Snowpack news: The season is off to a solid start, South Platte = 110% of median, Upper Colorado = 132%

Click on the thumbnail graphics above for the statewide map, Upper Colorado River Basin and South Platte Basin High/Low graphs. Click here for Mage Hultstrand’s (NRCS) presentation slides from Thursday’s Water Availability Task Force meeting (CWCB). She includes snowpack, precipitation and reservoir storage across the state. Kudos to Mage for her hard work!

Jonathan Thompson: Drought, Glen Canyon Dam, climate change and God #ColoradoRiver

Glen Canyon High Flow Experiment November 2013 via Jonathan Thompson
Glen Canyon High Flow Experiment November 2013 via Jonathan Thompson

Here’s a report about Reclamation’s High Flow experiment to fix river ecology through the Grand Canyon from Jonathan Thompson writing for the High Country News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

I can stand for hours on the vertigo-inducing bridge that spans the cold, green Colorado just downstream – a 1,000-foot long steel spiderweb suspended gracefully over a 700-foot deep void – simply trying to comprehend Glen Canyon Dam’s concrete enormity: 300 feet thick at its base, 1,500 feet long at the crest. More than that, though, is what it represents: Our effort to control what was once a muddy, wild, tumultuous river, to rein it in with a colossal concrete plug, holding back billions of gallons of water and flooding hundreds of miles of once-sublime canyons.

Glen Canyon Dam’s power to bewilder – on both sensory and conceptual levels – was enhanced this past week as massive amounts of water were released from the dam to mimic natural floods and hopefully bolster the Grand Canyon ecology and beaches that were forever altered by the dam. Call it a simulated Niagara Falls or, better yet, a several-day-long opening of one of the biggest faucets in the world – gargantuan plumbing, if you will.

I happened to be driving through Page as the big water was being released, so I parked in the dam’s visitor center parking lot, and as soon as I opened the car door I could not only hear, but could also feel the roar emanating from 800 feet below, down at the bottom of the dam, where four giant nozzles sprayed streams of white into the green water of the river, churning it all up into a violent froth. A few days earlier, about 7,000 cubic feet of water was being released from the dam each second, through the hydroelectric turbines. During the flood, that increased to 35,000 cfs, or some 13 million gallons per minute, blasting into the river via the turbines and the nozzles. It was a good time to be rafting the Grand Canyon…

If the dam’s enormity is a symbol of our ability to control nature, then the bathtub ring is an equally potent symbol of how slippery our grasp really is. It shows us how fickle our climate can be, and how our hugest efforts can merely temporarily mitigate the impacts of that fickleness. And it shows us how our very efforts to dominate the planet have gone awry, causing our already unpredictable environment to get even more wild and uncontrollable. Even the massive dam, just one piece of the huge plumbing system that we have constructed up and down the Colorado River drainage, can’t completely fix the arid truth any more than water managers’ prayers for more rain and snow next year.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: November 5 spill caused by pipeline joint failure

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

Jennifer Opila, Radioactive Materials Unit Leader for the CDPHE, explained how the 1988 pumpback system at Cotter functions. Opila said the cause of the Nov. 5 spill was that a joint in the pipeline of the pumpback system broke. She described it as a “catastrophic break,” meaning it was not a “slow and seeping” spill.

Opila said employees found “water coming out of the ground” just north of well No. 333 and “that’s how they knew the pipe had ruptured.”

According to Cotter’s Environmental Coordinator/Radiation Safety Officer Jim Cain, the spill was measured within a 12-hour window and based on inspection times and flow, an estimated 4,000 to 9,000 gallons of water was spilled. A water sample was collected and the analysis reported that .03 pounds of uranium and .15 pounds of molybdenum was found, according to Cain.

Cotter made the required oral report of the spill and provided a requested written report, Opila said, and the pipe was repaired and operable by the next day.

The pipeline is three feet underground and consists of 3,856 linear feet of six-inch schedule 90 PVC pipe and 3,053 linear feet of four-inch schedule 90 PVC pipe.

