Where do the Presidential candidates stand on funding for infrastructure?


From the Associated Press (Jason Keyser) via The Denver Post:

President Barack Obama has favored stimulus-style infrastructure spending plans, talking up highway, bridge and rail repairs as job creators, and pushed for innovations like high-speed rail and a national infrastructure bank to finance projects with the help of private capital. But Republican opposition to increased spending and taxes has blunted many such plans.

Mitt Romney favors less involvement by the federal government in infrastructure, preferring to let states lead the way. Romney shuns the idea that public-works spending is a good way to jumpstart the economy, saying decisions on worthy projects should be based on need and potential returns. Romney also wants to privatize Amtrak by ending federal subsidies for the money-losing passenger rail system. He’s OK with borrowing to pay for megaprojects if there’s a revenue stream to pay the money back, like tolls or port fees.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.

The Wall Street Journal asks, ‘Are we better off privatizing water?’


From The Wall Street Journal (Richard G. Little/Wenonah Hauter):

[Little] Is privatization the solution in every case? Of course not. We must strive to find what works best for the customers in a specific situation. Mismanagement is not a problem limited to private operators, just as good management is not intrinsic to public systems.

But private management can be successful much more often than its critics would like to believe. Private-sector managers focus on the cost of service and return on capital. The new and innovative technologies in which they invest may have a higher initial cost, but they offer savings, too, which can be shared with customers while improving service and quality. Privatization offers economies of scale wherein a single company can provide the financial and human resources to serve many small systems in a far more cost-effective manner.

Government-owned enterprises, by contrast, often don’t have rate structures that reflect the true cost of the service. Thus many small publicly owned water utilities lack the means not only to make capital investments but also to hire the professional staff needed to meet increasingly stringent water-quality standards.

Critics say private enterprise’s desire for profits leads directly to overcharging (particularly of the poor), deterioration of service, and a loss of public input and transparency. In practice, however, this is not the case…

[Hauter] Private water providers are businesses. They are motivated mainly by their bottom line. The pressure to deliver high rates of return for shareholders drives them to cut corners when they are operating under contracts, and to drive up costs when they are operating as regulated utilities. The latter is a well-established phenomenon known as the Averch-Johnson Effect, named for the economists who first modeled it in the 1960s. Under rate-of-return regulation, investor-owned water utilities make more money when they invest in infrastructure, giving them an incentive to “gold plate” systems. Yes, they are investing in improvements. But they may build an unnecessarily large treatment plant or choose a more capital-intensive treatment process, such as desalination.

Private companies that operate water systems have appalling track records of rate increases, poor system maintenance, faulty billing practices and other failures, sometimes even jeopardizing the health and safety of local residents…

Some municipalities have taken their water systems back from private water providers. Indeed, some are realizing what cities like New York, Baltimore and Boston realized a century ago—that water is best controlled by an entity that is accountable to the public, not outside shareholders.

Water service isn’t a business enterprise; it’s a basic human right, and what privatization proponents refer to as “political pressure” is actually our democratic processes at work. Our elected leaders should absolutely respond to public concern about the affordability of their water service. The provision of water service is a natural monopoly, and the public can exercise choice only at the ballot box through the election of the officials who oversee the service. How government-run utilities decide to allocate costs among different users is a local decision that should be made in an open and democratic manner.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.

Sand Creek: ‘The deadline to meet drinking-water standards…is a very aggressive and challenging goal’ — Lisha Burnett (Suncor)


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Suncor had proposed that Metro Wastewater help handle the cleanup. Metro declined. “Petroleum-contaminated groundwater is not what the wastewater-treatment facility is designed for,” Metro Wastewater Reclamation District operations director Steven Rogowski said. “It isn’t our ratepayers’ responsibility to treat Suncor’s water.”[…]

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulators have set a May deadline for cleanup of all contaminated groundwater flowing from Suncor’s 300-acre refinery property…

