Republican River Water Conservation District meeting January 9 in Burlington

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

he Republican River Water Conservation Board of Directors will hold its quarterly meeting on Thursday, January 9, in Burlington. It will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Burlington Community and Education Center, 340 S. 14th. Public comment will be heard at 1 p.m.

The board will hear updated reports from State Engineer Dick Wolfe and Scott Steinbrecher on the arbitration between Colorado and Kansas regarding the pipelien and Bonny proposals, as well as the RRCA’s approval for operation of the pipeline in 2014.

Reports from the district’s engineers and attorneys also are on the agenda, as well as routine business such designating public posting places for RRWCD meetings, and hearing reports from board members.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife: Habitat improvements continue in Arkansas River

Arkansas River  levee through Pueblo
Arkansas River levee through Pueblo

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will continue work in the Arkansas River this month as part of an ongoing habitat improvement project. Anglers may notice heavy equipment and other signs of work, such as cloudy water, in the area.

“The project may create some short-term inconveniences for anglers, but the result will be better fishing for years to come,” Doug Krieger, a senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said.

The project is set to begin the week of Jan. 13, and will continue through mid February. The latest improvements will be made between Juniper Bridge and Valco Bridge. Work will occur Monday through Thursday.

Heavy equipment operators will place large boulders and trees along the 1.5 mile stretch, creating deeper pools and an improved river channel design that will hold more trout and other fish species.

“We are creating better habitat for fish to find shelter, feed, reproduce and thrive,” Krieger said. “We will also provide more fish holding structure that anglers seek for good fishing success.”

Anglers are still able to fish in this reach of the river but are reminded to avoid areas around construction and keep away from heavy equipment.

This habitat improvement project work is Phase II of a project that originally began in 2004. Since completion of Phase I in 2005, the Arkansas River through Pueblo has gained a reputation as a premier trout fishing location.

A portion of the Phase II project will consist of making improvements to existing structures, while the remaining construction will provide for the installation of new structures.

From November until the middle of March, outflows from Pueblo Reservoir are fairly stable creating opportunities for anglers to enjoy stream fishing in clear and cool water during times of the year when most streams are locked in winter conditions.

Partners in the project include the City of Pueblo, Xcel Energy, Trout Unlimited, and the Packard Foundation, with matching funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state is preparing to rock the Arkansas River again. Think fish, not electric guitars. Heavy equipment will be in the river in the 1.5-mile reach between the Juniper bridge and Valco bridge to install more boulders and trees in the river below Pueblo Dam. The project is a continuation of an effort that has improved fish habitat along the river.

“The project may create some short-term inconveniences for anglers, but the result will be better fishing for years to come,” said Doug Krieger, a senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Water might be cloudy during construction, and there still will be a few trucks on area roads as part of Southern Delivery System construction — about half the number that were rumbling last fall.

The project will begin Monday and continue until mid-February, in order to take advantage of low river levels. The work will create deeper pools and an improved river channel that will hold more trout and other species, Krieger said.

“We are creating better habitat for fish to find shelter, feed, reproduce and thrive,” Krieger said. “We will also provide more fish holding structure that anglers seek for good fishing success.”

Partners in the project include the city of Pueblo, Xcel Energy, Trout Unlimited and the Packard Foundation, with matching funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Meanwhile, there will continue to be some truck traffic in the area from the excavation site of the Juniper Pump Station, part of SDS. In December, trucks finished hauling dirt from the Juniper site, located near the base of the dam, to an old gravel pit on the north side of the river. Now, they are hauling rocks away from the construction site. There are fewer trucks on the road now, said Janet Rummel, Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman for SDS.

“Not all of the rock is being hauled away,” Rummel said. “A good portion of the boulders will be used at the pump station site for landscaping features, and SDS contractors are collaborating with Lake Pueblo State Park staff to have some of the decorative boulder-sized rocks used for other park improvements.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Groundbreaking agreement to benefit Colorado and the environment is official

Does the Endangered Species Act Preempt State Water Law? — Robin Kundis Craig

HB12-1278, South Platte Groundwater Study Augmentation report released

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

Here’s the executive summary. Click here to access the full report.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A long-awaited groundwater report suggests lawmakers give Colorado’s state engineer more say in future water functions, add staff to the Water Resources Division office in Greeley and further monitor areas where high groundwater caused extensive damage in recent years in Weld and Logan counties. The groundwater research endeavor in the South Platte River Basin — referred to as the HB 1278 study, and spearheaded by Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom — was initiated in 2012 and has been of great interest to many northeast Colorado farmers and other residents. Waskom’s report and his 2014 legislative suggestions had to be finished and delivered to state lawmakers by Dec. 31. He met the deadline, and his findings were posted on the Colorado Water Institute’s website on Monday morning.

