NSAA vs. USFS: ‘[S]tate water laws currently protect the use of those developed water rights adequately’ — Bonnie Peterson

Snowmaking at Copper Mountain -- Photo / ColoradoSki.com
Snowmaking at Copper Mountain — Photo / ColoradoSki.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A measure that would prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from requiring ski areas to surrender water rights for operating permits by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., garnered support from U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat. Tipton, whose district includes most of the Western Slope and several ski areas, introduced the Water Rights Protection Act with U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., in response to the requirement that was first employed with the new ownership of Powderhorn Mountain Resort near Grand Junction in 2011. Tipton hinted earlier this summer that he was preparing legislation aimed at codifying Western water rights.

The Water Rights Protection Act, or HR3189, will extend beyond ski area permits, Tipton’s office said, noting it will apply to all water rights’ holders whose rights are conferred under state law, federal or state adjudication, decrees, and interstate water compacts. The bill also would apply to conditions for transfer or relinquishment, and for any restriction or impairment of water rights made for the benefit of the federal government, Tipton’s office said.

In the Powderhorn case, new ownership was required to sign over water rights issued under state law in order to obtain the Forest Service permit to operate the resort.

The National Ski Areas Association based in Lakewood filed suit and a federal judge ordered the Forest Service to comply with federal law requiring public comment on such significant changes in policy. No new policy has been made public.

The Forest Service said the policy was necessary to prevent ski areas from selling off their water rights for other purposes, a practice that Tipton noted in a statement on the bill had never happened. Ski areas use their water rights for snowmaking.

The measure would preserve state water law that is “being undermined by federal intrusion that creates uncertainty and jeopardizes the livelihoods of communities, individuals, and businesses responsible for thousands of jobs,” Tipton said in a statement. “To undermine this system is to create risk and uncertainty for all Western water users.”

Western Slope advocacy organization Club 20 supports Tipton’s efforts. “Club 20 policy does not support the Forest Service ski area water rights clause and supports Congressman Tipton’s efforts to keep the (Forest Service) from requiring that ski areas turn their water rights over to the federal government,” Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Peterson wrote in an email. “Should this practice be allowed, Club 20 members are concerned that the federal government would extend its reach to take ownership of water associated with other uses, like grazing and municipal water rights from those that have legitimately developed and own those rights.

“Water is a state issue and state water laws currently protect the use of those developed water rights adequately,” Peterson wrote.

More water law coverage here.

CWCB: Lamar water supply upgrade project gets funding OK

Roman lead pipe -- Photo via the Science Museum
Roman lead pipe — Photo / Science Museum

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A $2 million project to replace corroded water supply pipes in Lamar got its final piece of funding last week from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board approved a $785,000 loan and a $200,000 grant for the project, which will be matched by a $985,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable gave its nod to the project in June.

The project is needed because of heavy corrosion and leakage in the pipes that bring water from wells to the city. Water from two separate well fields is high in dissolved solids, and must be blended in order to use it. It also will upgrade parts of the water system in anticipation of completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which is several years down the road.

It’s estimated that Lamar water customers would pay an additional $1.07 per month to repay the state loan.

More infrastructure coverage here.

“the planners’ joke – there are two things that residents hate: sprawl and density” — John Fleck

Green River Basin: Utah may get its first nuke electrical generation plant if the water is there #ColoradoRiver

Desert landscape NW of Green River, Utah -- Photo via Heal Utah
Desert landscape NW of Green River, Utah — Photo via Heal Utah

From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

The fate of a proposed nuclear power plant — the first in Utah — turns on the ebb and flow of the Green River, where proponents of the project want to divert water to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors.

For five days in a small courtroom in Price last week, Judge George Harmond — who once served on the Utah Board of Water Resources — listened to reasons why the decision to grant that water for the plant was within the law or, alternately, why it contravened the statute governing water allocations.

Ultimately, whatever the 7th District judge decides — he took the case under advisement and will issue a decision within 60 days — the loser in this contest is destined to appeal.

