Drought news: ‘You have to be tough in this country. The weather is harsh’ — Burl Scherler #COdrought

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From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Denver Post:

Exceptional drought conditions and untimely freezes that have left some southeast Colorado winter wheat fields with nothing to harvest also have limited the certified seed supply for next season. The Colorado Wheat Research Foundation works with certified seed growers of varieties developed by Colorado State University and predicts there should be enough seed available if farmers get in touch with dealers early. “It’s going to be very tight,” said Darrell Hanavan, the foundation’s executive director.

Certified seed is sold by growers authorized to raise new varieties that have patent-like protections. Customers usually are allowed to save some seed after the harvest to replant in their own fields, but it’s illegal for them to resell the seed to others.

This year, some farmers didn’t have enough of a harvest for grain, let alone seeds.

Certified seed growers in northeast Colorado, which got a little more moisture than southeast Colorado this season, have been fielding calls from southeast Colorado, western Kansas, and the panhandles of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas to see if they have surplus certified seeds they can sell.

Dan Anderson, a certified grower near Haxtun, said his supply is already about 70 percent sold. “We’ll still have some to sell, but most of the time, we’ve never been this far sold out this early,” he said. “Most of it has gone to local customers. They know the problems further south of here, so they’re speaking for seed earlier this year.”

Kansas, the nation’s top winter wheat producer, dealt with exceptional drought on the state’s western side. However growers in the central part of the state fared better and should be able to supply their counterparts in western Kansas with seeds, said Eric Fabrizius, associate director of the Kansas Crop Improvement Association.

About 43 percent of Colorado winter wheat is grown from certified seed, while the rest is from seed that farmers saved from previous harvests, Hanavan said. There are about 40 certified growers statewide, Hanavan said.

Burl Scherler of Sheridan Lake is among the few in southeast Colorado. Scherler estimates he harvested about 20 percent of his total acres this summer, but only about half was good enough for seed he could sell. Those acres yielded about one-third of the normal, he estimated. “We ended up with probably less than 6 to 7 percent of what we sold last year,” he said.

He is working to secure seed from northern Colorado for his customers, but it could be 20 to 30 percent more expensive than usual to cover expenses. There won’t be nearly enough for everyone either. “I’ve got enough for 25 percent of what I needed,” Scherler said.

“It’s just disappointing. It’s like working all year and not getting a check,” said Scherler, who said crop insurance will help keep him afloat. “You have to be tough in this country. The weather is harsh.”

Meanwhile, here’s a report about the drought in the southwestern US from the Los Angeles Times (Julie Cart) titled, “New Mexico is the driest of the dry.” Here’s an excerpt:

Across the West, changes in the climate are taking a toll. Almost 87% of the region is in a drought…

nowhere is it worse than in New Mexico. In this parched state, the question is no longer how much worse it can get but whether it will ever get better — and, ominously, whether collapsing ecosystems can recover even if it does.

The statistics are sobering: All of New Mexico is officially in a drought, and three-quarters of it is categorized as severe or exceptional. Reservoir storage statewide is 17% of normal, lowest in the West. Residents of some towns subsist on trucked-in water, and others are drilling deep wells costing $100,000 or more to sink and still more to operate.

New Mexico drought
The American West is experiencing a devastating drought, but no state is more parched than New Mexico. The entire state is officially in drought, and scientists, farmers and ranchers are trying to figure out how to cope with this new dry reality.
Wildlife managers are hauling water to elk herds in the mountains and blaming the drought for the unusually high number of deer and antelope killed on New Mexico’s highways, surmising that the animals are taking greater risks to find water.

Thousands of Albuquerque’s trees have died as homeowners under water restrictions can’t afford to water them, and in the state’s agricultural belt, low yields and crop failures are the norm. Livestock levels in many areas are about one-fifth of normal, and panicked ranchers face paying inflated prices for hay or moving or selling their herds.

The last three years have been the driest and warmest since record-keeping began here in 1895. Chuck Jones, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said even the state’s recent above-average monsoon rains “won’t make a dent” in the drought; deficits will require several years of normal rainfall to erase, should normal rain ever arrive.