Vice President of Cotter Mill Operations John Hamrick said there have been three leaks “in three different years, all for different reasons.”

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.

U.S. lawmakers introduce Water Protection, Reinvestment Trust Fund Act

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

From Water World:

Today, members of the United States House of Representatives introduced the Water Protection and Reinvestment Trust Fund Act of 2013.

The bipartisan bill would provide a small, deficit-neutral, protected source of revenue to help states replace, repair and rehabilitate critical wastewater treatment facilities by creating a voluntary labeling and contributory system to which businesses that rely on a clean water source could opt-in.

Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) along with Representatives Tim Bishop (NY-01), John Duncan (TN-02), Donna F. Edwards (MD-04) Richard Hanna (NY-22), Jim Moran (VA-08), Tom Petri (WI-06), and Ed Whitfield (KY-01) introduced the bill.

While it would take over $9.3 billion a year to maintain a clean-water infrastructure, funding has averaged just over $1.25 billion a year since 2000. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given U.S. wastewater infrastructure a grade of “D” in their most recent report card. Last year alone, American communities suffered more than 310,000 water main breaks and saw overflowing combined sewer systems, causing contamination, property damage, disruptions in the water supply, and massive traffic jams.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

First Small Hydro Project in Colorado Moves Forward Thanks to Regulatory Efficiency Act

Mayflower Mill
Mayflower Mill

Here’s the release from US Senator Michael Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today announced that the Silverton-based San Juan County Historical Society’s small hydro project would be allowed to move forward without undergoing the burdensome and expensive federal permitting process thanks to the Hydropower Regulator Efficiency Act. The bill, which Bennet cosponsored, cuts red tape for noncontroversial hydro projects that are less than 5 megawatts.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officially announced last night that the project would not be subject to the federal permitting process, thanks to the bill, which passed Congress unanimously in August. As a result, the 11-kilowatt Silverton project will be the first small hydro project in the state, and one of the first in the nation to take advantage of this streamlined system.

“The Hydropower industry has tremendous potential to stimulate economic growth and job creation in Colorado,” Bennet said. “This common-sense bipartisan bill removes unnecessary regulations to help small projects like this one get up and running in communities across the state. We should continue to look for ways to cut through red tape and promote these types of clean, cost-effective energy sources.”

“The Feds had previously said that our project needed to apply for a hydropower license, but requiring a federal license for a tiny, non-controversial hydro project on an existing pipeline didn’t make sense,” Beverly Rich, Chair of the San Juan County Historical Society, said. The Historical Society operates the Mayflower Mill site where the new hydropower project is being built. “We’re grateful to Senator Bennet for helping us cut through this red tape.”

In addition to Silverton, projects in Telluride and Orchard City are working to take advantage of this reform under the new law.

The Hydropower Improvement Act was a companion bill to H.R. 267, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA).

Background Info on the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act:

Prior to the new law, the costly federal permitting requirements had been a barrier to entry for small hydropower developments. In many cases, the cost of federal permitting exceeded the cost of the hydro equipment.

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act solves this problem by creating a “regulatory off-ramp” from permitting requirements for small, non-controversial hydro projects on existing conduits, such as pipelines and canals. It doesn’t change any underlying federal or state environmental statute, it simply streamlines the federal approval process.

The Colorado Small Hydro Association estimates that 100 MW of new hydro development in the state could mean 500 new jobs in various fields including developers, engineers, plumbers, carpenters, and others.

For more details on the Silverton hydro project, feel free to call Beverly Rich, Chair of the San Juan County Historical Society, at 970-387-5488.

More San Juan Historical Society coverage here. More H.R. 267 coverage here. More hydroelectric coverage here.

