Chaffee County officials are trying to get increased flows for the FIBArk festival this weekend

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From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Kara Lamb, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regional public information officer, said the bureau had not to planned to supplement river flows during FIBArk. The Bureau of Reclamation manages the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, which diverts West Slope water into the Arkansas Basin and stores it in reservoirs like Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes Reservoir. The bureau also administers the Voluntary Flow Management Program, and Lamb said the program does not take effect until July 1. She said other entities with water in storage are not likely to release any because of the drought and lack of runoff from winter snowpack…

Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese told The Mountain Mail that local officials have been in contact with municipal water providers in Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo West, all of which have water stored upstream.
Giese said officials received no firm commitments but that the municipal water providers “have always been cooperative.”

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

The Rio Grande Roundtable approves Sanchez Ditch and Reservoir Company request for funding for gate rehab project

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The Sanchez Ditch and Reservoir Company has a $2 million plan to replace the deteriorating concrete gate tower that is currently only accessible by cable car across the reservoir. This week the Rio Grande Roundtable, a Valley-wide water group meeting in Alamosa, unanimously approved requests for about half of the cost from local basin and statewide water accounts. The requests for $55,000 from the local basin and $859,400 from the statewide account will now go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board this fall for approval. The ditch company is also taking out a $1.1 million loan.

Design work would then be completed next year with actual construction in the fall of 2014 and projected completion in March 2015.

Project Coordinator Nicole Langley told the roundtable members during their meeting on Tuesday that this structural project is the second phase of a Sanchez Reservoir upgrade. The first phase, which the roundtable also helped fund, assisted the ditch company in determining what was the best route to go in addressing problems with the existing 100-year-old gate tower, which is used to distribute water to farmland in the San Luis area…

The tower will be demolished above approximately 8335 feet elevation by making saw cuts, setting explosive charges and laying it over in the reservoir, Robinson explained. Two new gates will be installed on a slab over what is left of the tower, so instead of eight gates, two will be used to control water distribution.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Drought/runoff/snowpack news: Farmers are already facing tough decisions about their operations in a water-short year

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Here’s a guest column written sheep man Doug Ramsey that’s running in The Durango Herald. He describes the operational decisions he is facing in a water-short year. Here’s and excerpt:

Our irrigation water was turned off May 22 as the La Plata River continued to shrink to a trickle, and I am forced to cut the hay now as it begins to show signs of stress because of lack of moisture. Our irrigation water comes from the tiny La Plata River that is currently running at about 30 cubic feet per minute – about one-fourth of what it would normally be flowing at this time or year…

The hard choices will be whether to try and raise the lambs by feeding hay until I can provide them to my customers, or sell them at the sale barn for a loss and save my hay and pasture for the ewes. In 2002 when we produced no hay, we ended up feeding purchased hay for most of 18 months to get our sheep through all of 2002 until the spring of 2003. As I look around Southwest Colorado, I see this drought having some major effects on agriculture. The rangeland already needs moisture, and any hope that we have a good monsoon season will not be realized for at least another month or longer.

Meanwhile, Governor Hickenlooper has issued an executive order banning fireworks in Colorado. Here’s the release:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today signed an Executive Order that bans open burning and private use of fireworks throughout Colorado because of very dry conditions and high fire danger.

The ban does not apply to campfires in constructed, permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed camp and picnic grounds or recreation sites; liquid-fueled or gas-fueled stoves; fireplaces contained within buildings; charcoal grills at private residences; or specific prescribed or controlled burns for agricultural or irrigation purposes.

Commercial, professional and municipal fireworks displays are allowed when written approval has been granted by the sheriff of the county in which the fireworks display is to occur.

“We can’t completely eliminate the threat of wildfire because there’s no way to control Mother Nature,” Hickenlooper said. “But we can take steps to reduce the risks of more wildfires starting. This ban is a necessary step to help protect people, property and the beautiful state we live in.”