The machinery set up by Suncor contractors, at a cost of $1 million, sits on Metro property along the river. Later this month, it will be ready to remove benzene and other toxic material as soon as it is detected in monitoring wells near Metro’s construction site. A permit issued by state regulators lets Suncor discharge 3,000 gallons per minute of treated groundwater pumped from Metro Wastewater property into either Sand Creek or the South Platte…

By May, Suncor must prove that groundwater migrating off Suncor’s property meets a state standard requiring the concentration of cancer-causing benzene to be below 5 parts per billion. That’s the federal health standard for drinking water. “The deadline to meet drinking-water standards next year is a very aggressive and challenging goal, and it is not certain that it can be achieved in this timeframe,” Suncor spokeswoman Lisha Burnett said Friday in an e-mailed response to queries. Suncor already has installed underground clay walls at the northern and western edges of its property — designed to hold back the thickest undissolved petroleum.

“Monitoring does not suggest that undissolved contaminants are escaping any longer,” CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley said…

The latest data show benzene also is still entering Sand Creek and the South Platte — with the concentration at 145 ppb this month in the river just below the confluence. That’s less than the benzene levels averaging above 200 ppb earlier in the year but still is 29 times higher than the 5 ppb federal health standard. Three monitoring wells in Sand Creek, near where the seepage was detected last fall, showed elevated benzene levels of 55 ppb, 212 ppb and 510 ppb.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Drought news: Dry conditions will affect the waterfowl-hunting season #CODrought


From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

After a lackluster opening week in the mountain/foothills zone, duck and coot season opened in Colorado’s northeast zone of the Central Flyway on Saturday, with a timely cold front pushing down from the north that is expected to drive some birds with it. The question is whether the change in the weather will be too little, or if those who weren’t out by sunrise Saturday morning are now too late.

“Due to the lack of moisture, many birds may fly quickly past Colorado in search of better conditions,” Jim Gammonley, avian research program leader for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said earlier in the week. “This year’s drought is so extensive, there aren’t a lot of other options, so birds could move far south earlier than usual, or some may even move back north for a while until the weather pushes them back again.”

With drought conditions continuing to plague habitat regionwide, early reports from the foothills were spotty. The most promising report mentioned a good number of mallards and wood ducks around Fire stone/Longmont. Some redheads and teal were reported in the Loveland area, but observations decreased to the south.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The weather year also ends Sept. 30, and in Breckenridge — perhaps surprisingly, given all the drought talk — precipitation ended up at 18.56 inches of rain and melted snow combined, just about 89 percent of average (20.67 inches). Meteorologists use and Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 year because it matches up better with seasonal hydrological cycles than the calendar year. Big rains like in July helped Breckenridge catch up to the annual average. Winter winds and warm temps in late spring and early summer were a big factor in the drought conditions, along with generally below average snowfall during the late winter and spring. Precipitation was above average at Bly’s weather station for five months of the year: October, January, February, July and August, but that couldn’t make up for the deficits in the rest of the year, especially March and April, which usually deliver copious moisture. Total snowfall for the year was 164.8 inches, compared to the average 199,5 inches…

Precipitation for the month was also below average in Dillon, where Denver Water officials measure rainfall, snow and temperatures for the National Weather Service. According to the monthly report, total precipitation was just0.78 inches, compared to the average 1.36 inches, based on records dating back to 1909, although the location of the station changed when the dam was built…

The weather story was a little different on the other side of the Continental Divide, where Denver reported its fifth-wettest September on record, including two daily maximum precipitation records, with 0.95 inches on Sept. 12 (old record, 0.91 inches, 1875, and 1.41 inches on Sept. 25 (old record, 0.71 inches, 1908). For the month, Denver tallied 2.95 inches, which is 1.99 inches above the average of 0.96 inches. The city’s wettest September on record was in 1961, with 4.67 inches of precipitation.

Snowmaking: Smoothing out Mother Nature’s vagaries


From the Summit Daily News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

The science behind snowmaking though brings many factors into play, but snowmaking officials base their operations mostly on temperature and humidity, a combination that provides them with a “wet-bulb temperature.”

