Las Vegas is planning for a reduced share of #ColoradoRiver water over time

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Sin City is preparing for a time when it might have to go without. Without its full share of Colorado River water, that is. “We’re planning for a future without access to our (Colorado River) compact entitlement,” John Entsminger, senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told about 200 people at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s water seminar Friday at Two Rivers Convention Center.

Las Vegas is far from profligate with its use of water from the Colorado, Entsminger said. Not only is all the water used indoors on the famous Las Vegas Strip treated and returned to nearby Lake Mead, the city has instituted significant conservation efforts, Entsminger said. As a result, its water use fell from 325,000 acre feet of water in 2002 to 222,000 acre feet in 2012 while the city population grew by 400,000. Part of the reason for that is high water rates that put Las Vegas in the top 15 percent of western cities, he said.

Las Vegas, meanwhile, has started its own transbasin diversions of water from within the state and is working with other lower-basin states on projects to desalinate salt water, he said.

The state’s Colorado River water is pivotal for 70 percent of the state’s economy, Entsminger said.

Las Vegas uses most of the state’s 350,000 acre feet of water, a portion of the 7.5 million acre feet of water the upper basin of the Colorado River is required to deliver annually to the lower basin.

More coverage of the Colorado River District’s September 13 seminar from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

A call by Grand Valley water users for the Front Range to seek out water supplies other than from the Western Slope can’t work, the new head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board said. Augmenting the amount of water available from another basin might be technically feasible but it would be futile in the face “of political and practical reality,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said Friday at a water seminar sponsored by the Colorado River Water Conservation District. About 200 people attended the seminar at Two Rivers Convention Center.

Grand Valley water officials fashioned their call for eastern Colorado to find new sources of water in response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2015.

While it would be impossible to import water, Eklund said there are still possibilities to make better use of water within the state. “We can solve our problems in Colorado,” he said in an interview, noting that additional storage will be considered in the drafting of a statewide water plan.

Colorado is projected to grow to 7 million residents by 2030, Eklund said, calling for water officials around the state to confront skepticism and work together. People are skeptical of a statewide water plan because they fear what might happen to existing water law, but they have to seek out ways to meet in-state demands and to avoid federal interference. he said.

“The water landscape has shifted,” Eklund said. “If we want to have a different future for Colorado, it won’t happen by accident.” Coloradans, he said, in the meantime, will draw together in the face of disastrous flooding on the Front Range, especially in Boulder County.

“We’ll pull together to face this,” Eklund said.

Eklund, a Grand Junction native with family roots in Collbran and Cedaredge, was appointed to head the state water agency this year after having served as the senior deputy legal counsel to Hickenlooper and as an assistant state attorney general.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Parachute Creek spill: No benzene detected in creek since August #ColoradoRiver

Location of spill on Parachute Creek 2013 -- Graphic/The Denver Post
Location of spill on Parachute Creek 2013 — Graphic/The Denver Post

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

State regulators have finalized an agreement with a Williams subsidiary, finding it in violation of Colorado law and an associated rule in connection with a natural gas liquids leak near Parachute. Regulators also have cleared another company in the incident.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Bargath LLC reached what’s called a compliance order on consent in August. The department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division found Bargath in violation for having released hazardous materials to the environment without a permit.

The leak from a pressure gauge on a pipeline leading from Bargath’s gas processing plant resulted in high benzene levels in groundwater and occasional small amounts of the carcinogen in Parachute Creek. No benzene has been detected in the creek since August.

Meanwhile, the division has informed WPX Energy, an exploration and production company that owns the property where the leak occurred in a pipeline right of way, that it is closing enforcement action it had begun against WPX with no further requirements. The division indicated in a letter that WPX demonstrated “it did not cause or control the operations causing the release” of the natural gas liquids.

Additionally, last week Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Matt Lepore wrote to WPX that a notice of alleged violation it brought against WPX in March, when that agency first began investigating the case, has been closed. That’s because of COGCC’s decision to transfer the matter to the CDPHE after determining the leak wasn’t under its jurisdiction because it didn’t involve exploration and production waste.

Bargath continues to contend the liquids were indeed such waste and not subject to the hazardous materials division’s jurisdiction. But in signing the consent order it chose not to contest the issue. “They stepped up to the plate and decided not to fight even though they felt strongly about this,” said David Walker, an environmental compliance officer with the division.

