Chaffee County green-lights geothermal 1041 regulations

Geothermal Electrical Generation concept -- via the British Geological Survey
Geothermal Electrical Generation concept — via the British Geological Survey

From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

Chaffee County commissioners passed a resolution approving the county’s new geothermal 1041 regulations and lifting the moratorium on geothermal development in the county during their meeting Tuesday. The county commissioners heard and incorporated comments from Chaffee County attorney Jenny Davis on the proposed geothermal 1041 regulations. Her recommendations changed some of the recommendations made to county commissioners by the Chaffee County Planning Commission.

In July the planning commissioners asked the county commissioners to postpone any decision on their draft 1041 regulations for “Use of Geothermal Resources for the Commercial Production of Electricity.”

At the county commissioners’ Sept. 3 hearing on the proposed 1041 regulations, commissioners instructed staff members to incorporate most of the Chaffee County Planning Commission recommendations.

The Planning Commission had recommended that the 1041 regulations not govern surface uses related to geothermal development, leaving surface uses to be addressed through a county land-use change permit. Davis recommend the 1041 regulations include surface uses and not require the applicants to go through both the 1041 and the land-use change processes. Having an applicant go through both “would be a redundant process,” Davis said. Having the 1041 process address the above-ground uses would allow for more flexibility in a process tailored for geothermal projects.

Davis also recommended the commissioners keep existing language regarding use of geothermal resources in the environmental impact analysis section of the application process and not limit those uses to “legal uses.” With a domestic well, the owner has no legal right to the water’s heat, only the water itself, Fred Henderson, chief scientific officer for Mt. Princeton Geothermal, said previously. People using heat from geothermal water without a legal right to the heat can change their well permits to define and allow use of the heat, he said. Some businesses, such as bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals, may have used the heat from their wells for years, not realizing they need to change their permit to authorize that use, Don Reimer, Chaffee County development director, said previously.

Leaving the language open to all uses allows the commissioners to hear comment from all users, Davis said.
Henderson spoke in favor of keeping the change that requires a notification for exploratory drilling to a depth of less 2,500 feet, and the commissioners concurred.

Jeanne Younghaus with Chaffee County League of Women Voters, said the league has concerns about companies drilling and leaving without cleaning up their exploration.

More information about the county’s geothermal 1041 process is at http://chaffeecounty.org/Geothermal-1041.

In other business, Chaffee County commissioners instructed staff to draft a resolution that would amend Nestlé Waters North America Inc.’s 1041 and special land use permits to allow them to switch their augmentation agreement from the city of Aurora to the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

More geothermal coverage here and here.

September floods leave reaches of the pre-flood St. Vrain channel high and dry #COflood

New Saint Vrain river channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call
New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

When the St. Vrain flooded in mid-September, it not only devastated communities, it redrew its own lines. West of town. East of town. Even at spots inside Longmont. It even brought out the eraser from time to time, not just drawing a new course but wiping out the old one.

“Behind Harvest Junction, the old channel actually filled in,” said Longmont public works director Dale Rademacher, noting the shopping center in southeastern Longmont.

Putting it back won’t be so easy. The city estimates that would take $80 million, but that’s still a fluid number, so to speak. A lot depends not just on the difficulty of the project, but the will of federal authorities, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA already has said it will look at the river section by section when deciding which restoration plans should get funding. The Corps, meanwhile, is in talks with Longmont to decide which pieces of the river truly need to be restored. Rivers do move, after all.

“If we think we can get the river back into its channel with a reasonable amount of effort, and the Corps says it makes sense, we’ll do that,” Rademacher said. “If the Corps says ‘Sorry, folks, that looks like a reasonably safe channel,’ we’ll start planning around that, too.”[…]

The diversions and flooding along the whole western stretch — aided by dam breaches and old gravel pits — have made this area a priority in Longmont’s discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers. Near Lyons, there are pipelines that need to be inspected and put back into service. The new riverway not only cuts off several irrigation ditches, it also puts several neighborhoods further downstream into a new flood plain — most notably The Greens and Champion Greens near Airport Road and the Village near Golden Ponds.