I wonder what is different in the new designs that makes them require less water than Fukushima Daiichi did. It seems to me that it requires unlimited volumes of water when you are fighting for control of a fission reaction. That sort of supply is not apparent in the landscape near the reactor site.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Oil shale: Shell’s exit from the game does not worry companies left standing #ColoradoRiver

Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon -- Photo / Associated Pres
Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon — Photo / Associated Pres

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Some companies pursuing oil shale projects in Colorado and Utah voiced confidence in their efforts Wednesday even as they absorbed the news that Shell is shutting down its undertaking in Rio Blanco County.

Among them is American Shale Oil LLC, which holds a federal research, development and demonstration lease in Rio Blanco County and is working to develop oil shale in-situ, meaning in place underground. “AMSO’s still committed to its project. We still believe (oil shale) is a viable resource using our approach” to develop it, said Claude Pupkin, chief executive officer of Genie Energy, which owns a 50 percent interest in AMSO.

In northeastern Utah, Red Leaf Resources continues to move “full-speed ahead” with its project, with the next goal being a commercial demonstration of its surface-mining and processing approach to develop oil shale, said CEO Adolph Lechtenberger.

“Everything we look at in our technology says it’s certainly economic at today’s oil prices,” he said.

Shell said this week it is ending its in-situ Colorado oil shale project, which it began in 1996. Shell has been a leader in oil shale research in the region and owns three federal RD&D leases in Rio Blanco County. Shell said it had decided to focus on other opportunities and assets in its global energy portfolio, including oil shale projects in Jordan and Canada.

Last year, Chevron, which also holds a federal RD&D lease in Rio Blanco County, also said it was ending its oil shale project.

ExxonMobil, which recently was granted a federal RD&D lease in Rio Blanco County for an in-situ project, declined to react to Shell’s decision, saying it doesn’t comment on the activities of other companies. But spokesman Patrick McGinn said it is continuing lab-based work on its process.

Different barrel of oil

ExxonMobil is hoping to fracture shale, fill fractures with conductive material and then heat the shale with an electric charge to produce oil. “We are concentrating our efforts on developing additional improvements in thermal and electrical process efficiency to further improve the economic and environmental factors of any commercial development.

“Field experiments to test new developments could be conducted at either (the company’s Parachute-area) Colony Mine or the ExxonMobil RD&D lease in Rio Blanco County. We do not anticipate field tests in 2013,” he said by email.

Lechtenberger said it’s unfortunate to see a player of Shell’s size pull out of Colorado. “They’ve done a lot of good work over the years and made pretty good strides,” he said.

But he added, “I think we’re going after a different barrel of oil than Shell was going after.” Shell was targeting shale deep underground, he noted.

“Our technology is going after shale closer to the surface, easier to mine, with a lower cost to remove,” he said.

Enefit also is working on a surface shale project in Utah. Lechtenberger said he thinks the deeper-shale projects in Colorado “are going to be a challenge. I think they’re going to be capital-intensive and they’re going to take good technology to do it.”

Companies pursuing the in-situ process in Colorado are targeting the heart of what is the world’s largest oil shale resource and extends into Utah and Wyoming. They also say their approach will result in fewer surface impacts.

AMSO has been working through some challenges with heaters for its project and is currently evaluating alternative heaters it can use.

Pupkin said it’s important to note that Shell isn’t pulling out of oil shale altogether. “They have a very active project ongoing in Jordan and our understanding is that it’s because Jordan not only has very attractive oil shale but they’ve put in place a regulatory framework that makes investment projects capital-attractive,” he said.

Regulatory uncertainty

Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines, said the last he heard Shell has more than 200 people working on oil shale in Jordan. Worldwide, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on oil shale, he said. “They’re clearly not abandoning oil shale as a concept. They’re just deciding that Colorado is not the place they want to do it right now even though it’s (home to) the world-class resource.”

Pupkin said he thinks the regulatory uncertainty related to the Bureau of Land Management’s changing position regarding royalties and other oil shale rules contributed to Shell’s decision. Shell has voiced concern over that uncertainty in the past but didn’t specifically cite it this week.

