Drought news: Summit County continues to acquire water rights

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Here’s a guest column (Summit Daily News) written by Karn Stiegelmeier and Gary Martinez detailing drought actions by Summit County. Here’s an excerpt:

The board of county commissioners works in the water arena in two major ways. First, to provide water locally to certain residential, agricultural and commercial customers and other projects that benefit the public generally such as the hospital development, environmental restoration and stream flow enhancement for environmental and recreational purposes.

The county has a long tradition of appropriating and acquiring water resources to meet the current and future needs of its citizens. It has built an extensive water rights and water storage portfolio and has adjudicated a countywide augmentation plan that provides a legal water supply for out of compliance or new residential wells and other water needs. County water and storage rights in various reservoirs can be used as a replacement source for water used locally when more senior rights must be made whole.

A majority ownership in the soon to be completed Old Dillon Reservoir will significantly add to the county’s water rights portfolio. These water rights have assisted agricultural and ranching activities in the Lower Blue River Valley, the construction of accessory dwelling units to address critical housing needs, residential development, stream flow releases during low flow periods, the ongoing Swan River restoration project and snow making that can be critical to local ski areas and our local economy. Summit County Environmental Health Department protects surface and subsurface water quality through monitoring, testing and inspection programs.

Secondly, the County Commissioners take a variety of measures to protect local water resources from further diversions outside the County. Approximately 30 percent of Summit’s native water is diverted east through the Continental Divide for use by Front Range water providers; Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities claimed and developed these water rights years ago. Summit County has been a leader in efforts to curtail the further exportation of water as well as efforts to address the impacts of these diversions. This has included years of litigation and negotiation with a variety of water interests throughout the state.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Seven months into 2012, Greeley is still on pace for its hottest and driest year on record, according to figures provided by Wendy Ryan with the Colorado Climate Center, whose historical data goes back to 1968.

For the year, the average temperature through the end of July was 56.4 degrees in Greeley, 3.7 degrees above normal, and precipitation had amounted to just 4.77 inches — not even half of the 9.81 inches that, on average, falls on the city before Aug. 1.

The 1.63 inches of precipitation recorded during July was only 0.05 inches below normal for the month, but prior to July, Greeley had experienced its driest January, March and April on record, along with its second-driest June…

Along with the issues farmers and ranchers have faced, the hot and dry weather this year has forced municipal water officials to draw large amounts of water from reservoirs to supply residents trying to save their lawns.

Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department, said July water demand for the city is usually about 15 percent higher than it is in June, due to the increase in temperatures. However, he said this year, the water-demand increase from June to July was only about 5 percent, thanks to the rains that arrived last month.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to a photo gallery of xeriscape gardens from Apartment Therapy.

Aspinall Unit update: Next operations meeting Thursday

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From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

This is a reminder that the next Aspinall Operations meeting will be held this Thursday, August 9th at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir starting at 1pm.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

Piñon Ridge Mill: New hearing for proposed mill license to take place in November

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The new hearing was scheduled after Denver District Court Judge John McMullen ruled in June that the state’s previous review process was unlawful. Conservation groups and community activists and towns in the area have repeatedly expressed concerns about potential impacts to air and water quality from the proposed mill…

Following the court’s ruling, the parties in the lawsuit negotiated the terms of the formal hearing process, which will allow the public to provide oral or written comments and also allow other organizations and individuals to enter the proceedings more formally with the right to submit evidence and testimony and cross-examine witnesses. The proceeding will be conducted by an independent hearing officer. Under the negotiated agreement, the state will be required to consider all new information before making a decision on whether to grant a new license to Energy Fuels. The final deadline for the licensing decision is April 27, 2013…

The hearing will be held between Nov. 7 and 13, 2012, and a day has been set aside during that week to take public comment, providing the first meaningful opportunity to have the public’s opinions considered in the state process, according to Travis Stills, the attorney representing Sheep Mountain Alliance.