“Our need and our ability (to restore the river) varies from point to point in the course of the channel,” Rademacher said. “West of Longmont, where it’s undermining pipelines and threatening neighborhoods, it’s pretty important.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Pueblo will spend about $200,000 over the next three months cleaning up the mess left on Fountain Creek from storms to the north in El Paso County last month. Damage to an embankment on the city’s side detention pond and dangerous trees in the channel are the biggest problems, said Earl Wilkinson, public works director.

From The Greeley Tribune (Jim Rydbom):

Bit by bit, the bundles of flood debris spread across yards and streets in Weld County are getting picked up. But it will be a while before a cluster of tree limbs isn’t found twisted into a fence somewhere.

Trevor Jiricek, director of Weld County Environmental Health and General Services, said the county has handed out about 3,200 vouchers for residents to take debris to the landfill. The vouchers are unlimited and good for one pickup truck full of debris each. Jiricek said the county worked out deals with 10 different facilities, including A1 Organics and two places to dispose of tires.

Jiricek said he’s received positive feedback for the vouchers, which are available through the Weld County planning department and at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers in Greeley and Milliken.

Farmers and ranchers with damaged and debris-filled properties are running into frustrations with the government shutdown, as they could be eligible for financial help through federal disaster loan options or the Emergency Conservation Program. The bulk of those programs, though, require consulting with the Farm Service Agency office before doing repairs, and the FSA is a federal office.

Jiricek said the county doesn’t have the resources to clean up everyone’s private property, but officials are in the process of contracting a company to clean up the county’s right-of-ways. When that happens, he said the county will notify residents affected by the flood who are near those right-of-ways, and they can put debris out to be collected.

Jiricek said it’s important only those affected by the flood take advantage of that service, as the county depends on reimbursement from FEMA for flood-related debris only, and the costs of removing debris could go up astronomically if people start using it as a way to get rid of trash.

Immediately after the flood, Jiricek said more than a half-dozen county employees worked to talk to residents about their needs and disseminate the vouchers.

“I feel like they’ve gotten out there,” he said of the vouchers.

‘11,000 homes, 200 miles of road, destroyed…You can’t plan for that’ — Tisha Schuller #COflood

Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post
Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

As floodwater started to rise Sept. 11, some oil and gas operators began shutting wells and securing facilities. It would be five days before state regulators announced their plans. “Did the state have a disaster plan for the oil and gas fields?” asked Bruce Baziel, energy program director of the environmental group Earthworks. “It was hard to tell.”

From the start, state oil and gas regulators were gathering information and passing it on to the incident commander overseeing disaster response, said Alan Gilbert, a Colorado Department of Natural Resources official. “That’s our role as a technical agency,” Gilbert said.

Throughout the weekend, oil companies were providing information on their operations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “Demands on us to be transparent were high,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group.

Yet as pictures of bubbling pipes, spouting wells and floating tanks began to appear on social media, fears rose about what was happening in the flooded oil fields.

On Sept. 16, as the flood covered parts of the oil-rich Denver-Julesburg Basin, additional steps to assess impacts were announced by the oil and gas commission staff. “We intend to compile an ongoing spreadsheet with the status of operations,” said Matt Lepore, executive director of the commission.

Regulations require operators to report spills, but for the rest Lepore asked for voluntary cooperation of the industry on assessing the status of all wells. “In the middle of a disaster, it strikes me that this ought to have been required,” said Peter May-smith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “If it wasn’t required by regulation, the governor should have issued an executive order,” May-smith said.

The steps announced were “ad hoc,” but the commission had been monitoring the situation, DNR’s Gilbert said. “We are going to have a formal review,” Gilbert said. “We’ll look at what worked and what didn’t work.”

Within days, the commission had about 18 inspectors in the field checking sites. The commission used its mapping capabilities to identify wells and facilities in floodplains and focus on those. About 1,500 wells were identified in the floodplains of the South Platte and other Front Range rivers, Gilbert said.