Many water providers and users might have something to gain or lose from any new policy in the state’s groundwater management. Some believe the existing system works well, but others believe changes need to be made to get the maximum beneficial use out of groundwater and surface water and address the water shortages the region is expected to face in upcoming decades. The debate goes back years and came to a head during the 2012 drought, when crops were struggling in fields but some farmers couldn’t pump their wells to provide relief, even though groundwater was at historically high levels in some spots — even seeping into basements, over-saturating fields and causing other issues. Many impacted residents and others believed the high groundwater problems were caused by the state’s augmentation rules, which had become more stringent in 2006.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the rivers because groundwater pumping draws water that would otherwise make its way into nearby rivers over time. When the state increased its requirements in 2006, some farmers couldn’t afford the augmentation water, and about 8,000 wells were either curtailed or shut down in Weld County and northeast Colorado.

In the summer of 2012, local farmers, along with Weld County commissioners, asked Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an emergency declaration that would allow them to temporarily pump some of those curtailed or shutdown wells — in hopes of bringing down the damaging high groundwater, and to also save their crops. But many other water users — particularly surface users downstream from Greeley — urged the governor not to allow it. They said it would deplete senior surface water supplies to which they were entitled. The governor didn’t allow any emergency groundwater pumping for local farmers, saying that the state would likely face a barrage of lawsuits if he did so.

However, those 2012 discussions led to lawmakers approving the groundwater study, to see if the state has rules in place that are getting the best use out of its water supplies. Now, that study is complete.

In his recommendations, Waskom wrote that the state engineer — the head of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, a position currently held by Weld County native Dick Wolfe — should be more involved and have more input in augmentation and recharge projects.

Waskom also wrote that “the state engineer should be directed by the General Assembly to promulgate new rules for the S. Platte to establish a framework for the voluntary movement of excess water supplies between augmentation plans … ” and “promulgate new rules for the S. Platte to establish basin specific guidelines for the implementation of administrative curtailment orders … that reduce waste and facilitate efficient management and distribution of available water supplies …”

A number of farmers have called for the state engineer to have more authority and more of a say in water functions, rather than being dominated by Colorado’s Water Court system.

Additionally, Waskom also writes that:

• “Two pilot projects should be authorized and funded by the General Assembly to allow the state engineer to track and administer high groundwater zones for a specified period of time to lower the water table at Sterling and Gilcrest/LaSalle while testing alternative management approaches.”

• “Funding should be authorized to provide the Division 1 Engineer (Dave Nettles in Greeley) with two additional FTEs (full-time employees) and greater annual investment in technology upgrades. Additionally, Colorado DWR (Division of Water Resources) needs one additional FTE to focus on data and information services.”

• “The General Assembly should authorize the establishment of a pilot basin-wide management entity with a defined sunset date.”

• “The CWCB (Colorado Water Conservancy Board), CDA “Colorado Department of Agriculture” and DWR (Colorado Division of Water Resources) should work with the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) to implement the basin-wide groundwater monitoring network outlined in this report.”

• “The State should cooperate with the S. Platte Basin Roundtable and water organizations in the basin to fund and conduct a helicopter electromagnetic and magnetic survey to produce detailed hydrogeological maps of the S. Platte alluvial aquifer.”

More groundwater coverage here.

High Sierra Water Services opens new oil and gas production fluids recycling facility

Wattenburg Field
Wattenburg Field

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

The sun shines, the temperature is still unaware of a looming arctic freeze and Josh Patterson chats happily in his new truck as it lumbers down a maze of Weld County roads headed northeast from High Sierra Water Services offices in west Greeley. Heading toward his company’s latest accomplishment, his truck turns, moves ahead and turns a few more times before we’re in open country of blue skies and golden plains. He tears open his breakfast burrito, and manages to swallow a few bites as he answers questions about C7, High Sierra Water Services’ latest commercial water recycling facility about 10 miles southwest of Briggsdale.

This one is unique in that it is the first water recycling facility in Colorado that will transport water via pipeline. As of early December, the planned four miles of pipeline remain to be set to connect it to Noble Energy’s central processing facility — a centralized area that will become one of the global oil and gas company’s hubs. The facility will take in oil, natural gas, and water piped in from the wellhead, separate it all on one 40-acre space, recycle the water, and pipe out the oil and natural gas to the markets. As a unit, it will eliminate hundreds of truck miles spent transporting from one place to another. Noble plans to build a few more in the field to centralize its operations.

