Localized rainfall is less important to the overall water equation than a good winter snowpack #COdrought

US Drought Monitor October 1, 2013
US Drought Monitor October 1, 2013

From The Crested Butte News (Seth Manning):

Even during rainfall events over the summer that would double the amount of water in the valley’s rivers and streams overnight, often the amount of water in the reservoirs remained largely unchanged. According to Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District general manager Frank Kugel, that’s what happens after two years of below-average precipitation.

Kugel told the Gunnison County Planning Commission at a meeting on Friday, September 6 that there were several peaks in the amount of water in Blue Mesa Reservoir over the summer, with some dramatic drops in between. He also said the localized rainfall is less important to the overall water equation than a good winter snowpack.

“The entire Gunnison River basin got less than a quarter of its normal inflow but the good news is that much of that inflow, percentage-wise, came from the East River and Taylor. Those are the two biggest contributors as far as basin inflows, percentage-wise,” Kugel said. “As grim as it looked we were actually doing better than some of our other neighbors in other basins. In the end there was a significant volume above what we had last year. That’s the good news.”

The bad news is that after two consecutive years of below-average precipitation in the winter months, Blue Mesa isn’t going to recover anytime soon and, Kugel said, will probably drop lower than it was at the end of last year.

“We’re anticipating by late October it will hit a low point. Likely not as low as 2002, but close,” Kugel told the Planning Commissioners. “So it’s going to be a long look out from the Lake City Bridge to where the lake actually starts.”

Even the heavy rains and snow that have swept across the Western Slope throughout September have yielded only modest gains in stored water, with Blue Mesa holding steady at 350,000 acre-feet.

And while the Gunnison River, the East River and Ohio Creek have all shown tremendous, temporary spikes in streamflow this summer, even doubling in size over night, Kugel said the years of drought have drawn down aquifers to a point where they can easily absorb any amount of water dropped during a rainstorm…

But through some litigation and inter-basin agreement, the UGRWCD has made great strides in securing the water already in use in the Gunnison Basin. Now it’s focused on providing the state with a clear plan for the basin’s water as part of the governor-initiated State Water Plan.

“Our number-one priority at this point is to protect existing uses within the basin, be it by overdevelopment from here or particularly to any export to other basin,” UGRWCD board member George Sibley told the commissioners. “We want to make sure we’re operating and managing our existing resources as effectively as we can and are prepared for other circumstances that may have dramatic impact on how much water is available.”

To accomplish that, the UGRWCD hired Lakewood-based Wilson Water Group—with a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board—as a contractor to help develop a water-use plan for the entire Gunnison Basin that will be submitted to the state for consideration as part of a statewide water plan to be drafted over the course of 2014.

At the same time, the UGRWCD is trying to keep information about the valley’s water supply flowing, through manual snowpack observations that are under threat of being defunded by the National Resources Conservation Service.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Streamflows in the #ColoradoRiver Basin in recent years are a cause for concern

Colorado River -- photo via Wikipedia
Colorado River — photo via Wikipedia

Here’s a report about the recent Colorado River District annual seminar from Hannah Holm writing for the Vail Daily. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

I wasn’t actually at the meeting — I was held up near Denver by landslides — but I recently caught some of the presentations on video, and so can you. The Colorado River District, which organized the meeting, has made videos of the presentations available on the Web at http://www.crwcd.org/. Slides shown by presenters are also posted there.

Colorado River District Manager Eric Kuhn set the stage for the day’s discussions with a few basic observations about the Colorado River Basin that are fundamental to understanding the challenges involved in trying to meet the needs of everyone who relies on the river: 35 million people (and growing) with 5.5 million acres of irrigated land in seven states, 10 autonomous/sovereign Native American tribes and two countries. He didn’t even have to mention the fish, cottonwoods, ski resorts or rafters to make the challenge sound daunting.

Kuhn pointed out that between 2000-13, natural flow into the Colorado River system above the Hoover Dam was 180 million acre-feet, while total water use from the basin was 210 million acre-feet, leading to a drawdown of 30 million acre-feet of water stored in reservoirs. And the Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study (Basin Study) released late last year forecast that demands are likely to keep growing.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that disaster lies around the next bend, but it might…

Other seminar speakers elaborated on this overall theme of shrinking supplies and growing demands, with presentations on our shrinking Rocky Mountain snowpack, dropping water levels in Lake Powell, Las Vegas strategies to adapt to dropping water levels in Lake Mead, innovative urban water conservation strategies and the challenges involved in planning to meet growing water needs within Colorado.

These issues show no signs of going away any time soon, and how they are resolved will have far-reaching implications for the whole region’s economy, environment and quality of life. Reviewing the presentations from the River District’s seminar will leave you well prepared to understand what’s going on and what’s at stake, and to add your voice to the conversation.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Parker-based Independent Energy Partners and the School of Mines are testing a new oil shale production technology

Geothermic fuel cell well field -- via Independent Energy Partners
Geothermic fuel cell well field — via Independent Energy Partners

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Colorado company is working with the Colorado School of Mines on the next stage of testing for a novel approach to developing oil shale. Parker-based Independent Energy Partners is pursuing the concept of using what it calls a geothermic fuel cell to employ heat to produce oil from shale in-situ, or in place, underground. Strings of fuel cells would be stacked in wells drilled into the shale.

