American Rivers names the Colorado River most endangered for 2013 #ColoradoRiver

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Without the Colorado River, there would be no Mesa Park Vineyards in Palisade. The 10-acre operation is totally reliant on the river’s water, Brooke Webb of the family-owned operation said Wednesday. That’s part of the reason Webb joined in a news conference by American Rivers announcing that the Colorado River has been named the conservation group’s most endangered river for 2013. Without the river, there would be no Palisade peaches, no area wine-making, she said. It likewise is responsible for 15 percent of the nation’s crops and $26 billion a year in recreation, she said. “We want to preserve our way of life and for the river to be there for future generations,” said Webb, also part of the National Young Farmers Coalition.

The river, a lifeline to millions, also is sapped by such high demand. American Rivers said in a news release that the Colorado River tops its list for this year due to “outdated water management that is inadequate to respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought.” The group said a recent U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study showed there isn’t enough water in the river to meet the river basin’s current water demands, much less support future increased demands. It said the river is threatened by the possibility of diversions of 300,000 additional acre-feet of water to the Front Range, and a possible 10 to 30 percent reduction in the river’s flow by 2050 due to climate change.

Coconino County, Ariz., Supervisor Liz Archuleta said the white-stained sandstone bathtub ring of Lake Powell, which currently has a water level 102 feet below capacity, “serves as a clear reminder of the overuse of the Colorado River.”

The river provides drinking water to 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles.

“Today the river is so dammed, drained and diverted that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the sea,” American Rivers president Bob Irvin said. “Now is the time to put the Colorado River on the path to recovery.” The organization says one way to do that is to adequately fund “21st-century” water management practices that optimize existing infrastructure and emphasize efficiency and conservation.

Jim Lochhead, manager and chief executive officer of Denver Water, said he thinks American Rivers overstates the problem involving the river and doesn’t “really add to the conversation, frankly.”

“The situation is not as bleak as portrayed by this announcement,” he said. He said he thinks the group overemphasizes the worst-case scenarios on climate change and isn’t realistic about the amount of Front Range water diversions that might actually occur. Denver Water spent roughly a decade seeking permits for a 15,000-acre diversion and has nearly reached a deal with Western Slope entities under which any further diversions only would occur in partnership with the Western Slope, he noted. But he said obviously there are issues involving the river, including California’s overuse of water from it over the last two decades. “I think that the states and the Department of Interior are clearly working together to address those issues in an incremental way,” he said.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs, said he hadn’t had a chance to look at the report. But he added, “Anything that brings more attention to the (Bureau of Reclamation) basin study is very positive.” He said looking at possible future water shortages can lead to overstating the problem today, but he added that for the river to not reach the sea now already is a problem.

That said, Kuhn takes issue with the idea that the river suffers from antiquated management. Colorado water law has a long history but isn’t necessarily antiquated, and the river’s management also involves six other states grouped in upper and lower basins, and Mexico, he said. He said American Rivers probably has underestimated the importance of agreements in recent years that address matters such as water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and the river situation in Mexico. Such agreements aren’t easy to reach, he said. “The kind of progress that’s been made is maybe incremental but it’s significant,” Kuhn said.

The Colorado River has made American Rivers’ annual list of the 10 most endangered rivers six times, and was named the most endangered three of those times. In coming up with its annual list, the group considers factors such as whether a river faces a serious threat. Last year, the Green River was ranked second due to proposals to pipe water from it to the Front Range, and the Crystal River south of Carbondale was ranked eighth because of a river district reservoir proposal there.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Citizens Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Citizen Advisory Group gets update on de-commissioning roadmap

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The road map integrates the paths of the various authorities that cover different parts of the site, said Jennifer Opila, radioactive materials unit leader with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The documents cover the requirements for 1988 Consent Decree/Remedial Action Plan (CD/RAP), Cotter’s operating license and the Comprehensive Environment Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund).

The document originally was published in July 2012, prior to the “pause” that is in effect at the site. CDPHE and the Environmental Protection Agency accepted public comments on the document at that time and released the current version at the end of March.

“This is the road map in its final stage at this time,” Opila said. “For now, we are not planning on taking formal comments on this version of the road map.”

However, she said the document is fluid and subject to change as the process moves forward, so the agencies will be accepting informal comments over time.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.