“This is the big brother to C6,” says Patterson, director of operations for High Sierra Water, of the nine-acre water recycling and injection facility called C7.

High Sierra is one of a few companies in the Wattenberg Field that recycles used production water from wells, a process that Patterson designed, and which he continues to upgrade. High Sierra’s C6 facility, unveiled publicly last year west of Platteville, is High Sierra’s other recycling facility in the Wattenberg where produced water can be recycled or injected into underground wells. The company also has a recycling facility in Wyoming.

Recycling water has been on the rise in recent months as companies strive to become more environmentally friendly — Noble Energy, especially, with it is Wells Ranch central processing facility, and Anadarko Petroleum, are both big customers of High Sierra.

We stop outside the sprawling Wells Ranch Central Processing facility to view the route of the four miles of pipeline to bring water in and out of the facility for Noble, which will be the chief customer at C7.

“C7 was built in concert with C6, but it sat idle for a year,” Patterson explains. “The demand essentially wasn’t there. It took time to prove up the water quality to frac-fluid compatibility. A lot of water isn’t compatible with gel-frac chemistry. It requires a certain water quality. So we’re taking treated water and making sure it doesn’t ruin a $7 million frac job.”

The trench for the last bit of pipeline is already dug in some spots, and workers work to fuse the pipes together along the pipeline’s route as we travel those four miles north. The pipeline typically sits about 4 feet underground, depending on the frost line.

“There are lot of rolling hills and we want to lay the pipe out as flat as possible,” Patterson said. “We don’t do it by gravity. We have a medium pressure pipeline set at 120 psi.”

At Weld County roads 74 and 69, we stop finally at High Sierra, where a backhoe is digging the trench that will feed into the recycling plant. To the eastern side of the site, workers are on a rig, drilling a directional well to dispose of production water that doesn’t get recycled. It is the facility’s second injection well.

On the outside, it looks as if it’s one massive storage facility, with several tank batteries, and an open concrete pad where the company plans to place more for storage of both produced and recycled water.

The company started operations with a 2,000-barrel sale on Thanksgiving Day. It has the capacity to process 15,000 barrels a day.

“Now, we can store 6,000 barrels for incoming water, and 3,000 barrels for finished water,” Patterson said. Noble will have the capacity to store 80,000 barrels (enough for about one frack job) at the central processing facility, all piped in from High Sierra.

“It’ll get to capacity and based on my projections, it will require an expansion,” Patterson said of C7’s capabilities. “With the drilling plans and projected water use (in the field), by 2018, we’ll need another facility or an expansion to that facility.”

To date, C8, a new injection facility with planned recycling capabilities, has been built in Grover, and officials are mulling plans for future expansion.

We walk inside to don hard hats and step into the belly of the beast. Actually, the big blue beast, an injection pump, sits in the middle pumping production water downhole into the plant’s first injection well, arguably the loudest piece of equipment in the metal building with concrete flooring. Across the room, a door leads to the recycling facility, where tanks and equipment are placed strategically and carefully in tight quarters, leaving just enough room for a body to roam through and maybe clean and check tanks. Each massive tank inside has a function in the four-step process that takes four hours from production wastewater to recycled product. The process starts by removing the suspended solids from the water, such as cuttings from the wells. Step two is dissolving other solids; step three is polishing, and step four is filtration. It’s a process that Patterson has honed in his time at High Sierra, and in which he takes enormous pride. With each step, or system design, he tries to improve on the process.

The facility has eight employees who work on the disposal side and nine for the recycling side; the process is 24/7, and the facility is open 15 hours a day.

After about 30 minutes, and Patterson disappearing to discuss a site production issue with staff, we’re back in the truck en route to Greeley.

His burrito barely touched, Patterson swigs from a bottle of water nabbed for the trip, and he talks about the future needs of recycled water.

While not every company in the field is going with recycled water, Patterson said more inquires are coming in all the time. It’s a rather expensive process, and volume dictates the cost. With a long-term contract with Noble, dealing in millions of gallons of water, the costs make it on par with trucking costs. Some companies have experimented with recycling water at the wellhead — Patterson himself has even tried it. But the amount of power needed to recycle water, makes the paltry amount coming out of wells cost-prohibitive, Patterson said.

