Governor Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force is seeking a local/state collaboration on regulating oil and gas operations

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From the Denver Business Journal (Mark Harden/Cathy Proctor):

In a draft report, the task force says that the state’s “local government designee” program, which allows local governments to suggest restrictions on drilling permits, needs to be used more effectively than it is now.

> The draft report, dated Wednesday, is available here.

A final version of the task force’s report is to be delivered by April 18.

More coverage from Mark Jaffe writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

“There are still a whole lot of unresolved issues,” said Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association and a task force member. The task force outlined a plan to increase cooperation between state regulators and local governments and to enable local inspectors for rigs and wells.

The commission did not address a range of issues that Hickenlooper outlined in his executive order, including well setbacks from homes, air quality, noise abatement and traffic management. The task force’s aim was, in six weeks, to try to resolve some of the emerging conflicts among the industry, the state and cities and counties.

“This is an evolving process,” said Mike King, the director of the state Department of Natural Resources and chairman of the task force.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Environmental Working Group: The drinking water used by millions of Americans is contaminated!

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Colorado is debating new standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater streams to reduce nutrients in surface water ahead of a federal mandate.

Here’s a research paper on the problem from the Environmental Working Group (Olga V. Naidenko/Craig Cox/Nils Bruzelius). Here’s the executive summary:

Water that runs off fields treated with chemical fertilizers and manure is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus, two potent pollutants that inevitably end up in rivers and lakes and set off a cascade of harmful consequences, contaminating the drinking water used by millions of Americans. Treating this water after the fact to clean up the contamination is increasingly expensive, difficult and, if current trends continue, ultimately unsustainable. The only solution that will preserve the clean, healthy and tasty drinking water that people expect is to tackle the problem at the source. This paper explains why.

Nitrate, the most common form of nitrogen in surface and groundwater, is directly toxic to human health. Infants who drink water with high nitrate levels can develop an acute, life-threatening blood disorder called blue baby syndrome. high nitrate levels in water can also affect thyroid function in adults and increase the risk of thyroid cancer.

Phosphorus stimulates explosive blooms of aquatic algae, including the especially dangerous cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that produce toxins that can be deadly to pets, livestock, wildlife – and people. Toxins pro- duced by cyanobacteria can harm the nervous system, cause stomach and intestinal illness and kidney disease, trigger allergic responses and damage the liver. Even after a brief exposure, cyanobacterial toxins can cause skin rashes, eye irritation and breathing problems.

The cascade continues when utilities try to combat these and other threats by treating drinking water with chemical disinfectants such as chlorine. Treating algal contamination this way gives rise to carcinogenic disinfection byproducts, whose levels typically spike during the summer months – when algae blooms peak. Commonly used measures to reduce algal contamination add hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to water utilities’ treatment costs. Algae can also give tap water an unpleasant taste and smell, a recurrent annoyance for agricultural areas and the water utilities that serve them.

This report focused on four states in the core of the Midwestern corn belt – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Nutrient overload in surface and groundwater is a significant water quality problem for these states, making nitrate and phosphorus levels higher and algal blooms more frequent compared to national averages.

To tackle polluted source water, water utilities in the region are often forced to install expensive treatment plants that can cost millions to install and operate. USDA economists estimate that removing nitrate alone from drinking water costs more than $4.8 billion a year. The cost of dealing with algal blooms is particularly daunting. The total capital cost of water treatment that would address cyanobacterial blooms and cyanotoxins, can range between $12 million and $56 million for a town of 100,000 people.

The only true solution is to confront the issue upstream, at the point where pollution – much of it from farms – first flows into America’s precious surface water and groundwater. This year’s debate over renewing the federal farm bill is a referendum on America’s commitment to protecting our drinking water supplies at the source.

With the exception of large animal feeding operations, farm businesses are exempt from the pollution control requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, and few states have authority to compel farm businesses to adopt practices that reduce the amount of farm pollution reaching our rivers, lakes and bays. As a result, the farm bill, which is renewed every five years, serves as the primary tool for addressing the environmental damage caused by polluted runoff from agricultural operations.

Congress should take three steps to ensure the new farm bill protects drinking water:

· Reform Farm Subsidies – Congress should end direct payments, reduce subsidies for farm insurance programs and refuse to create new farm entitlement programs that encourage all-out production to the detriment of the environment. Instead, lawmakers should help farmers when they suffer deep losses in yields and provide options for them to purchase additional crop and revenue insurance at their own expense.

· Renew the Conservation Compact — Congress should renew the “conservation compliance” provisions of the 1985 farm bill by relinking wetland and soil protection requirements to crop insurance programs. In addition, legislators should require farm businesses that receive subsidies to update their conservation plans and should strengthen the government’s enforcement tools.

