Update: Representative Fischer sent along the bill description in email:
Section 1 of the bill declares that increasing water use efficiency by appropriators promotes the maximum utilization of Colorado’s water resources and is in the public interest.
The amount of water that currently can be changed to a new type or place of use is limited by the amount of water that was historically consumed by the original type and place of use. Therefore, a water user has no incentive to reduce the amount of water diverted. Current law encourages the conservation of water in some contexts by eliminating from the determination of abandonment the period during which water is conserved under a variety of government-sponsored programs. However, in these contexts, the water conserved through a reduction in the application of the water to a beneficial use results in a reduction of consumptive use. Section 2 directs the water judge to disregard the decrease in use of water from such programs in its determinations of historical consumptive use in change of water right cases and adds to the list a decrease in water use to provide for compact compliance. Section 3 defines “conserved water”, and section 4 directs water judges to allow a change of water right for conserved water.
Snowpack is at 61 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado and South Platte Basins, which affect Larimer County — lower than it was Jan. 10, 2012, said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water. But water managers knew there was liquid in the bank coming off three consecutive wet years and with area reservoirs at 121 percent of the level considered full.
This year, by comparison, Colorado-Big Thompson Reservoirs as well as other local storage facilities are 79 percent full — a 42 percent margin. “We don’t want another 2012,” said Werner. “We’re already below where we were last year, and look what happened in ’12.”[…]
While the water outlook may be causing heartburn, it is still too early to tell what will happen in March and April, which are typically snowy months in Colorado, Werner said.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Todd Hartman):
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today preliminarily approved comprehensive new rules to limit the impact of drilling near residences and other occupied buildings. The set of rules are more rigorous than any in the country.
These new rules combine stringent mitigation measures, expanded notice and outreach to local communities and heightened distances (called “setbacks”) between drilling and dwellings to further distinguish Colorado as a national leader with respect to oil and gas regulations.
Colorado’s new rules for setbacks and associated measures will protect the public health, safety and environment. The rules also set a new standard for the Rocky Mountain West as they exceed our neighboring states of Kansas, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska, Arizona and Texas.
Earlier this week the Commission also approved rules that are among the strongest in the country for monitoring and protection of groundwater. Only two other states have mandatory groundwater programs in place and no other state in the country requires operators to take post-drilling water samples.
“These are tough and far-reaching new rules that significantly reduce the effects of drilling for those living or working nearby while at the same time protecting the rights of mineral owners,” said Matt Lepore, Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “We believe these collectively amount to the strongest criteria for setbacks in the country, will hold industry to a new standard and represent a national model.”
“Technologies and patterns of oil and gas development are rapidly changing across our state and the public expects our rules to keep up,” said Commissioner Andy Spielman.
”These new rules should help to harmonize important job creation in our state with the welfare of Colorado’s communities by requiring state-of-the-art mitigation measures, encouraging the use of modern drilling technology, providing greater separation between wells and buildings — especially schools and hospitals — and providing more information and opportunities for input to residents living near proposed operations,” Spielman added.
The new rules include a suite of important new provisions. They include:
Operators proposing to drill within 1,000 feet of an occupied structure would be required to meet new and enhanced measures to limit the disruptions a nearby drill site can create. Those measures include closed loop drilling that eliminate pits, liner standards to protect against spills, capture of gases to reduce odors and emissions, as well as strict controls on the nuisance impacts of noise, dust and lighting.
Existing setback standards of 150 feet in rural areas and 350 feet in urban areas are extended to a uniform 500 feet statewide.
Operators cannot operate within 1,000 feet of buildings housing larger numbers of people, such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals, without a hearing before the Commission.
Operators must engage in expanded notice and outreach efforts with nearby residents and conduct additional engagement with local governments about proposed operations. As part of this, operators proposing drilling within 1,000 feet must meet with anyone within that area who asks.
Development of the new standards follow a stakeholder process that began nearly a year ago with a series of meetings and presentations designed to work through the many complicated elements associated with determining setback criteria. Extensive comment and direction came from local governments, farmers and ranchers, the environmental community, homeowners, the energy industry, elected officials, homebuilders, mineral owners, environmental health specialists and business leaders.
Commission staff spent much of 2012 engaging these stakeholders in order to develop rules that protect the public health and environment while providing the flexibility needed for energy production and the thousands of jobs it creates.
“These are some of the most complex issues that this Commission has faced, and we deeply appreciate the input from so many sincere participants,” Lepore said. “We understand that these rules do not leave any one group of interests completely satisfied. We do expect most everyone who worked collaboratively with us will see components they helped initiate incorporated into these rules.”
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have also announced the launch this summer of a significant study of emissions tied to oil and gas development. The project will provide information about how oil and gas emissions behave, how they travel and their characteristics in areas along the northern Front Range. A second phase would assess possible health effects using information collected in the first phase.