The NSAA offers a fresh start in negotiations with the USFS over water rights ownership

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

“Our new approach assumes that all previous water clauses are no longer in effect, null and void, and unenforceable. It would result in a consistent water policy across the board going forward,” said NSAA policy director Geraldine Link. The ski industry comments came as the Forest Service held a series of hearings around the West in the early stages of developing a new water rights clause that eventually will become part of agency permits for businesses operating on public lands…

For the ski industry, its partially a financial issue. Resorts have spent millions of dollars developing and perfecting water rights under state law, and to the NSAA, any permit language requiring a transfer of those rights is unacceptable and illegal.
A required transfer would impair the value of the resorts’ investments and could hinder their ability to finance capital improvements, the NSAA wrote.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The U.S. Forest Service will pay $125,000 to the National Ski Area Association for its attorney fees in a case the association brought to stop the agency from demanding new water rights. U.S. District Judge William Martinez approved an agreement between the agency and association after the ski areas sought $163,000 in attorney fees for the case, according to court papers.

The agreement to pay attorney fees drew a scathing response from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., who said that $125,000 is “a lot of money, especially when it’s at taxpayer expense and at a time when the Forest Service should be dedicating as many resources as possible to addressing the hazardous conditions of our forests to prevent wildfire.”

The ski areas sought attorney’s fees under a federal law that requires the Forest Service to pay attorney’s fees if a judge “concludes the Forest Service’s position was not substantially justified,” Geraldine Link, the attorney for the National Ski Area Association, said in an email.

The association filed suit last year after the Forest Service required the new ownership at Powderhorn Mountain Resort to surrender new water rights to the agency in exchange for a permit to operate the ski area on national forest lands.

Although the agreement includes a provision in which the Forest Service admits no allegations, Link said the deal makes it clear “that taxpayer dollars are being used in defense of an unlawful federal water grab.”

Martinez rejected the ski-area water rights directive after finding that the Forest Service had failed to meet public-participation requirements in drafting it.

If the Forest Service moves forward on the directive, “the costs will be even greater to the businesses, farmers, ranchers and communities that rely on these water rights for their livelihoods,” Tipton said.

The Forest Service conducted the first of several focus-group open houses nationwide on Tuesday in Denver. Officials anticipate publishing a draft directive later this year in the Federal Register, then conducting a public-comment process before adopting a new directive.

Concern about the consequences of such a policy extends beyond the ski industry. “We’re very concerned about the implications of such a clause targeted to one industry because if it’s successful and because it’s outside Colorado water law, could the U.S. government demand similar rights of agriculture, municipal water users, anyone who develops a water right that originates on public land?” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, a Western Slope advocacy organization.

More water law coverage here.

Forecast news: Moderate snow for the northern mountains, red flag warning southwest #COdrought #COwx

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

A low pressure system and associated cold front will slowly sag southward across the region today through Tuesday morning. This storm system will bring periods of showers and isolated thunderstorms to the northern Colorado mountains/valleys, with a minimal chance of showers elsewhere. Moderate snow amounts are expected for the northern CO mountains with winter weather advisories in effect. Across far southwest Colorado, a Red Flag Warning is in effect this afternoon/evening due to expected low relative humidity, gusty winds and dry fuels. It will be much cooler on Tuesday behind the cold front, with showers diminishing in the afternoon. A gradual warm up begins Wednesday with above seasonal temperatures by Friday, it will also generally be dry the latter part of the week aside from a few mountain showers.

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

A new weather system is expected to enter the Rocky Mountain region Monday…pushing a surface cold front southward through Colorado by evening. Timing of the front should allow temperatures to warm to Sunday’s readings or higher…before cooler air starts to spill through the area late in the day. Rain and snow showers are possible most of the day over the mountains…while the region’s lower elevations will likely see precipitation delayed until the frontal passage in the afternoon and evening.

From the CoCoRaHS blog:

Deep snow cover over Canada has maintained the supply of cold air this spring and there is still 30 cm (12 inches) or more on the ground across the Prairie provinces. A persistent upper level trough pattern over over the central U.S. has deflected the storm track farther south this spring and allowed the cold air to spill farther south than normal.

In the past two days more than 600 record lows and 560 record low maximum temperatures have been recorded from the Dakotas to the southern tip of Texas…

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? There’s a light, but it might be another freight train, at least in the short term. An upper level system is moving into the Pacific Northwest today and will drop into the central Rockies by Tuesday. The surface low will organize in the Central Plains and bring another round of snow to an area from Wyoming and Colorado to Minnesota. Another surge of cold air will follow this system.

