer Ditch) met in Rocky Ford on May 7, 2008. They incorporated the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company, a Colorado for-profit corporation managed by a Board of Directors elected by Valley irrigators. The Super Ditch negotiates on behalf of irrigators to make water available to other water users through long-term leases, interruptible water supply agreements, and water banking.

Meanwhile, Aurora is assuring the Arkansas Basin that their new contract with water bottler Niagara Bottling will be for single-use, non-transbasin water. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s an industrial use in the city of Aurora,” said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water. He said there are few other industrial users in the Denver suburban community.

Aurora gets about one-quarter of its supply from purchases of water rights it has made in the Arkansas River basin, one-quarter from the Colorado River and half from the South Platte.

“This is single-use water, so the paper accounting for it will be from the South Platte,” Baker said.

Return flows from water brought in from either the Arkansas or Colorado basins can be reused, and Aurora built the $650 million Prairie Waters Project to directly recapture those flows.

A bottled water plant would use all of the water, however, so Aurora will credit supplies to its Platte River water resources.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack at 80% of average, San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan = 80%


Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the current snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission tells the proponents of the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill to start over, CDPHE process failure


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could force Energy Fuels to start the application process from scratch.

“How we read it is, it’s back to square one. There are some pretty clear requirements in this process,” said Travis Stills, with Durango-based Energy & Conservation Law. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment opened itself up to scrutiny by failing to meet those public hearing requirements, Stills said.

“They need to let the public come in and raise the questions, put the technical claims in the application to the test,” he said. “It’s their burden, not just as a legal matter, but as a practical matter, to show they can do it safely, to where it won’t impact water quality,” he said, adding that there are multiple concerns about environmental impacts that have not been closely looked at.

“The air quality impacts have been repeatedly glossed over, and they never did do any serious analysis of what it could mean for deer and elk in the area,” Stills said. “The CDPHE just kind of brushed away the public concerns,” he said, adding that the CDPHE’s Radioactive Materials Licensing Department has a questionable history of managing radioactive sites. All the documents relating to the proposed Piñon Ridge mill are online at this state website.

In its March 6 letter to attorney Jeff Parsons, the NRC said, “The NRC has substantiated your concern that the CDPHE did not provide an opportunity for a public hearing or notice for public comment on the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill proposed license … the NRC staff does not believe that the licensing of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill provided the public with an opportunity for comment or an opportunity for a public hearing (as required by federal law).”

The letter goes on to say that the CDPHE has agreed to modify its regulations to clarify public hearing requirements and “will work with Energy Fuels to provide an opportunity for a public hearing regarding the issuance of the new license” for the mill.

More coverage from Gus Jarvis writing for The Telluride Watch. From the article:

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger told members of the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday that the concerns of the town and opponents of the mill appear to be “substantiated” by the federal government.

“They are very concerned about the public hearing components and made a finding that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did not follow the proper procedures under federal law,” Geiger said.

Geiger cautioned members of council on further speculating on what the decision means but said it could lead to the reopening of a public hearing. The Town of Telluride along with Ophir and the Telluride-based environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance have challenged the licensing of the uranium mill, with the legal services of Public Justice, a national public interest law firm. The litigation challenges the state’s licensing of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, which was granted in January 2011. According to Geiger and Public Justice, possible impacts were given little or no consideration by the state in its review process. 
Colorado is an “Agreement State” under the Federal Atomic Energy Act, which gives the state ultimate authority to license and approve radioactive projects. The NRC decision apparently concludes that the state did not follow federal guidelines.

“We have said all along that the state needed to conduct public hearings, they did not,” Sheep Mountain Alliance Executive Director Hilary White said on Tuesday. “They needed to conduct a transparent application process, they did not. They piecemealed all off the things necessary to make an approval and that approval was based on a flawed process.

“The NRC gives the authority to the state to process applications under the Atomic Energy Act,” she continued. “Colorado is an agreement state but it still has to follow the law and they didn’t.”

More coverage from Katharhynn Heidelberg writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

What this actually means for the mill Energy Fuels hopes to build in the Paradox Valley depends upon whom you ask. Sheep Mountain Alliance’s attorneys say the NRC clearly found the state’s review process was flawed, while Energy Fuels contends the letter has little bearing because the NRC delegated its authority over uranium mills to the state.

Complicating the matter: The state Department of Public Health and Environment says it has not received the March 6 letter, which was directed to the complaining party, Jeffrey C. Parsons. Parsons is an attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, and represents Sheep Mountain Alliance.

More Piñon Ridge mill coverage here. More nuclear coverage here and here.

Restoration: The Kerber Creek cleanup scores an additional $50,000


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Saguache County, got a big boost this month with $50,000 grant from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation that will help with the next phase of improving water quality in a stream that’s long been tainted by acid mine drainage. Historic mine tailings have washed down through Kerber Creek and are contributing metals and acid drainage into the waterway. The groups involved in the exemplary cleanup effort have already treated about 62 acres, mostly by phytostabilization — using limestone and compost to create habitat for metals-tolerant native plants along the creek. The grant will help pay for more restoration work, and will also help pay for a VISTA staffer to serve as an onsite coordinator for the cleanup project, said Trout Unlimited’s Elizabeth Russell…

Aquatic life in Kerber Creek has already benefited from the cleanup. Sampling in the 1980s showed there were no fish in the creek. By 2008 and 2009, brook trout and long- nose dace are self-sustaining in Kerber Creek. The end goal is to closely match the nearest similar natural stream community.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Proposed new nutrient standards hearings recap: Opposition claims that the costs outweigh benefits


From (Shannon Ballard):

The State Water Quality Division says nutrients impact water nationally, but it’s a problem that can be fixed in Colorado. Still, adding new regulations can be costly for treatment plants and their customers. The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission is considering two new rules, both aimed at requiring treatment plants to lower nitrate and phosphorus levels…

Ute Water says these types of proposals are nothing new. The plant is already regulated under The Safe Drinking Act and says there are pros and cons to adding stricter regulations. “A pro to this is that where there are impacts from nutrients they’ll hopefully mitigate those impacts,” Dave Payne with Ute Water Conservancy District said. “However, the opposition to this regulation is that the standards, the numeric standards, they’re looking to implement don’t necessarily have a direct cause and effect to any given water body.”

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap: Rio Grande compact requirements will likely prevent an increase in the pool at Platoro Reservoir


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Although compact requirements are a moving target throughout the year, Division 3 Water Engineer Craig Cotten said the amount of water moved past the state line in winter and early spring can limit curtailments on local irrigation ditches. “They really depend on how much water we get through the wintertime, especially in March,” he told a meeting of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable Tuesday. “Our flows are going up so we’re getting a lot more through.”[…]

Irrigation ditches along the Rio Grande would face a 15 percent curtailment on all flows as of now. The state’s obligations under the compact, which governs the use of the Rio Grande between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, vary according to streamflow…

The Conejos River, which runs through the southwestern corner of the San Luis Valley and shares in the state’s compact requirements, is expected to produce 265,000 acre-feet this year. The state must send 85,000 acre-feet downstream. Irrigation ditches there currently face a 20 percent requirement.

Water users in the Conejos Water Conservancy District will likely not have the luxury of increasing storage at Platoro Reservoir, a 59,000 acre-foot reservoir that sits at the river’s headwaters in the San Juan Mountains. Platoro can only increase its storage when there is 400,000 acre feet or more of usable water in Caballo and Elephant Butte reservoirs in New Mexico.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.