“It’s just not economic. Just the power required to run a treatment system brings the costs way up,” Patterson said. “A lot of companies have put together treatment technology. But there’s just not enough water. If you’re on a seven-well pad, with a seven-well pad next door, it could be economic. But it goes back to the fixed costs (which don’t fluctuate).”

Recycling water is not the only answer in this growing field, which produces roughly 85,000 barrels of water a day, but it is growing. Between C6 and C7, High Sierra has the capacity to recycle 25,000 barrels a day. The rest must be put into injection wells. Barring additional storage capacity for a growing need for recycled water, it must go somewhere.

“We’re still a drop in the bucket compared to the water that could be utilized,” Patterson said.

More oil and gas coverage here.

NRCS Colorado Snow Survey and Water Supply News Release: Norma Snowpack Conditions Prevail Across Colorado

Snowpack and reservoir storage January 2014 via the NRCS
Snowpack and reservoir storage January 2014 via the NRCS

From the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Mage Skordahl):

Thanks to significant early season snowfall across Colorado, the state is enjoying the best start to a winter season since 2011. Snow accumulation in the mountains was above normal during October, November and early December. This beneficial moisture dried up a bit during the second half of December, especially in the south and southwest portions of the state, but the good start to the season still puts us at slightly above normal conditions statewide as of January 1. This year’s January 1 snowpack readings are at 103 percent of median statewide, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist with the NRCS. “This is a great start to the 2014 water year. As we saw in 2012 and 2013, early seasons deficits are difficult to make up later in the season; so being right where we should be this time of year gives us a head start compared to the past couple of years”, said Philipps.

There is currently not much variance in snowpack conditions between the major basins in Colorado. January 1 snowpack totals range from 111 percent of median in the Yampa, White and North Platte basins to 99 percent of median in both the Rio Grande and South Platte basins. These encouraging January 1 snowpack totals have led to decent streamflow forecasts for the spring and summer season. Streamflows in the Colorado, South Platte, Yampa, White, and Arkansas River basins are currently expected to be in the 90 to 100 percent of normal range. In the Rio Grande, Gunnison and San Juan basins forecasts as of January 1 are in the 80 to 100 percent of normal range.

Reservoir storage in some of the major basins benefited from the large precipitation events this past fall. Statewide storage is currently at 87 percent of average, with the Colorado, South Platte, and Yampa/White basins all holding water at near to above normal totals. Storage in the other major basins remains below normal but is above where it was last year at this same time.

All in all, these early season conditions are favorable leading into the bulk of the snow accumulation season. If weather patterns persist and continue to provide moisture to our state this could be a good year for water supply and recreation in Colorado.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snowfall during the first week of 2014 has returned snowpack in Colorado’s mountains to normal levels.

“We’ve been getting some snow in the last week. Before that we had just a really long dry spell,” said Rick Sexton, caretaker for Clear Creek Reservoir, owned by the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

“It’s hard to tell how much new snow the mountains got, because the wind has been just horrendous over the weekend. Mount Massive, when I came down from Leadville was 50 percent brown because the wind just scoured the hillside.”

It’s too early in the year to tell how snowfall will affect water supply, he noted.

“At least it’s nothing like last year or the year before,” Sexton said, referring to persistent drought in the Arkansas River basin.

Statewide, snowpack in the state increased to about 105 percent of average by Monday, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service reports.

Basins ranged from 90-117 percent of average.

The Arkansas River basin was at 104 percent of normal on Monday, while the Rio Grande was 90 percent of average. The Colorado River basin, which supplies transmountain water to the Arkansas Valley, was 105 percent of average.

About 4-6 inches of new snow was added to 2-3 feet of snow already on the ground at Snotel sites in the Arkansas and Colorado river basins. That translates into 5-7 inches of snow water equivalent — a measure of the amount of moisture — at most sites above 10,000 feet.

The highest level of snow depth was listed at South Colony, near Westcliffe, with 41 inches and a snow water equivalent of almost 10 inches. But only about 3 inches fell in the past three days, according to the USGS.

Snowfall was heaviest in the central portion of the state, with scanty readings in the southern mountains.

There are about 2 feet of snow on the ground in Leadville, with the biggest snowfall coming on New Year’s Day, said Rego Omerigic of the Parkville Water District in Leadville.

While the snow is not deep, local officials have been warning residents to be careful in the mountains because of the possibility of avalanches.

Ski areas have ample snowpack, aided only slightly by weekend snows.

On Monday, Wolf Creek was reporting 60 inches, but no new snow in the last 48 hours; Monarch, 43 inches, 2 inches new; Ski Cooper, 39 inches, 4 inches new, according to Ski Country USA.