The BLM also has sharply reduced the amount of land potentially available for oil shale leasing in the three-state region, and particularly in Colorado. “We think that the Obama administration has taken a pretty negative approach towards oil shale,” Pupkin said.

Jeff Hartley of Red Leaf Resources noted that his company doesn’t face the constraints Shell faced with BLM lands because it is working on school trust lands instead.

Viable technologies

Chevron spokeswoman Cary Baird said she doesn’t believe her company raised regulatory concerns as an issue when it made its oil shale decision. Rather, it was just a matter of prioritizing what opportunities to invest financial and human resources in at a global level, she said, somewhat echoing Shell’s reasoning. “There are difficulties occasionally in getting good, qualified people to work on different projects and when you have a global portfolio it makes it more complicated,” she said.

Shell’s decision comes as companies are using hydraulic fracturing to produce growing amounts of natural gas and oil. Shell just this week identified a location for a $12.5 billion natural-gas-to-liquids facility it hopes to build in Louisiana.

“When you compare the challenge of oil shale to the viability of these other sources, Shell like Chevron decided to place their focus on viable technologies and viable business models,” said David Abelson, oil shale policy advisor for the Western Resource Advocates conservation group. He said he wasn’t surprised by Shell’s announcement, and that it’s learned what other companies have learned over a century about the “extremely challenging” economics of developing oil shale.

“Shell has always said that this is a research project and they always talked about it being a heavy lift to create a viable fuel and what they learned is what Chevron learned,” he said.

He said Shell hasn’t been among the strongest boosters of oil shale. “It was the elected officials that got ahead of Shell and claimed the viability of these technologies,” he said.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Workshop: The Colorado Basin Roundtable and the Governor’s Statewide Water Plan #ColoradoRiver

From email from the Middle Colorado Watershed Council:

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council is excited to host an informational workshop [September 24] that will explore the opportunities for information exchange and integration between several important and timely water resource planning efforts currently underway. The afternoon’s panelists will include:

Jim Pokrandt, Communication and Education Specialist with the Colorado River District and Chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable;

Louis Meyer, President and CEO of SGM Inc., Garfield County’s representative on the Colorado Roundtable, and Consultant to the Roundtable for development of the Basin Plan; and

Ken Neubecker, Executive Director of the Western Rivers Institute and the Environmental Representative on the Colorado Basin Roundtable

Topics the speakers will cover include:

  • History of the Roundtable and its function
  • What the Statewide Water Plan intends to accomplish and how it will use information generated through the Roundtable process
  • Findings of the Roundtable analyses specific to the Middle Colorado River
    Projects identified to date and opportunities for generating new projects
  • Opportunities for information exchange, integration and collaboration between watershed-based, regional and statewide water resource planning efforts
  • The presentations will be followed by an open forum providing opportunity for Q&A as well as public input and feedback.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    Drought news

    usdroughtmonitor09242013

    From the US Drought Monitor discussion September 24, 2013:

    Weather Summary: Rain lingered in parts of Colorado and neighboring states for a few days in the wake of historic flooding, but mostly dry weather thereafter allowed recovery efforts to progress. However, a flood crest on the South Platte River coursed through northeastern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska, inundating some agricultural lowlands. Meanwhile, the tropical plume of moisture partially responsible for Colorado’s flooding shifted eastward in advance of a cold front. As a result, 1- to 3-inch rainfall totals were common along and east of a Wisconsin-to-Texas line. The rain temporarily halted fieldwork, including harvest activities and winter wheat planting, but aided some late-developing summer crops. Even heavier rain, locally 4 inches or more, curtailed fieldwork but eased drought from central and eastern Texas to the Mississippi Delta. Elsewhere, generally dry weather across the Southwest and the northwestern half of the Plains contrasted with scattered showers from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. The weather change in the Southwest signaled the end of the summer rainy season, while dry weather on the northern Plains promoted winter wheat planting and other fieldwork…