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

A cold front will move through the eastern plains of Colorado this evening and bring much colder air to the region. Expect any rain showers to quickly change to snow. Blowing snow can be expected as winds will be very gusty behind the front. Temperatures, after being near 70 degrees in many areas, will fall to the low to mid 20’s tonight.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The National Weather Service is calling for rain early in the day Monday followed by snow showers after noon. Daytime accumulation is expected to be minimal as winds gust up to 25 miles per hour. Weather service forecasters predict a 70 percent chance of precipitation. Overnight Monday, the snow is expected to continue with calmer winds and a forecast low of 20 degrees. The weather service predicts one to three inches of snow overnight. The chance of precipitation is forecast at 80 percent.

Snowpack/drought news: Dust events in April expected to affect runoff #COdrought #COwx

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From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Dust blown in from the Southwest settled on snow over many of Colorado’s mountains during last week’s storm and will eventually affect how fast the snowpack melts and possibly how much water the state can hold onto. Researchers say the dust kicked up from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah by southwesterly winds fell in Steamboat Springs, Summit County, Vail, Aspen and the San Juan mountains. Dust also was scattered in the snow that fell along the Front Range but it’s likely that dust could have been carried by southeasterly winds from other areas too, including parched Southeastern Colorado, the San Luis Valley and the Arkansas River Basin, state climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

Jeffrey Deems, a research scientist for NOAA in Boulder, said dust on top of snow can absorb up to twice as much sunlight as clean snow, speeding up melting. He compares the effect to wearing a dark T-shirt on a sunny day.

This week’s dust storm was the second widespread one in Colorado’s mountains this season. Another storm on April 8 left a thick layer of dust in the state’s snowpack, which has now been boosted to 79 percent of the peak average thanks to this week’s storm. ‘‘It’s kind of a mixed blessing now,’’ Deems said of the new, dusty snow.

More snow is in the forecast but whenever the dust layers from this week and earlier this month are eventually exposed, there will be a significant speed up in the melting of the snow at that time, said Chris Landry of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton. The center is studying the impact of dust on snow for water providers across the state and periodically checks sites at mountain passes across the High Country for dust. If clean snow keeps falling the impact will be delayed, Landry said, helping farmers without storage who don’t need irrigation water just yet and rafting companies hoping to attract customers to big flows later in the season.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Barbara Cotter):

Colorado Springs Utilities expects to take a $17 million bath because of watering restrictions this year, but it has no plans to push for a rate hike to make up for the budget shortfall.

“Our approach is to look internally,” Utilities spokesperson Patrice Lehermeier said Thursday. “We’re already running a pretty tight shop, but we’re looking at maybe cutting other programs. So it’s a little bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul, internally, at least, while we look at where to make further reductions in other programs.”

With the Pikes Peak region facing a persistent, severe drought, the Colorado Springs City Council approved Utilities’ request for two-day-a-week landscape watering restrictions beginning April 1, with the goal of saving 5.8 billion gallons water through Oct. 1, compared with same six-month period last year.

But when customers use less water, their bills drop, and Utilities gets less money. From 2002 to 2005, when watering restrictions were in place, Utilities lost $24.4 million. Rates did go up, though Lehermeier said the increases were tied to projects and other items not related to the restrictions.

Benzene detected in Parachute Creek #ColoradoRiver

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From KDVR.com:

For the second straight day, the cancer-causing chemical benzene has been detected in Parachute Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, downstream from a hydrocarbon leak at a Williams Gas facility that was first detected more than a month ago.
Sampling of the creek on Friday detected benzene at 2.7 parts per billion, similar to Thursday’s detection of benzene at 2.8 parts per billion — the first time benzene, which has been found in much higher and hazardous concentrations in groundwater just feet from the creek, has been detected in surface water.

The state drinking water standard for benzene is 5 ppb. While the current samples are just trace amounts below that standard, the groundwater contamination levels were 3600 times the standard last month. “Sampling at three more points downstream of those detections did not detect benzene,” said Todd Hartman with the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources, in an email to reporters Friday. “Sampling back upstream, above the initial benzene detection, also did not reveal contamination.”

Samples for benzene taken at the point where the town of Parachute diverts water for its irrigation supply 2.7 miles downstream of the gas facility continued to show no detection of benzene.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Benzene has been found in Parachute Creek for the first time since testing began in response to a natural gas liquids leak north of Parachute. Williams and the state Department of Natural Resources said in news releases that the carcinogen was found Thursday at multiple locations, but in amounts below Environmental Protection Agency safe drinking water standards of 5 parts per billion.