Most Colorado counties have already adopted fire bans. At least 44 of the state’s 64 counties are now listed with “high,” “very high” or “extreme” wildfire danger. The wildfire danger and individual restrictions for every Colorado county can be found at http://www.colorado.gov.

The governor’s Executive Order is not intended to supersede more comprehensive or inclusive open burning restrictions that have been or may be established by Colorado counties, municipalities and/or other political subdivisions of the state. Where permitted by law, counties and other local governments may ban any or all of the open burning exemptions listed in the order when local officials determine that a more restrictive ban is appropriate and warranted given fire danger conditions in their localities.

The Executive Order will stay in effect until it is amended or rescinded. The full text of the order can be found here.

From the Cortez Journal (Paige Blankenbuehler):

County commissioners voted unanimously on Monday for a recommendation from Cortez Fire Protection District chief Jeff Vandevoorde to institute a fire ban for Montezuma County.

The commissioners put the following limitations into effect:

No open burns will be permitted within Montezuma County, including designated fire pits at legal campgrounds, Montezuma County deputy emergency manager Paul Hollar said. Covered barbecue and charcoal grills or pits are permitted.

Outdoor fireplaces with screens or covers are also permitted, Hollar said.

Fireworks are explicitly banned, but the formal Cortez July 4 firework show is still scheduled under a controlled environment at this time, Hollar said.

From the Vail Daily:

Due to the combination of unusually high temperatures, dry conditions and light winter snowpack there is an increased risk for wildfires throughout Colorado. According to the National Weather Service, the drought in the state of Colorado is going to persist and intensify as the summer moves forward. As a result, Eagle County has implemented “Stage I” fire restrictions that will take effect at 12:01 a.m., Friday. The ban prohibits all open burning for private lands in unincorporated Eagle County and within the town of Red Cliff.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

“Our snowpack is gone,” [Water Division III Engineer Craig Cotten] told members of the Valley-wide water group, the Rio Grande Roundtable, on Tuesday afternoon. “We didn’t get anywhere close to average.” The run-off was a month earlier, he said, “and then it headed down. We were out of snow about a month earlier than usual.”

Cotten shared the latest Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) forecasts for the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers, which are up a bit from last month’s forecasts but still anticipating a below-average year on both river systems. The new NRCS annual forecast for June for the Rio Grande is 415,000 acre feet, which is 64 percent of the long-term average. Last month the NRCS forecast was 380,000 acre feet. Of that amount, 102,200 acre feet must be sent downstream to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations. Cotten said that means deliveries of 5 percent right now, but his office is only curtailing the ditches 2 percent because the other 3 percent is coming through in the way of return flows.

No ditches on the Conejos River system are currently being curtailed, Cotten said, because “we can meet our obligation under the compact for the Conejos system just with what we have already delivered and what we will deliver during the wintertime.” The new NRCS forecast for the Conejos River system, which includes the Conejos, San Antonio and Los Pinos Rivers, is 200,000 acre feet, up a bit from last month’s forecasted 180,000 acre feet. That is still only 60 percent of the long-term average for that river system, Cotten explained. Of that amount, 45,000 acre feet must be delivered downstream for compact purposes, but that should be no problem, given what has been delivered already and what will be sent downstream later this year, Cotten said.

Animas River Workgroup to meet at the La Plata County Fairgrounds June 18

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From The Durango Telegraph (Tracy Chamberlin):

The Animas Workgroup, one of five that make up the River Protection Workgroup, is ultimately tasked with putting together a list of recommendations for the future protection of the Upper Animas Basin. Since the area they’re concerned with is centered in Silverton, the group usually meets at the Kendall Mountain Recreation Center. However, the group is bringing its ideas south to Durango this week because it’s both a major population center and not everyone who has a stake in the future of the Upper Animas and its tributaries can make the trip north…