Last year, Colorado developed a national model for the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, forged stronger, more collaborative relationships between state and local regulators, increased oversight staffing in difficult budget times, opened the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s water quality database to public access on the Internet and strengthened rules to reduce emissions.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is working to finalize a rule requiring a 500-foot setback and increased efforts to mitigate odor, noise and other pollution. The commissioners plan to vote next week. A majority supported a draft rule in an informal vote Wednesday, after a day of testimony from western Colorado residents who live near existing wells.
Industry leaders had tried to exclude the testimony.
Commissioner Andy Spielman called the citizen testimony “very compelling and helpful to the process.”
The residents demanded a statewide baseline buffer of at least 1,000 feet — at least until a $1.3 million state health study can be done to determine potential harm.
The people testifying told how they launched a grassroots air-monitoring campaign using donated vacuum canisters to trap toxic air emissions — because they knew the state’s 16 inspectors often cannot respond to problems, especially during night operations.
For some residents of Western Colorado “it’s too late. Our land, our water, our air, our lives already have been poisoned to the extent that I don’t think they can be repaired or healed during our lifetimes,” Rifle-area resident Thomas Thompson told the commissioners.
Now with companies targeting Colorado’s Front Range, residents “need to know their lives are about to be turned upside down,” Thompson said.
He told of his wife using thick paper towels to control nosebleeds and later vomiting blood, and said overzealous company representatives have intimidated people who oppose drilling.
Only a few residents complain “because they are frustrated. People quit complaining when they are frustrated because it doesn’t do any good, other than venting,” Thompson said. “We’ve never got help from anyone. The longer you complain the more you get bullied.”
Battlement Mesa resident Bonnie Smeltzer, 85, presented diary entries logging diesel and petroleum odors from a well within ½-mile of her home. She said she got headaches, “felt light-headed” and had nose bleeds that eventually led to an emergency room visit.
“I knew what I was smelling wasn’t good for me,” she said. “In the evening, you just couldn’t keep your windows open because the air was so polluted.
At the very slight chance he had forgotten, water providers, users and experts reminded Reagan Waskom on Tuesday of the challenges he faces in studying groundwater in the South Platte River basin and having a full report to Colorado lawmakers by the end of this year. But Waskom also left the meeting at the Southwest Weld County Service Center “encouraged,” he said, as attendees on different sides of the contentious water issue provided suggestions and expressed a desire to work together going forward. The Colorado State University professor and engineer — who’s overseeing the CSU Colorado Water Institute’s ongoing study of groundwater and its interaction with surface flows — hosted the first public meeting on the study since it was initiated, when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1278 into law this past spring.
Much of the push for the groundwater study came from Weld County farmers who own curtailed or shutdown groundwater wells, along with area residents who’ve had flooded basements in recent years because of high groundwater levels. Some of them believe the state’s well augmentation requirements are too stringent. They say the combination of making farmers fully make up for their groundwaterpumping depletions, and the costly expense of doing so — preventing farmers from being able to pump some of their wells — has caused the aquifer to overflow in recent years.
Others, though, believe different factors, such as historically wet years in 2010 and 2011, have contributed to the rising groundwater levels and say the stringent augmentation requirements are needed to make sure surface flows are available for senior water users downstream.
Waskom now has the task of studying the South Platte basin’s groundwater to better find out what’s going on, and then giving a full report to state legislators before they convene for their 2014 session. While the study has been under way for months, Waskom did not discuss any of the Colorado Water Institute’s findings Tuesday, but said he plans to do so in the future, possibly within the next couple or few months.
Because Waskom and his staff have limited time and money to conduct the extensive endeavor, Waskom said he wants plenty of input from the public as he goes forward.
He received input aplenty Tuesday. The nearly 100 in attendance discussed the complexities of groundwater and surface flows. Geology, hydrology, climate and many other natural factors influence how groundwater pumping eventually affects streamflows, they all agreed.
Additionally, though, cities have been conserving more water in recent years and have plans to conserve more, which affects return flows to the river; farmers are shifting to more efficient irrigation systems, which continually changes how much water is percolating through the soil and into the aquifer; the rapid growth of nonnative vegetation along the streams and rivers is affecting how much groundwater is getting to the river. Attendees stressed to Waskom that those complicated factors and many others, along with the effects of groundwaterpumping for irrigation, all need to be worked into the study.
But many also said, regardless of the study’s outcome, all water providers and users can work together better to get the more “beneficial use” from both groundwater and surface flows. There were suggestions of forming more water cooperatives, and building smallscale storage projects — instead of largescale endeavors that cost more and take longer to permit — to store more water and also make it easier to exchange water with one another.
“Everyone understands the need for a solution,” Waskom said. “Hopefully this study can help give them that.”[…]
More meetings ahead
The public is invited to attend one of the two remaining meetings about the ongoing groundwater study in the South Platte Basin. The meetings are free and open to the public. They will be held from 68:30 p.m. on Monday at the Hays Student Center Ballroom at Northeast Junior College, 100 College Ave., in Sterling; and from 68:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 at Valley High School, 1001 Birch St., in Gilcrest.