Salida: New wastewater treatment plant grand opening August 15

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From The Mountain Mail (Casey Kelly):

Salida Wastewater Treatment Plant Manager Randy Sack sent a letter to nearby residents July 19 apologizing for an odor coming from the plant at the time, stating the smell was caused by “a couple” of incomplete projects that are being wrapped up at the plant. He said he had heard complaints from “a couple people” about the smell, yet he also heard from other residents that they didn’t notice any odor coming from the plant. He said it’s normal for some smell to come from a wastewater treatment plant. City Administrator Dara MacDonald said Monday the city had also received complaints abut the smell “several weeks ago,” around the time the letter was sent to nearby residents. Sack said Monday that the odors have “diminished a lot” since the letter was sent to residents in July. He said he is still waiting for parts for the inspection hatch on the plant’s digester.

MacDonald and Sack said they both hoped the project would be complete in time for the city’s scheduled grand opening for the plant from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 15. “They’re completing the projects as quickly as they can,” MacDonald said.

As previously reported in The Mountain Mail, the total cost of the Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade project is $17.6 million. The project is being financed through a $12.1 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $1.35 million Department of Local Affair grant (with matching funds from the city) and a $2.6 million USDA loan the city received in 2009.

The term of the loan is 40 years with an interest rate of 2.5 percent, below the market rate, City Finance Director Jan Schmidt said Monday. At the time financing was originally approved, the interest rate was set at either 3.25 percent or the rate in effect at the time of the loan’s closing, whichever was lower. When the loan closed in February, the city secured the lower 2.5-percent interest rate.

MacDonald said in April when the city adjusted sewer rates, it was done in anticipation of the facility upgrade and the debt service that would come along with it. She said then that revenue from the city’s sewer enterprise fund is projected to cover the cost of the annual payments, along with the plant’s operation and annual maintenance costs.

The city is required to make a minimum payment of $480,405 each year, but it can make higher payments to lower the amount of total interest paid over the life of the loan. If the city makes only the minimum payments, it will pay $7.1 million in interest over the life of the loan. Schmidt suggested at a February city council meeting that the city make payments of $542,844, which assumed the previous higher interest rate, which would have the city paying off the loan 8 years earlier and saving nearly $2.5 million in interest. Council will decide each year during the annual budget process whether to pay the minimum or the higher annual payment. She said the city is scheduled to make its first annual payment of $542,844 in September.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

Charlie Meyers SWA Stream Habitat Enhancement Project

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will begin work enhancing stream habitat on the Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area starting today August 5.

Anglers are advised that instream construction will occur Mondays through Thursdays, 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. through October 3 of this year. Heavy equipment will be actively operating in the river channel and along river banks. During these hours, river waters may become muddy (turbid) and fishing may be affected in the immediate vicinity and downstream of construction activities. There will be no instream construction activities Fridays through Sundays.

River channel and trout habitats are being restored for approximately 1.5 miles along the South Platte River. The upstream boundary is a posted property boundary marker (end of the improved habitat reach). The downstream boundary is the County Road 59 bridge crossing. This project will continue for two years from August to October 2013 and July to October 2014.

Alternative angling opportunities include two miles of the South Platte River below Spinney Mountain Reservoir Dam and the South Platte River below County Road 59 bridge to ElevenMile Canyon Reservoir.

This project was proposed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and is funded jointly by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Park County Land and Water Trust Fund Board, and is permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Project cooperators include Aurora Water Department, Cheyenne Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Colorado Department of Corrections, Colorado State Parks, Denver Water, and the Park County Land and Water Trust Fund Board.

Patience during the habitat construction period will be most appreciated.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Hail wipes out some northern Colorado crops

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Many farmers are playing the wait-and-see game to better understand how this weekend’s hail storm impacted their still-growing corn, sugar beets, onions and dry beans. But Weld County’s produce growers already know that a lot of damage was done.

Mike Hungenberg, with Hungenberg Produce north of Greeley, said one of his cabbage fields that was about ready for harvest was “mowed to the ground” by Saturday’s hail, and estimates the damage to that field alone was about a $450,000-$500,000 loss.

Corn, sugar beets, onions and beans won’t be harvested until closer to fall and are still in growth stages that could allow them time to recover from this weekend’s barrage of hail, local farmers said Monday morning.

That’s not the case for some of the area’s produce, much of which is farther along in its maturity.