· Strengthen Conservation Incentive Programs – Congress should strengthen programs that reward farmers who take steps to protect sources of drinking water. In addition to providing adequate fund- ing, Congress should expand “collaborative conservation” tools that award funds to groups of farmers working together to protect drinking water sources. Greater focus should be placed on restoring buffers and wetlands that filter runoff of farm pollutants.

Meanwhile, here’s a analysis closer to home from Dan Randolph running in The Durango Herald. From the article:

In 2002, the Animas River through Durango experienced algae blooms, and with the possibility of low water levels again this year, the risk is again on some of our minds. Right now, the Animas River in New Mexico, from the state line down to Farmington, where it joins with the San Juan, is out of compliance with New Mexico’s nutrient standards. This is not a theoretical issue…

For a decade, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission and hundreds of stakeholders from throughout the state have wrestled with developing nutrient standards for Colorado’s rivers and streams. In March, the commission preliminarily adopted a two-pronged approach to nutrients that reflects Colorado’s needs and abilities. The proposed rules recognize that meeting new standards will take both time and flexibility. The rules include a generous implementation timeline for wastewater treatment plants to upgrade their systems, and voluntary programs for farmers and ranchers.

The system the Water Quality Control Commission has set out will be refined to meet the individual needs of each stream or river during the regular review of water-quality standards done for metals and other pollutants, and treatment-plant reviews. Known as the triennial review process, each of Colorado’s nine river basins is studied in turn, and standards are determined. Under the new rules, these standards will now also include nutrients. The San Juan, Dolores and Gunnison basins will undergo this review process later this year.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

CDPHE: Cotter Corp diverted Ralston Creek past its Schwartzwalder Mine to minimize discharge of uranium into creek

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From TheDenverChannel.com (Thomas Hendrick):

The Colorado health department had ordered Cotter to divert water from the creek away from the Schwartzwalder Mine so that pollutants wouldn’t get into the creek water. Ralston Creek flows into a Denver Water reservoir that provides drinking water.

The health department’s water quality control division says Cotter completed a pipeline Tuesday to divert up to 8 cubic feet per second of creek flows past the mine.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

South Platte Basin Roundtable recap: Conservation is complicated because water in the river is reused many times

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown) via The Fence Post:

Roundtable members, made up of water experts and officials in northeastern Colorado, stressed during their meeting that — because it takes water-supply projects, such as new reservoirs, 20-30 years to come to fruition, from the planning stages to their completion — the expected shortfalls in the South Platte’s water availability could arrive before enough new projects can come to fruition. That is, unless much more aggressive planning among regional and state water officials begins to take place soon, members agreed…

South Platte Roundtable members also made note of the ongoing push from others in the state — particularly those from the Western Slope — to heavily rely on conservation efforts to meeting future water needs, rather than depend on building new projects that transport water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. Roundtable members pointed out that conservation is complicated in the South Platte, because so many of its users depend on reused water. They noted that many other people in the state don’t fully understand that, and more education is needed.

Unlike other basins in the state, water in the South Platte Basin is reused six or seven times before it flows out of the state. South Platte water users, particularly those east of Greeley and further downstream, are dependant on water that’s used in the Denver area and other parts of the upper South Platte region, treated before it returns to the river and then flows downstream to be used again. It’s estimated that about 50 percent of the water used by farmers in flood irrigating returns to the river — either by soaking through the soil and into underground aquifers, or through ditch runoff. About 18 percent of water used in residential lawn irrigating is estimated to return to the river.

With its reuse system in place, the South Platte Basin’s economic value per acre-foot of water is higher than any other basin in the state.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Snowpack/runoff news: 50% of average flows forecast for the Arkansas River at Salida

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the April 9 snowpack map. The NRCS hasn’t updated since then (as of this morning at 5:00 a.m.). The other graphic is from the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. Most of the Denver Metro area received some rain yesterday and overnight. The two stations closest to Gulch Manor are showing eight hundredths and four hundredths. One station near Henderson shows 51 hundredths.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The April forecast by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows the Arkansas River at about 50 percent of average at Salida, which matches the snowpack in the basin. That triggers a dry-year exception in the Pueblo flow program, meaning no additional water will be supplied for recreation at the Downtown Whitewater Park…

In the Upper Colorado River basin, which supplies supplemental water through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, snowpack was just 37 percent of average. “It’s very concerning,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “We had a sprinkle in the collection area today, and that was it.” The April 1 projection for Fry-Ark imports — they begin when snow starts melting — is 23,000 acre-feet, but that assumes normal precipitation during the remainder of the spring snowfall accumulation…

“We’ve talked about running the winter water on the hay and wheat, so you could get two cuttings of hay and finish the wheat,” said Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal. “But you’ve got guys talking about planting corn. I don’t see how they’re going to finish the crop.”