Williams said an initial result came back Thursday showing a detection of 2.8 parts per billion. The state said another detection at the same location was 2.7 ppb. Williams said the initial detection was about 1,200 feet downstream from where a pressure gauge on a natural gas liquids line leaked thousands of gallons. The state said the point was about 1,800 feet downstream. No benzene has been found upstream of the leak site.

In response to the detections, Williams did real-time sampling farther downstream Thursday and tests showed benzene at 1.5 ppb 680 feet from the first detection point, and 1.1 ppb 1,900 feet from the first point. Samples taken Thursday where Parachute diverts water for its irrigation supply showed no benzene. Williams said benzene floats on water, dissolves only slightly in it and evaporates quickly from the surface.

Williams is installing aeration, or air-sparging, technology to remove benzene near the initial detection point and 1,900 feet farther downstream. It also has added an additional boom below the initial detection point.

Parachute’s diversion site is 2.7 miles downstream of Williams’ gas plant.

High benzene levels have been found in groundwater on either side of the creek, but benzene hadn’t previously been detected in the creek despite frequent testing. Authorities have said that’s because the groundwater below the creek apparently flows away from it. But the state said the situation appears to be different at the initial point of benzene detection in the creek, with groundwater flowing toward the stream. That point is the farthest downgradient from the valve site where benzene has been detected in groundwater, and the groundwater detection there was 440 ppb Monday, prompting surface water sampling nearby the next day, the state said.

Part of Williams’ response is building a 200-foot-long groundwater interception trench adjacent to the creek at that point, , the state said.

Williams said that it is continuing twice-daily sampling at Parachute’s diversion point. “As a precautionary measure, the city of Parachute’s irrigation gate on Parachute Creek will remain closed until additional data is collected,” it said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The discovery of benzene in Parachute Creek this week is causing heightened anxiety about the possible ramifications of the natural gas liquids leak in that watershed.

“It is of great concern to see it in the creek,” said Kirby Wynn, oil and gas liaison for Garfield County. He said the county is hoping to organize a public meeting in the Parachute area as early as next week and to have investigating agencies along with Williams, the company that has said it is responsible for the leak, provide updates and answer questions.

Williams and the state Department of Natural Resources on Thursday reported the first detection of benzene in the creek since monitoring began last month. The benzene levels were within the Environmental Protection Agency standard for safe drinking water. Groundwater monitoring wells on each side of the creek have shown much higher benzene levels.

Williams says the leak is the result of a faulty pressure gauge on a valve set for a liquids pipeline from its natural gas plant up the creek valley. It discovered the faulty gauge and removed it Jan. 3 but thought that less than 25 gallons had leaked. It now estimates that some 10,000 gallons entered the soil and groundwater, of which about 6,000 gallons has been recovered.

The town of Parachute’s diversion point for its irrigation supply is about 2.7 miles downstream of the valve area.

Judith Hayward, a former Parachute town trustee, previously has expressed concern about the safety of using the irrigation water for gardening once the watering season begins. She said Friday she also worries that some town residents may not be fully informed about the continuing developments involving the leak. “It seems like every other day or so there’s a new finding. I just have so many questions as to what a community can really do to protect themselves,” she said.

A benzene measurement Friday at the point where the substance was first detected in the creek earlier this week 1,800 feet downstream of the valve set was 2.7 parts per billion. That’s little changed from an earlier reading of 2.8 ppb. A sampling site 680 feet downstream of the point of initial detection showed benzene at 1.5 ppb Friday, and one farther downstream read 1.2 ppb. Sampling sites even farther downstream, including at the town diversion point, show no benzene.

Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray said the detections in the creek are “well below the regulatory standard, the allowable standard.” The EPA drinking water standard for benzene, a carcinogen, is 5 ppb.

Steve Gunderson, director of the state Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a prepared statement Friday, “Although the benzene levels in the creek are below state drinking water standards, their presence reinforces the need to assure that the cleanup of this spill is done as expeditiously as possible.”

CDPHE is meeting regularly with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and EPA “to discuss the cleanup and the appropriate measures to be taken,” he said.

Williams and regulators on Friday finalized plans that workers will begin implementing over the weekend to address benzene in the creek, including air-sparging systems that remove benzene through aeration.