The consent order includes no fines against Bargath, although that doesn’t preclude other state agencies from pursuing fines in the case. Division officials say the lack of a fine is based on the lack of negligence and the non-willful nature of the leak.

The agreement does call for Williams to pay $8,400 to reimburse division staff for its time working on the matter to date, and the company will continue to be billed for future expenses.

Walter Avramenko, the division’s hazardous waste corrective action unit leader, said Williams also probably already has spent several million dollars on the cleanup, which ultimately could cost it tens of millions of dollars.

The compliance order’s focus is on establishing requirements and schedules for Williams’ continuing cleanup of the leak, which could last a couple of years, followed by a long period of monitoring, Walker said.

In addition to other efforts, Williams has begun pulling contaminated groundwater from the ground, cleaning it with a treatment system and returning it to the aquifer.

Williams believes the leak occurred from Dec. 20 to Jan. 3. It estimates about 50,000 gallons of hydrocarbons leaked, with most of that vaporizing but about 10,000 gallons reaching the ground. The violation is based on groundwater benzene levels at 11 monitoring points that exceeded 0.5 parts per million, the minimum amount for which the division considers to be benzene in a liquid to be a hazardous waste. Readings at those points ranged from 7.5 to 38 parts per million.

However, the division is striving to have Williams clean up the benzene to the state’s much stricter groundwater standard of 5 parts per billion. That’s also the federal drinking water standard, although the state doesn’t consider the creek a drinking water source.

Williams personnel first discovered the leak Jan. 3 but thought it involved perhaps 25 gallons. They had dealt with an air line freezing causing a valve to close, and assumed that overpressurized and broke the gauge, Walker said. Only later did they realize the gauge had broken much earlier. Williams discovered the actual size of the leak in March during excavation work for a new pipeline.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Drought news: ‘…short of 1,000-year events, rain doesn’t boost storage, it just maintains storage by easing demands’ — Chris Treese #COdrought

US Drought Monitor Colorado Map September 17, 2013
US Drought Monitor Colorado Map September 17, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Rainstorms that pelted the West Slope while pounding the Front Range last week closed the major transmountain diversions that fed hardest-hit cities to the east. Stopping the diversions, however, isn’t expected to translate into significant storage increases on the West Slope after one of the driest winters on record.

Water managers on the West Slope “never count on rain to boost storage,” Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Chris Treese said. “If we had gotten East Slope volumes, we would have gained some storage — depending on location. But short of 1,000-year events, rain doesn’t boost storage, it just maintains storage by easing demands.”

“And likely more importantly, the soil moisture throughout the arid west received a huge bump,” Treese said.

The river has since dropped, though, and the call for the Shoshone generating station in Glenwood Canyon is back on. The water level of Lake Powell rose about two feet since the storm, or about 200,000 acre feet, Treese said. That’s less than 1 percent of the 26 million acre feet Powell can hold. The lake is about 44 percent full.

Even with the storms, storage on the West Slope is about where it would normally be at the end of summer, Treese said.

Front Range water managers were filling Estes Lake, which generally contains 97 percent water diverted from the West Slope through the Adams tunnel, entirely on runoff from the storms, Kara Lamb of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said.

Denver Water officials stopped diversions through the Roberts and Moffat tunnels but officials said they didn’t know how long the water would be shut off because those tunnels respond to calls from the South Platte River and customer demand.

Water officials shut down the Adams tunnel soon after the downpour set off alarms, warning officials with Reclamation and the Northern Water Conservancy District that Estes, designed to regulate the flows from across the Continental Divide, was being overwhelmed. Managers modified the way the system works “on this side to lessen the flood damage that would occur in Big Thompson Canyon,” Northern General Manager Eric Wilkinson said. Flood waters were shunted into Horsetooth and Carter lakes for a few days until debris closed off that option, “and we were unable to alleviate some the flows,” Wilkinson said.

Northern has two canals that showed considerable damage from the floods, but the district fared better than some ditch companies and other irrigators, Wilkinson said.

Some irrigation companies saw the bottoms of ditches scoured so deeply by the floods that the water now runs below their intakes, Wilkinson said.

Making repairs will take months, but, Wilkinson said, “We hope by winter to have the system back in fairly good order.”