The idea was first conceived by Marshall Savage, whose family has extensive land holdings in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin and who serves as IEP’s vice president of technology development.

A fuel cell can convert a fuel like natural gas into electricity through a chemical process. The patented, downhole heater being developed by IEP will use the waste heat to warm up the oil shale rock in what’s called a geothermic process, versus the geothermal one of tapping heat from the ground.

The company plans to use locally produced natural gas to get the fuel cells going, but under the concept the cells then will operate on gas generated along with oil in the heating process. Electricity production will be a side benefit of the process, and IEP President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Forbes said the process would be water neutral because water produced by the fuel cell would offset consumption. Carbon emissions would be minimal because there’s no combustion, he said.

The company had Pacific Northwest National Laboratory do work to confirm the concept’s technical viability, and had Delphi, a solid oxide fuel cell maker, make a downhole prototype. Now, IEP is paying about $900,000 for the School of Mines to do prototype testing at its Colorado Fuel Cell Center. The school received a small unit earlier this year and a stacked one more recently.

Initial testing will be followed next year by in-ground tests on campus, and then field tests in oil shale formations, with a goal of producing oil in 2015. IEP holds several leases on private property in Rio Blanco County.

“It’s kind of an exciting research project,” said Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the School of Mines.

Said Forbes, “We’re pretty confident it’s going to work fine, it will work as advertised.”

Boak said one challenge the company might face is rock shifting when heated and damaging heaters. He said he thinks Shell faced such problems but was able to solve them. [ed. emphasis mine]

The company is pressing forward even as Shell has announced the end of its Colorado oil shale research and development project, citing a desire to focus on other global opportunities.“I know that they haven’t been doing really well at a corporate level and I think they’re just readjusting their priorities,” Forbes said.

He said IEP’s work is “moving right along.”

“We’re quite pleased with the progress and the parties we’re working with right now.”

Those parties include the energy giant Total, which also is a partner with American Shale Oil in an in-situ project in Rio Blanco County and is invested in Red Leaf Resources’ project to mine and process oil shale in Utah.

“I think Total is very energized by this (IEP) approach and other approaches and is eager to see something proceed here,” Boak said.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

‘In my experience, you don’t ever get a perfect solution’ — Diane Mitsch Bush #COflood

Flooded well site September 2013 -- Denver Post
Flooded well site September 2013 — Denver Post

From Colorado Public News (David O. Williams):

Colorado state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush says she plans to take up the issue of water contamination and greater setbacks for oil and gas wells from waterways in the wake of this month’s devastating flooding. Mitsch Bush, a Democrat representing Routt and Eagle counties on the Western Slope, told Colorado Public News new rules need to be considered for keeping drilling away from rivers and streams. The approach is similar to the state’s new setback rules for homes and public buildings, which went into effect Aug. 1. Current rules prohibit drilling within 300 feet of streams that provides municipal drinking water – extending five miles upstream of the water intake – but that setback doesn’t apply to bodies of water in general…

Rivers across northeastern Colorado – including the South Platte and St. Vrain – have been inundated with a variety of contaminants from flooding that started Sept. 11. Mitsch Bush said she is concerned about potential health impacts of the 890 barrels of oil that regulators confirmed have spilled in the flood zone.

“Any oil, any condensate, has the BTEX [benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene] component and many others,” said Mitsch Bush. “All of those are very contaminating in a water body in relatively small portions. I think it’s really important that we don’t minimize what’s in there, but at the same time that we don’t have a huge overreaction either.”[…]

Asked about the potential for new setback laws or rules as a result of the floods, a spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, said their continued focus is on recovery, safety and getting production back online.

“Once flooding began, over 1,900 wells were shut in,” the group’s Director of Policy and External Affairs Doug Flanders said in an email, referring to the organization’s website for shut-in procedures. “To date, this has resulted in less than 1 percent of the wells having any isolated incidents due to debris-filled flood waters…

“In my experience, you don’t ever get a perfect solution,” she said, “but you get a better, a good, a sufficient solution if you can work with all the groups and sit down, talk about it, work together and see what you can come up with.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

‘When the big one [flood] comes, there will be added damage from growth in Colorado Springs’ — Sal Pace

Cherry Creek Flood August 31, 1933 -- photo via the Denver Public Library
Cherry Creek Flood August 31, 1933 — photo via the Denver Public Library

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A large dam on Fountain Creek is needed to prevent the kind of damage from flooding witnessed in Northern Colorado last week, a county commissioner says.

“When the big one comes, there will be added damage from growth in Colorado Springs and the burn scars of two large fires. The flooding will be worse than ever,” Commissioner Sal Pace said Thursday.

“We only have to look at the tragic events in Boulder and Larimer counties, in Lyons and Estes Park, to see what could happen.”

Floods, some rated as 500-year storms, overcame numerous small dams. Larger dams, such as Bear Creek and Cherry Creek reservoirs in the Denver Metro area, held up, he pointed out.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.