Samples upstream of the valve area continue to show no sign of benzene that would indicate a possible source separate from the natural gas liquids leak.

Bob Arrington is a retired engineer in Battlement Mesa who pointed to the pressure gauge as the likely source of the large volume of contamination first found in March, even when Williams still thought the gauge had leaked only a small amount. He also predicted benzene ultimately would show up in the creek where it did, at a gradient pinch point where groundwater was more likely to flow into the creek rather than away from it. He said Friday that even benzene below EPA standards can cause some cancer cases. He thinks Williams should begin doing groundwater monitoring where the creek enters the Colorado River and work its way upstream, as a precautionary measure.

Gray said Williams already has tested groundwater downstream to the point where it is getting readings of no benzene in the groundwater.

Given the extent of the groundwater contamination that has been discovered, Arrington also challenges Williams’ contention that about 80 percent of what it calculates escaped from the gauge, or about 40,000 gallons, vaporized into the atmosphere rather than reaching the ground. He thinks a lot less may have vaporized because of the cold weather at the time of the leak. “I think when you have something like that you have to look at it from the worst possible case and do your planning accordingly,” he said.

Gray said the estimate of the percentage that vaporized and evaporated comes from a standard industry model created using EPA guidance.

Meanwhile, Hayward is concerned about Williams’ plans to build another natural gas liquids line that will go under the creek in the same corridor that holds the existing line that had the leaky gauge. “The fact that these pipelines are going under our creek … who let that happen?” she asked.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Lawsuit over Red River Compact and Oklahoma water law could impact river compacts across the U.S.

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From NPR (Joe Wertz):

The [U.S. Supreme Court] will hear oral arguments [Tuesday] in the case of Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, et al. The case pits Oklahoma against Texas over rights to water from the river that forms part of the border between them. Depending on how the court decides, it could impact interstate water-sharing agreements across the country…

The future looks bright for this part of Texas, but it also looks dry. Drought has hit Texas particularly hard over the past couple of years. Water officials say the north Texas region’s growth is outpacing the water supply nearby.

“All of the locations — watershed locations — close by have been tapped for us,” says Linda Christie, government relations director for the Tarrant Regional Water District. The district is the water authority for an 11-county stretch of north Texas that includes Ft.Worth. “So now we’re going to have to go 200, 300 miles. And most of it would be water that is being pumped uphill.”

The Red River, less than 75 miles from Fort Worth, seems like an ideal solution to the Tarrant Water District’s problem. Fed by the Rocky Mountain snow pack, the river runs southeast on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas and Oklahoma already have a formal agreement on how to share water from the Red River. In 1980, Congress ratified the Red River Compact, giving the two states — along with Arkansas and Louisiana — an equitable apportionment of water from the river and its tributaries.

But what’s “equitable” is arguable. And that’s what the Supreme Court case is all about.

The Red River lies entirely within the state of Oklahoma. Texas argues that it can’t get its share of the Red River watershed from the Texas side of the river, so it needs to reach across the river into southeastern Oklahoma to get it…

Texas has tried to buy Oklahoma water from the state, its cities and towns, and its Native American tribes. But Oklahoma lawmakers have blocked those efforts with a string of laws restricting out-of-state water exports.

The view in Texas is that Oklahoma isn’t even using its full allocation of Red River water. Oklahomans respond that Texas hasn’t gotten serious enough about conservation.

In 2007 — citing the compact — the Tarrant District sought permission from Oklahoma regulators to tap the Kiamichi River, a Red River tributary located entirely within Oklahoma. Oklahoma said no, arguing that the compact does not supersede the state’s own authority over a water resource within its borders. The dispute has been in court ever since.

The lower courts have agreed with Oklahoma so far. But Christie says the Tarrant Water District is encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case. And the Obama administration has sided with Texas, too. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the U.S. solicitor general worried about the impact to North Texas’ population growth, and argued that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals improperly assumed Oklahoma’s laws preempt the Red River Compact’s authority.

State and local policymakers and water authorities throughout the country are closely watching the outcome of the case, says Stephen Draper, a water expert who helped write guidelines for interstate water sharing for the American Society of Civil Engineers. Here’s why: The Red River Compact contains a lot of the same boilerplate language used in other state-to-state water sharing agreements.

If Oklahoma’s protectionist water laws are upheld, Draper says other states could be inspired to pass similar laws of their own.

More water law coverage here.