    The Great Plains: Like the Midwest, varying amounts of rain dampened the Great Plains. Heavy rain soaked much of the southeastern half of Texas, while another significant rainfall event drenched northeastern Colorado and neighboring areas. Both areas saw substantial reductions in drought coverage and intensity. However, little or no rain fell in several other parts of the region. In the heart of Colorado’s flood zone, an official observation site in Boulder received 16.69 inches of rain during the first half of September. Boulder’s previous wettest month had been May 1995, when 9.59 inches fell. According to emergency operations reports, Colorado’s flooding claimed seven lives, destroyed nearly 1,900 homes, and damaged more than 16,000 others. Meanwhile, month-to-date precipitation climbed to 6.80 inches in Cheyenne, Wyoming, most of which (5.80 inches) fell from September 9-16. Prior to this year, Cheyenne’s wettest September had occurred in 1973, when 4.52 inches fell. In Nebraska, a record-setting crest on the South Platte River passed Roscoe (3.20 feet above flood stage) on September 20, and arrived 3 days later in North Platte (1.36 feet above flood stage). Previous high-water marks had been observed in June 1995 at Roscoe and in June 1935 at North Platte. The Platte River at Brady, Nebraska, crested 3.23 feet above flood stage on September 23, surpassing the May 1973 high-water mark by more than a foot. Despite all of the rain, rangeland and pastures across some parts of the Great Plains continued to suffer from the cumulative effects of multiple drought years. On September 22, rangeland and pastures were rated at least one-third very poor to poor several states, including Texas (54%), Colorado (43%), Nebraska (40%), and Kansas (36%).

    The West: With the 2013 summer rainy season having ended across the Southwest in mid-September, further assessment of the robust monsoon led to additional reductions in drought coverage and intensity in the Four Corners States. In southeastern Arizona, Douglas experienced its greatest monsoon season rainfall on record, with 16.24 inches of rain having fallen from June 15 – September 24. Several other parts of Arizona also experienced near-record to record summer rainfall totals. Farther north, some early-season precipitation from winter-like storms began to arrive in northern and central California and the Northwest. For example, daily-record rainfall totals were noted on September 21 in locations such as Redding, California (1.22 inches), and Roseburg, Oregon (0.56 inch). No changes in the drought depiction were yet introduced in the Northwest, but the region will be monitored as precipitation continues to spread inland. Nevertheless, precipitation is beneficial for newly planted winter wheat, which by September 22 was 59% planted in Washington…

    Looking Ahead: An early-season snow storm will wind down on September 26-27 across the northern Rockies, while rain showers will gradually end in the Southeast. Meanwhile, a slow-moving cold front—and its associated surge of cold air—will reach the nation’s mid-section toward week’s end before weakening. A frontal remnant will move into the South and East early next week, while Pacific energy will arrive in the Northwest. Associated with the cold front, late-week precipitation totals of 1 to 2 inches can be expected across portions of the nation’s mid-section. Starting on September 27, heavy precipitation (locally 4 to 8 inches or more) will develop in the Pacific Northwest.

    The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for October 1-5 calls for near- to above-normal temperatures nationwide, except for cooler-than-normal conditions in a small area centered on the Four Corners region. Meanwhile, near- to below-normal precipitation across the majority of the U.S. will contrast with wetter-than-normal weather in the Pacific Northwest and a broad area stretching from the Gulf Coast into the lower Great Lakes region.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Garrison Wells):

    “There will be some improvement across the area, but we are still well below normal,” said Mark Wankowski, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. The wet fall, he added, is no indication that this winter will produce more snow than last year, he added.

    “There is no correlation between a wet fall and wet winter,” Wankowski said. “Forecast for the winter is that there is an equal chance of below, above or near-normal precipitation. Basically, it’s up in the air.”[…]

    Beating drought in El Paso County depends on mountain snowfall, [Kathy Torgerson] said. And what happens in the mountains this winter will be measured storm by storm. “There’s really no strong signal to drive it one way or the other,” Torgerson said.