Ute Water Conservancy District: Water Rates and Tap Fees Approved for 2014

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

Here’s the release from the Ute Water Conservancy District (Joseph R. Burtard):

Ute Water Conservancy District’s 14 Member Board of Directors voted unanimously to raise the District’s water rates and tap fees for 2014. Ute Water provides domestic water to over 80,000 people in Mesa County, making it the largest domestic water provider between Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The District completed a Raw Water Study in 2011 which identified future water needs based on the estimated population growth and multi-year drought protection in the Grand Valley. This study projected that by 2045, Ute Water will be serving a population of 197,000 consumers. In order to meet the projected demands of 80 gallons per capita per day, the District will need 21,400 acre-feet of additional water supply. The District’s Board has taken a proactive approach, based on the outcome of the study, to insure that appropriate infrastructure, technology and raw water supply will be in place to meet future domestic water demands in the Grand Valley.

The District entered into a Financial Agreement, earlier this year, with the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation to purchase water stored in Ruedi Reservoir. This agreement initiated the largest single water purchase the District has made in its 57-year history. This Financial Agreement allowed Ute Water to purchase 12,000 acre-foot of water from Ruedi Reservoir for $1,297.90 an acre-foot. “The District will utilize this water as a reliable insurance policy for the Grand Valley. An investment that will allow the District to meet the future water needs of the Grand Valley while giving us a dependable source of water during drought conditions.” stated Joseph Burtard, spokesperson for Ute Water. Ruedi Reservoir is a 102,000 acre-feet reservoir which sits 15 miles above the town of Basalt, Colorado. Ruedi was constructed in 1968 as part of the Federal Reclamation’s “Fryingpan-Arkansas Project”.

Ute Water utilizes a full-cost pricing approach when evaluating water rates each year. The District’s primary source of revenue is water sales. The revenue from water sales are expected to cover all operations, maintenance and the replacement cost of the existing infrastructure while preparing for the future demands and upgrades to the system. “Purchasing Ruedi water was a major capital investment for the District. As a result, our water rates and tap fees had to be evaluated and aligned with our operational costs and targeted reserves.” stated Burtard. The new water rate increases the $17.00 minimum, for the first 3,000 gallons of water, to a $19.00 minimum. The minimum water rate for all other tap sizes will also increase proportionally. Customers using over 3,000 gallons in a billing cycle will see a $.10 increase in each of the tiers. The new water rates will be for water delivered in December 2013 and billed after January 1, 2014. Effective January 1, 2014, the District’s tap fees will increase from $6,500 to $6,700.

For additional information on Ute Water’s rate increase, please contact Joseph Burtard at Ute Water Conservancy District at (970) 242-7491 or visit the District’s website at http://www.utewater.og.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):

For the second year in a row, Ute Water users will see an uptick in the amount they pay for the service. Ute Water’s board unanimously adopted an increase in the district’s water rates at a recent meeting, similar to a rise in rates last year. Both increases are being attributed to a recent $15.5 million purchase of more than 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir near Aspen.

“We were trying to build up our reserves to purchase Ruedi (last year), and now that we have purchased it, we kind of need to replenish those reserves for capital projects,” said Joe Burtard, external affairs manager for the Ute Water Conservancy District. He further called the Ruedi purchase a “hidden gem” in terms of the cost of the purchase as compared with others in the industry.

In practical terms, Ute Water customers who use less than 3,000 gallons a month will see their bill go from $17 to $19. For larger-scale users, $.10 will be added to the cost per tier of usage, officials said.

Ute’s tiered system of billing for higher-use customers is in place for a reason, Burtard said.

“That’s our way of enforcing conservation. We do have a fairly aggressive rate structure, but that’s because we live in a desert, and we don’t want people using treated water for outdoor use,” he said.

The rate increase will happen for water delivered in December, appearing on users’ January billing statements. Also after the first of the year, tap fees will go up $200 to $6,700.

In announcing the rate hike, Ute said that a 2011 study pegged the district’s future customer base at 197,000 customers by 2045, up significantly from the 80,000 people it serves today.

The Ruedi water sale represented the largest single purchase made by the district over its entire 57-year history, according to a press release.

More infrastructure coverage here.