“For years, conservation groups have pressed for limited drilling in floodplains, and the state and the industry have fought it,” said Gary Wockner, Colorado program director for Clean Water Action. “Part of this wasn’t a natural disaster but a man-made disaster,” Wockner said.

The industry estimated that at the height of the flooding, 1 ,900 wells were shut in — there are more than 20,000 wells in the basin.

State inspectors have counted 14 “notable releases,” primarily from overturned or damaged tanks, accounting for 1,042 barrels (43,764 gallons) of petroleum products. There also were 13 releases of produced water — which contains well impurities — totaling 430 barrels (18,060 gallons), according to the state.

“That’s thousands of gallons of pollutants poisoning our waterways,” Wockner said. “It isn’t something to be dismissed.”

By Thursday, inspectors had covered 90 percent of the wells and facilities in the floodplains, Gilbert said.

“When you have an industrial activity of this scale, you need clear contingency plans,” said Conservation Colorado’s May-smith. “A clear plan in advance.”

In their review, state officials will evaluate how effective the regulations were in preventing flood spills and whether reporting was adequate and the emergency plans adequate, Gilbert said. Could that lead to new rules or plans? “That is what we are going to look at,” Gilbert said.

Still, in the face of a 500-year flood , state and industry officials contended the performance was good.

“It was chaos — 11,000 homes, 200 miles of road, destroyed,” the Oil and Gas Association’s Schuller said. “You can’t plan for that. You just have to be flexible and responsive.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

‘We [NISP] are mired in the environmental permitting process’ — Brian Werner #COflood

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Here’s a report about the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project from Ryan Maye Handy running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

…whatever the contentious Northern Integrated Supply Project might be to Northern Coloradans, at least one thing is (mostly) certain: Despite numerous claims to the contrary, the Poudre River-fed reservoir could have done little to stem the tide of the Poudre during the September floods.

“As much as I’d like to say ‘Glade would have had a big impact on the flood,’ it really wouldn’t have,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, the water managers organizing the NISP project…

The project to build Glade Reservoir is roughly 30 years in the making, since President Ronald Reagan declared the Poudre a National Wild and Scenic River in October 1986. Then, the declaration was a victory for environmentalists — it limited where the river could be diverted for water conservation but set aside a portion of the river, at the bottom of the canyon, for projects such as the Glade Reservoir.

In theory, the reservoir would divert water off a swollen Poudre River when flows were high, conserving it in the reservoir for dry years, such as 2012, when extra water would be desperately needed, Werner said. The system would hypothetically pull up to 1,000 cubic feet per second from the river; typically, a Poudre flow peak reaches up to 3,000 cfs, Werner said.

But during the early September floods that pushed record levels of water down the Poudre, a loss of 1,000 cfs would have done little to mitigate the water’s power, Werner said. Glade’s ability to help Northern Colorado would be in its ability to hold water in reserve for dry times, Werner argued, not in its capacity to control a 500-year flood event…

Until it gets the results of the 2014 assessment, Northern Water is checking off the necessary boxes to put the project in order — checks that mean nothing until the project gets the go-ahead. Re-routing portions of U.S. 287, which currently runs through the center of the reservoir’s footprint, is one of those “checks.”

For the re-route, CDOT has chosen a 7-mile “rock cut route” through a hogback ridge just north of the current intersection of Overland Trail and U.S. 287, northwest of Fort Collins. It would mean new passing lanes at Ted’s Place — the intersection of U.S. 287 and Colorado Highway 14 — and would cost between $40 million and $50 million.

In the project’s early days, the highway re-route was one of its more contentious aspects. Public meetings were held to address residents’ concerns about the road changes; diverting water from the Poudre wasn’t “the overriding issue” that it has become, Werner said.

“We used to joke in the early days of this project that it was a highway reclamation project, with a reservoir on the side,” Werner added…

“We are mired in the environmental permitting process,” Werner said…

“The CDOT decision is irrelevant. Because NISP would drain and destroy the Poudre River and violate the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, the project will never get built,” he said in an email to The Coloradoan. “So, where CDOT proposes to put a road that will never be built for a project that will never be built is irrelevant.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.