To begin the formal process, CDPHE will issue a public notice on Aug. 7. The public notice will identify the hearing officer for the proceedings, the specific location of the hearing and provide a deadline for interested organizations and individuals to file for formal party status.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Precipitation news: July 24 rains bring 14 mudslides down on Colorado 145

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

Heavy rains in combination with steep slopes make much of the region prone to slides, especially around Highway 145. Driving to or from Telluride can be unpredictable, especially after heavy rains.

Since July, numerous closures have delayed traffic on 145 due to debris from slides. The first closure came on July 24 when two-way traffic was closed for several hours near Rico while crews cleaned up a slide from an avalanche path. The next slides were between Placerville and Keystone Hill, when on the afternoon of July 31 showers brought 14 different slides down onto the highway. And on Aug. 2, the highway was blocked on several locations, also near Keystone Hill, due to an unknown number of slides.

“What’s been coming down is lots of rocks, water, mud and tree branches,” said Nancy Shanks, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “But even the mud we have to haul off, we can’t just push it over. Right now we’re stockpiling it because we have to put it somewhere. We’re working to find a place for the debris, it might be places where we can take and smooth it out and use it.”[…]

Most of the slides are caused by heavy, slow moving storms and debris typically flows down through dry creek beds. Road closures due to mudslides can last for hours, but crews are typically prepared for dealing with them.

Rains in San Miguel County were recorded as close to or slightly above normal in July, with between 3 and 4 inches, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The most rain came just west of Telluride in areas prone to slides.

From the Montrose Daily Press (Mike Easterling):

Jim Daniels, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the rainy season for the region is in full swing and shows no signs of dissipating.

“For July, the monsoon season really got going for Western Colorado, which is getting normal to above-normal precipitation for most places, although it may not seem like it,” he said. “The outlook for August — in fact, right on through the fall — is still … above-normal precipitation for Western Colorado. So I think we’ll continue remaining in a pattern friendly for monsoonal moisture.”

Windy Gap Firming Project public hearing recap: Northern pledges dough to study reservoir bypass

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From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Two days of public hearings opening comment on the proposal to expand the Northern Water Conservancy District’s transmountain diversion built around the 445-acre-foot reservoir near Granby drew a crowd to Hot Sulphur Springs last week. As has become the norm in the lengthy process, much emphasis was placed on the negative environmental impacts Windy Gap Reservoir already has had on the upper Colorado River and potential ways to fix the problem. The stretch of river directly below Windy Gap Reservoir is considered the least healthy portion of the upper Colorado because of impacts of the dam used to capture river water pumped across the Continental Divide via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. State studies show a sharp decline in river health since the construction of Windy Gap, attributing increased water temperatures, algae and sediment to the reservoir.

The proposal facing Grand County commissioners seeks to remove another 15 percent to 20 percent of river flows on top of about 60 percent of native flows already being removed from the upper Colorado…

“Under present plans, expanding Windy Gap would make a bad situation worse because it would increase periods of low flows and significantly reduce runoff, which is critical to clean the river of excess silt and sediment contributed by Windy Gap Reservoir,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “Grand County must press Northern to build the bypass.”
In addition to the bypass, Whiting and TU advocate increased minimum flows and regular flushing flows to cleanse the river bottom, among other measures.

Northern Water has pledged $250,000 to research the bypass. If it is found beneficial, Northern would put an additional $2 million toward construction along with $1 million pledged by Denver Water. The permit process would end and construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Fort Collins would begin as a condition of the agreement to put the money toward a bypass.

More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.

Carbondale: Free water conservation kits available at several locations around town #CODrought

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) and one of its board-member partners, the town of Carbondale, have partnered to help Carbondale residents save water during the 2012 drought.

Free water conservation kits containing low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and an informative brochure are now available at CORE’s office in the Third Street Center at 520 S. Third St. Suite 2; at Carbondale Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave.; and at the Gordon Cooper Branch Library, 76 S. Fourth St. Kits are available in both English and Spanish.

The brochures provide information on the three types of water restrictions the town may impose during periods of drought, as well as helpful indoor and outdoor water conservation tips and Do-It-Yourself tutorials for drip irrigation and mulching.

More conservation coverage here.