Dave Petrocco, who operates Petrocco Farms out of Brighton, said the hail destroyed 80 percent of the crops at his four farms in the Greeley area — about 650 acres total.

Like Hungenberg, Petrocco estimates the damage done to his crops — squash, green beans, peppers, lettuce and others — will add up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Adding to their frustration is that insurance isn’t available for many of those crops, or is too expensive in some cases. When a hail storm rolls though and destroys fields of produce, it often results in a total loss. No insurance check will be coming in the mail to help those farmers recoup some of their thousands of dollars in input costs. “It’s certainly discouraging,” Petrocco said of the hail damage he recently suffered.

Hungenberg, whose business is widely known for its carrot production, said some of his carrot fields were also hit by the hail but that crop can recover. “Harvest of those carrots just might be set back about six weeks,” he noted.

Similarly, Weld County’s many growers of corn, sugar beets, onions and dry beans say the maturity of those crops was impacted, and yields might be diminished some in the long run.

If those fields can bounce back, farmers say the anticipated delay in crop maturity means they’ll need a long, dry fall to make sure they have enough time to harvest everything before frosts come along.

Comment period for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill open until September 13, public hearing August 13

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From The Watch (Gus Jarvis):

A public comment period is open until Sept. 13 on a proposal to build a uranium mill in the West End of Montrose County, with a public hearing set for Aug. 13, from 6-9 p.m., at the Nucla Moose Lodge.

Energy Fuels, Inc., the Canadian mining company proposing to build the first uranium processing mill in the U.S. in 30 years, submitted its construction plan and decommissioning funding plan for the proposed Pinon Ridge mill to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in May. The two plans are in accordance with the Radioactive Materials License Energy Fuels received in April.

If it is approved and built, Energy Fuels plans to operate the uranium/vanadium mill at a rate of 500 tons per day. Energy Fuels’ Construction Plan for the mill is a detailed outline for building and operating the mill facility, administration building, ore stockpile pads, tailings cells, evaporation ponds and surface water control features.

According to the construction plan, Energy Fuels plans to begin State Hwy. 90-access construction in the third quarter of 2015, with the mill’s detailed engineering completed by the first quarter of 2016. The company hopes to begin construction on the mill in early 2016. Mechanical completion of the mill and its commissioning is expected early 2017. During the main period of the mill’s construction, it is expected that approximately 200 people will be employed on the project.

Energy Fuels’ Decommissioning Funding Plan contains the cost estimate for decommissioning the mill, a description of the timing and method for assuring decommissioning funds and a certification by Energy Fuels that funding for decommissioning will be provided in the amount declared in its materials license.

This plan also provides a cost estimate for the long-term care fund and proposes a time of payment based on the import of uranium ore to the project site.

Both plans are available at http://colorado.gov/CDPHE. Hard copies can be viewed at the Nucla Public Library and at the Montrose County Planning and Development office.

From the Associated Press via the The Denver Post:

The Colorado health department is accepting public input on a Toronto-based energy company’s plan to build what would be the first new uranium mill in the United States in more than 30 years.
Representatives with Energy Fuels Resources Corp. said Friday the company has filed documents with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment outlining a construction plan for the Pinon Ridge mill on 880 acres in western Colorado’s Montrose County. The company wants to transform uranium ore into uranium oxide, which would then be sent out of state to be turned into fuel for nuclear reactors.

The mill is expected to process 500 tons a day of uranium and vanadium, which is used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.

Energy Fuels also has submitted a plan to fund maintenance and surveillance of the site after it is decommissioned and turned over to the state or the Department of Energy. The company was granted a radioactive materials license for the proposed mill in April.

Project leaders hope to begin construction of the mill at the beginning of 2016, to begin stockpiling ore later that year and to begin processing it in 2017.

Energy Fuels, which announced plans for the mill in 2007, will primarily process ore from mines in Gateway, Colo., and La Sal, Utah, according to CDPHE documents.

Colorado originally authorized the mill in 2011, but the decision prompted appeals from a handful of activist groups. A Denver judge eventually invalidated that license after finding that the state did not hold formal public hearings. Following new hearings, the license was granted anew this year.

Colorado’s public health department has scheduled a meeting in Nucla on Aug. 13 to gather comment on the plans for construction and funding for decommissioning. It will accept input by email, mail or fax until Sept. 13.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.