Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #ColoradoRiver

August precipitation as a percent of normal for the Upper Colorado River Basin -- photo/Colorado Climate Center
August precipitation as a percent of normal for the Upper Colorado River Basin — photo/Colorado Climate Center

Click here to read the current assessment.

US Rep Cory Gardner’s permitting bill has not been introduced yet but opposition has already surfaced


From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Rep. Cory Gardner responded to criticism Tuesday from an environmental group, saying that opponents mischaracterized newly proposed legislation on water storage.

Gardner, said his bill would require regulators to approve or deny permits for reservoir projects within 270 days after a governor sends a letter to the federal government supporting a project. The congressman has criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for taking too long to approve the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

“Conservation is an important part of our water future in Colorado,” Gardner said. “But we also have to store more water.”[…]

Fort Collins-based Save the Poudre said Tuesday that Gardner’s bill would “gut” the National Environmental Policy Act and create a new bureaucracy within the Army Corps of Engineers called the “Office of Water Storage.”

“The National Environmental Policy Act is very clear: It requires sound science, and sound science takes time,” Save the Poudre director Gary Wockner said. “By forcing permitting in a certain time period, Congressman Gardner would be undermining and Gardner would be undermining and gutting the National Environmental Policy Act.”

Here’s the release from Congressman Gardner’s office:

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) led a water storage tour in Weld County this morning and announced that he would be introducing new legislation when Congress returns from its summer work period. Gardner said:

“Thank you to the many local and state officials who participated in the water storage tour this morning in Weld County and joined me in discussing the need for increased water storage in Colorado. The large presence of leaders in attendance demonstrates the need for immediate action on this issue.

“Water is one of the main drivers of economic growth in Colorado, and every industry in the state relies on this vital resource. I wish the federal government fostered a regulatory environment in which tours like the one I led this morning were not necessary, but that is simply not the case. The federal government has continued to stall important projects like NISP because of a permitting process in Washington, D.C. that creates bureaucratic regulatory barriers.

“The ongoing problems with water storage are why I plan to introduce a bill when Congress returns from its summer work period that fixes the broken permitting system. The legislation would establish an Office of Water Storage at the Army Corps of Engineers that would serve as the central hub for permitting decisions. This new office would coordinate with all agencies involved in the permitting and approval process for storage. The legislation would not call for circumvention of environmental reviews, but rather it sets a workable timeframe for an initial decision to be made on whether or not a project can move forward.

“I stand ready to work with any willing partners on this issue that is so important to all of Colorado and its communities.”

Drought news: Cortez precipitation way above average for August, drought lingers #COdrought


From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

“We were way above normal for the month of August,” said local meteorologist Jim Andrus. Standard rainfall for the area in August is 1.37 inches, but Cortez received 3.69 inches of rain last month, nearly three times the average…

Due to the August precipitation, Cortez has surpassed average year-to-date levels of precipitation. Andrus said normal precipitation for the year at this time is 8.27 inches. So far, Andrus has recorded 8.64 inches of rain in 2013. Earlier in the month, Tropical Storm Ivo stalled off the coast of the Baja Peninsula dropping nearly two inches of rain on the area within a 48-hour period.

Despite above average rains, Andrus warned drought conditions would persist until water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell return to normal. Both reservoirs remain well below normal levels, he added.

A National Weather Service cooperative weather observer for Cortez for the past 16 years, Andrus said Montezuma County has experienced repeating drought conditions since 1997. He’s recorded below normal levels of precipitation over a majority of the last 15 years.

The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill could be online in 2017


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Pinon Ridge Mill has cleared several major permit hurdles and survived court challenges from environmental groups. Its proposed location is in Paradox Valley between Naturita and Bedrock off Colorado Highway 90…

Energy Fuels Resources Corp., a Canadian-based company with a main office in Littleton, Colo., has been working towards building the $150 million plant for the last six years. EF also owns the White Mesa Mill, south of Blanding, Utah, which is currently the only operating uranium mill in the country.

The new Pinon Ridge mill would process uranium ore using an acid leach process to produce yellowcake, a concentrated uranium product that is fabricated into fuel rods for nuclear reactors. The mill is expected to process 500 tons a day of uranium ore from re-opened mines on the Colorado Plateau, Uravan Mineral Belt, and Arizona Strip.

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted EF a permit for the construction of tailings impoundment and evaporation ponds. A radioactive materials license was approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in April for the project…

The company still needs a construction permit from CDPHE before the project can break ground. Pending approval of permits, construction of the mill could be completed by early 2017. Public comments on the construction permit will be accepted. For more information go to http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/CDPHE-Main/CBON/1251583470000

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

Statewide water plan: ‘I want to hear what pieces are important to you’ — Gail Schwartz


Here’s a guest column about Colorado’s water plan, written by State Senator Gail Schwartz running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Senator Schwartz has been in the middle of water legislation for most of her time in the state legislature. Here’s an excerpt:

The state water plan will pave the way for water decisions that responsibly and predictably address future challenges. The governor’s executive order detailed that the plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. It must also incorporate efficient and effective water infrastructure planning while promoting smart land use and strong environmental protections that include healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been tasked with creating the Colorado Water Plan. The board must submit a draft of the plan to the governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014, and a final plan by Dec. 10, 2015. The CWCB will incorporate the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and nine Basin Roundtables recommendations to address regional long-term water needs.

As chair of the interim Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC), I will help ensure that the diverse voices of Colorado’s water community are heard during the development of this plan. The 10-member WRRC comprises legislators representing districts in each of the state’s major river basins. The committee has a full agenda as we are charged to review water issues and propose legislation. The WRRC will also remain actively engaged with the CWCB in development of the State Water Plan…

As charged, the water plan has a broad scope and will inevitably need to address difficult and contentious issues. I believe that we should first focus on conservation and efficiency both at the municipal/industrial level and in agriculture. Water conservation is an area with broad consensus. A recent public opinion study of Coloradans identified conservation as the most important water-related issue. Other studies have strikingly demonstrated that 80 percent of Coloradans favored conservation over new construction projects. In 2013, I sponsored SB13-19 which gives landowners a new tool to conserve water without injuring their water rights. New conservation and efficiency tools are needed in the State Water Plan as they stress wise use of our precious water resource.

Conservation may be just one piece of this larger puzzle, and I want to hear what pieces are important to you.

More statewide water plan coverage here.