Garry Clark, who farms near Rocky Ford, was philosophical about the situation. “You can’t tell. There’s been years like this before,” Clark said…

Aurora is planning on taking as much water as it can this year, but that likely will be just 50 percent to 60 percent of the average yield, said Tom Simpson, water resources manager for the Arkansas Valley. Aurora will leave some water in the valley, due to other circumstances. It will sell about 2,500 acre-feet to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to help farmers meet augmentation requirements under Rule 10 of the state engineer’s surface irrigation rules…

Aurora’s reservoirs are 76 percent full, well above the 60 percent level that could trigger additional water purchases through leases from the Arkansas Valley. The city also has permanent water restrictions imposed after the 2002 drought, and has completed the Prairie Waters Project that allows it to recapture some wastewater and reuse it…

Colorado Springs Utilities has about two years of demand in storage, and is expecting a yield of about 77 percent of average. “The bottom line for us is that we’re not concerned about the snowpack this year, but that it might be the leading year for a multiyear drought,” said Brett Gracely, water resources planning manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

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

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Here’s the link to the summaries from Tuesday’s webinar via the Colorado Climate Center. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the precipitation summary.

The ‘State of the Rockies Report Card’ is hot off the press

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Here’s the announcement from the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project:

This 2012 State of the Rockies Report Card is titled The Colorado River Basin: Agenda for Use, Restoration, and Sustainability for the Next Generation. The sections of the Report Card include a summary of the Rockies Project Source to Sea trip, an investigation into the Colorado River’s many diversions and uses, and an assessment of the “Law of the River,” among many other topics.

The Rockies Project aims to inspire Report Card readers and Rockies events attendees to creatively contemplate, discuss, and engage in shaping the future of our beloved, beautiful, and fragile region-the Rocky Mountain West. Enjoy!

Here’s the first installment of a three-part series analyzing the report from Walt Hecox (director of the project) writing in the Mountain West News. From the article:

Colorado College’s 2012 State of the Rockies Report Card is dedicated to a single topic of vital interest: the past development, present condition, and future options for the Colorado River Basin. We add a special dimension: the perspectives of today’s youth who will become tomorrow’s Basin users and stewards.

Competing interests for water rights and a dwindling supply of the vital natural resource have created challenges for the Colorado River Basin, which stretches across portions of seven Southwestern states. Some experts predict that by 2050, climate change and burgeoning uses of the river system will result in inadequate water to meet all of the shares allocated for municipal, agricultural, industrial and wildlife use, two-thirds to nine-tenths of the time.

But such a crisis can be averted, if actions are taken now, according to findings from this year’s State of the Rockies Project.

Conducted by students and faculty at The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, each year a research project is undertaken to increase public understanding of issues affecting the environment and economy of the Rocky Mountain region.

This year’s topic of study: The Colorado River Basin. Student researchers spent last summer and the 2011-2012 academic year analyzing the 1,400-mile waterway, wrote sections of the Report Card on critical dimensions, and recommended five action steps so that a viable, living Colorado River Basin exists, even thrives for the next generation. Their work was unveiled and the Report made public during the April 9-10 State of the Rockies Project Conference.

Held at Colorado College, the conference not only unveiled the report but also featured as guest speakers U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who discussed the challenges of saving the river basin now and in the future. And Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed what future generations can do to manage the state’s water resources.

More coverage from R. Scott Rappold writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

The conference is an annual exercise for students to study an environmental issue facing the West. This year’s event focused on the Colorado River, the source of 80 percent of Colorado Springs’ water. [Interior Secretary Salazar] said the interstate compacts that delineate how the water is shared are flawed, and scientists overestimated the flow of the river by up to 2 million acre feet, using data from only recent wet years, not drier times…

Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, also spoke Monday. She said records from tree rings show periods of long droughts, slow to arrive and slow to lift, some lasting 28 years. So the snowy 2010-11 winter may have been the anomaly, and this winter may be the eventual norm. “The record shows the Colorado plateau, as far back as recent centuries, is pretty much drier than what we as Americans have experienced,” McNutt said…

McNutt quoted explorer John Wesley Powell, who urged that water rights to the river be left in the hands of small water districts, advice that was ignored. “You saw what has happened to the Colorado River. It no longer reaches the ocean,” she said.

Here’s a Q&A session with McNutt and Salazar from the Huffington Post:

Salazar: “When we look at the economy and conservation, there are those who would have us choose between them and I think that’s a false choice. We can do both conservation and energy development and good economics in a way that we have done here in Colorado — Great Outdoors Colorado is one of the great examples where we’ve been able to improve the quality of life here, and those are the kinds of things that I think are good for job creation and also good for conservation.

More State of the Rockies Project coverage here. More Colorado River basin coverage here.