“The drier the air, the more likely it is to be cooler,” said Mike Looney, snowmaking manager for Copper Mountain Resort. “We start at about a 28 degree wet-bulb temperature — that can be anywhere from 28 degrees and 100 percent humidity or as much as 35 degrees and 10 to 20 percent humidity.”[…]

The ideal conditions for snowmaking fall between a wet-bulb temperature of 10 and 20 degrees with consistent winds of approximately 10 miles per hour, according to Looney…

The formula for the wet-bulb temperature is based on humidity and temperature. Temperatures vary as humidity increases or decreases but typically it’s about one degree per 10 percent humidity, Looney said.

Copper Mountain uses water from Ten Mile and West Ten Mile Creeks for its snowmaking operations. The naturally cold water is ideal for sustaining operations through the season, Looney says…

As the water is cooled and comes out of snowmaking guns, the compression of the water paired with compressed air creates a smaller water molecule that freezes as it’s expelled from the nozzle…

Rapid expansion also creates the snowmaking properties of the water in the air mix. When the water reacts with the compression, it turns into a smaller molecule with a better chance of freezing once contacting outside temperatures. Copper Mountain’s snowmaking product includes an additive called SnowMax made up of live cultures that serve as an ingredient for the water to cling onto…

The rate of snowmaking is also reliant on outside temperatures. Snow guns in peak conditions for snowmaking can transform upwards of 2000-3000 gallons of water per minute into man-made snow…

“Man-made snow is getting way better with technology,” Looney said. “Our snowmaking crews are extremely conscientious about the product we put out. They are constantly checking the snow while the guns are running and if it’s too dense, too wet or too heavy, they make adjustments.”

Rico: Progress on waterline and wetlands restoration


From the Dolores Star:

Town Manager Michael England gave an update on the water project progress. The pipeline installation is moving forward, but not at the established goals presented by the contractor-BWR. The town has installed approximately 4,000 feet of new 6-inch transmission line as of Aug. 13. BWR has assembled a second crew in the last week to increase installation of the 6-inch pipeline. Franklin Blasting has completed the needed work in the rock areas to keep the crews working in a timely manner.

Karmen King/Grayling Environmental LLC has been on site reviewing the wetlands area construction and reclamation. Ms. King stated the work has been successful and the grass is beginning to grow along with the willows that were planted for replacement. Ms. King will follow up this with the Army Corps and send them a Compliance Certificate. Ms. King will also send photos for their review and approval. The Wetland’s Permit was issued under the name of the Town, which the town is held responsible for the work performed. At this time the town is presenting the need to complete the project as presented and agreed to within the time frame of Oct. 31.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.

Fountain Creek: Colorado Springs Utilities $2 million 2013 budget for stormwater ‘woefully inadequate’ — Jeff Chostner


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County commissioners are concerned that Colorado Springs is not spending enough money on stormwater
issues, as it promised to do when obtaining county permits for the Southern Delivery System. “I was given information at the Fountain Creek district meeting Friday that Colorado Springs is looking at only $2 million in its budget next year,” said Commissioner Jeff Chostner. “That’s woefully inadequate.”

Chostner said part of the reason for that may be because restoration for the Waldo Canyon Fire in June and July is estimated to be $10 million-$15 million. “That money will have some impact on stormwater, but we need solutions for the long-term welfare of the watershed,” he said. The concern is that flows on Fountain Creek will increase when SDS goes online.

Commissioner Anthony Nunez, who also sits on the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board, agreed with Chostner that Colorado Springs needs to be spending more on stormwater mitigation. “We have not seen the Colorado Springs budget, but we’ve got to force it to where they’re going to do something,” Nunez said.

The Lower Ark board has sent two letters to the Bureau of Reclamation requesting a supplemental environmental impact study to look at stormwater.

“We’re telling Colorado Springs that until you have stormwater, you The Colorado Springs City Council eliminated its stormwater enterprise in 2009, following voter approval of a Doug Bruce measure protesting a “rain tax.” City Attorney Chris Melcher told council earlier this year that the city is obligated by SDS requirements to spend $13 million-$15 million annually toward its $500 million backlog in stormwater projects.

More Fountain Creek Watershed coverage here and here.