The Animas group is diverse, and many interests are represented, but that doesn’t mean additional input isn’t welcome. [Marsha Porter-Norton, facilitator for the River Protection Workgroup] said anyone is welcome to join in, and residents planning to attend Monday night’s meeting will get a chance to be brought up to speed and find out how they can get involved in the process. They’ll hear about how the River Protection Workgroup operates and the progress made by the group, which has been working together since June of last year. The first thing the group did since forming was take a good look at the focus area, finding out who used it, what protections it enjoyed. Members even went on tours of the area. Then they identified the river’s values: what makes each segment of the Animas River Basin special and is worth protecting in the future. For example, some of the values for the segment north of Baker’s Bridge up to Silverton include boating, geology, recreation, scenery and the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. “The train is a very significant value,” Porter-Norton said.

Meeting details:

What: Informational Meeting with the Animas River Workgroup
When: Mon., June 18, 6-8:30 p.m.
Where: La Plata County Fairgrounds, Pine and Florida Rooms
For info.: ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection

More Animas River coverage here and here.

Judge John N. McMullen tells the CDPHE that it’s time for a do-over on the radioactive license for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill

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The Sheep Mountain Alliance (@sheepmtn) sent out this tweet yesterday morning:

Victory for @sheepmtn in our lawsuit to stop the Piñon Ridge #Uranium Mill

They were kind enough to link to the judge’s order on Scribd. Here’s an excerpt:

The Court, having found unlawful CDPHE’s action in issuing the License, sets aside that action, invalidates the License, and remands the case for further proceedings consistent with this Order

From the Montrose Daily Press:

The CDPHE has been ordered to convene a hearing within 75 days of July 5, and to notice that hearing. “This hearing will be a substitute for the Feb. 17, 2010 public meeting,” the ruling says. The CDPHE must remake its licensing decision by following statutory procedures. The body has 270 days from July 5 to approve or deny Energy Fuels’ application. Until such decision is made “Energy Fuels Resources may not proceed with any activity on the site formerly permitted by the license.”

The company, can, however, take reasonable action to protect the public and the environment, and to prevent economic waste as long as doing so does not endanger the public or environment. Such actions have to be taken under the supervision of the CDPHE.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Judge John N. McMullen ruled June 13 that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment erred by issuing the license to Energy Fuels without public hearings required under the regulatory process.
Pinon Ridge would be the first new rock-crushing uranium mill to be built in the U.S. in 25 years. Communities in the area said they were concerned that lapses in state’s approval process prevented a thorough evaluation of potential and water quality impacts. “We asked for an opportunity to have meaningful public participation and we got it,” said attorney Richard Webster, who represented the towns of Telluride and Ophir in the lawsuit.

Another concern for the towns was the issue of bonding against potential future cleanup costs, as well as the spread of pollution from radioactive dust, Webster said, adding that the lawsuit focused on the regulatory process rather than those substantive issues.

Federal nuclear regulators appeared to agree with the local challenges. In a March 6 letter to environmental attorney Jeff Parsons, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also said that the state didn’t fully meet legal requirements for public involvement.

From the Denver Business Journal (Neil Westergaard):

Denver District Court Judge John McMullen on Wednesday invalidated the mill’s license, citing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for not following state and federal rules guaranteeing public input into the licensing process. McMullen, however, upheld the department in all of the other claims brought in the case by Public Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, that acted on behalf of the towns of Telluride and Ophir…

The health department reserved comment, but in a statement, noted that the court ruled in the department’s favor in 10 of the 11 issues before it in the case. “The court ruled against the department only on the 11th claim, based upon a conflict in the Colorado Radiation Control Act and state radiation regulations,” the department said in its statement. “In doing so, the court rejected all arguments about how to reconcile the conflict and instead fashioned its own remedy. The court also rejected the plaintiff’s claim, raised for the first time in the plaintiff’s opening brief, that the department’s administrative record filed with the court was defective…

Energy Fuels said last year that it expects to spend $140 million reopening the uranium mill. The mill would employ about 85 people. Another 200 would work at the company’s two uranium mines in Colorado and Utah, which already have been permitted.

More nuclear coverage here and here.