Republican River Basin: Over-pumping will be part of the permanent well record under new rule

Yuma Colorado circa 1925
Yuma Colorado circa 1925

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Any overpumping of a large-capacity well from now on will remain on that well’s permanent record, no matter how many times ownership might change.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources held a meeting in Wray last week to discuss the overpumping issue. It was reported that about 60 people attended. State Engineer Dick Wolfe was among those representing the state government.

The state enforced overpumping orders beginning with the 2012 irrigation year. A total of 292 wells were overpumped, which actually accounts for only 8.8 percent of the 3,300 active high-capacity wells in Colorado’s Republican River Basin. Total overpumping by those 292 wells was 14,819 acre-feet, which is about the same amount as the maximum that could ever be sent downstream into Nebraska by the compact compliance pipeline. (Per the pipeline’s wells historical consumptive use.)

As reported in the past, the state issued orders dictating a one-for-one reduction in pumping in 2013 for those offending wells, i.e., a well that overpumped its allowed amount by 50 acre-feet in 2012 was to pump 50 acre-feet below its allowed amount in 2013.

All offending wells that complied with the overpumping orders in 2013 will be allowed to return to normally permitted acre-foot allocations in 2014.

It was reported last week at the Wray meeting that only 18 of the 3,300 high-capacity wells (0.5 percent) overpumped during the 2013 irrigation season. The total overpumped amount was 393.6 acre feet.

Of those 18, three were wells that also overpumped in 2012, meaning the owners did not follow the required overpumping orders from the state. Division of Water Resource staff is in the process of filing complaints with the court against those well owners. State officials said they will collect fines for pumping in violation of the orders. The Attorney General’s Office is in the process of preparing a settlement package for each owner, which the owners have the option to either agree to and sign or not.

The owners will be under orders again in 2014, only this time it will be a two acre-foot reduction for every one acre-foot overpumped.

Those wells will now be under order to never overpump again, and if do, the owners could be subjected to additional hefty fines, contempt and possibly more.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: Narraguinnep and McPhee storage is up over last year

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Snowfall measured by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources is showing above normal rates in some key areas.

Devices called “snotels” measure snow depth, and more important, snow water equivalent, a key indication of runoff levels essential for filling McPhee Reservoir in spring. Overall for Jan 21., the snowpack in the Dolores River drainage is at 80 percent of average.

Two snotels are showing above-average readings for water content. The Lizard Head location, at 10,200 feet, reads at 8 inches water equivalent for Jan. 21, or 103 percent of average, based on historical readings on the same day.

And the Scotch Creek location, at 9,100 feet, shows 6.5 inches water equivalent, or 107 percent of the historic average.

“The two doing the best are in the critical part of the drainage,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir. “If the winter is near average, we are set up to meet our water allocations.”

Another advantage the Dolores River drainage has going into this year is the 2013 monsoon season recharged depleted soil moisture in the mountains. August saw steady rain totaling 3.69 inches, or 269 percent of normal. In September, the region saw 2.92 inches of rain, or 223 percent of normal.

“Overall, we are in a better shape than this time last year,” Preston said. “The hydrologic system is charged up, and we have deep ground moisture…

Another advantage over last year is that Naraguinnepp Reservoir, owned by Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., was able to fill thanks to the summer monsoon rains. Now when the snowmelt comes, McPhee will fill up quicker…

January is zero percent of normal for precipitation; there has only been a trace of moisture in four weeks; it is not an El Niño year — the Pacific Ocean warming that brings wetter weather to the Southwest; and a persistent high pressure ridge off the Pacific Coast is blocking all storms from even glancing the Four Corners…

Improving over last year, the bar is set pretty low. In 2013, irrigators with local water districts had just 25 percent of their normal share because of low levels at McPhee, Narraguinnep and Groundhog reservoirs.

Oil shale: An alliance of conservationists are asking Utah to reconsider recent permits for groundwater disposal

Deep injection well
Deep injection well

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Conservation groups are asking the state of Utah to reconsider its December approval of a groundwater discharge permit for Red Leaf Resources’ oil shale project.

The request comes as the company hopes to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project in the Bookcliffs about 55 miles south of Vernal.

The groups on Tuesday filed what’s called a “request for agency action” with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the department’s Division of Water Quality. It seeks review and remand of the division’s December decision and an order revoking the permit.

Attorney Rob Dubuc of Western Resource Advocates filed the action on behalf of Living Rivers, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club.

In a news release, the groups said the permit “lacks measures to prevent or detect surface or groundwater pollution, in violation of state law.”

Shelley Silbert, executive director with Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said in the release, “Amazingly, they are not even requiring monitoring of springs, seeps, or groundwater on site.”

Spokespersons for the Department of Environmental Quality and Red Leaf Resources could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a December news release, the department said that “leachate produced from mining operations appears to have levels of dissolved contaminants that are comparable to, or less than, the levels in existing groundwater in underlying rocks.”

It also said rock just below the project area “is of very low permeability and protects underlying aquifers from any contaminants that could possibly be released from the capsule.”

Red Leaf Resources plans to try out what it calls a capsule approach in which it will excavate shale from a pit, install heaters and collection pipes, replace the shale and heat it to produce oil. The groundwater permit applies to a test capsule, and if the company wants to build additional ones for commercial production it would have to seek a major modification to the permit.

The conservation groups’ challenge of the permit says a planned 3-foot-thick liner made of up shale mixed with clay is inadequate. It says the Division of Water Quality determined groundwater just beneath the mine site doesn’t quality for protection because it is not usable, but in fact the division is required to protect all groundwater from contamination.

Meanwhile, a British Company, The Oil Mining Co (TOMCO), is moving ahead with plans to implement Red Leaf’s kerogen recovery process just west of the Colorado Border. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

A British company filed papers in Utah to begin mining oil shale on land just west of the Colorado state line. TomCo submitted a notice of intent to begin mining on 2,919 acres in Uintah County for shale, which it plans to roast in large earthen capsules to release oil.

Red Leaf Resources, which owns the technology that TomCo plans to use, last month received a groundwater discharge permit for its operation, and TomCo said it is working to obtain a similar permit for its leases, which are on state property.

TomCo, which is an acronym for The Oil Mining Co., anticipates tapping the leases for 126 million barrels of oil on what is known as the Holliday Block lease. TomCo licensed the Red Leaf technology, in which oil shale is excavated and the pit is lined with a network of pipes. The crushed shale is then replaced into the pit and covered over, then heated by the network of pipes beneath, to the point at which the oil breaks free of the surrounding rock and is collected with another network of pipes. Once the oil has been recovered, the material is left in place beneath its covering.

The EcoShale In-Capsule Process is expected to produce up to 9,800 barrels of oil per day on TomCo’s leases.

TomCo said it hoped the Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining would approve the permit for mining in the middle of this year, and then open the matter for a 30-day comment period.

Red Leaf, meanwhile, expects to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project the company hopes will allow it to tap as many as 600 million barrels of oil at the rate of 9,800 barrels per day.

Red Leaf Resources expects it to take a year to construct its first test capsule and that it will take into next year before oil will be recovered.

Red Leaf’s site is on Seep Ridge, about 15 miles southwest of the TomCo holdings.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Conservation: The City of Pueblo cuts demand without compromising landscapes

Japanese Beetle via Iowa State University (L. Jesse)
Japanese Beetle via Iowa State University (L. Jesse)

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The city of Pueblo has sharply reduced its water use in the past year with little if any harm to city parks. Brad Bixler, interim city parks and contract manager, said the yearlong experiment in cutting back irrigation dropped water usage by 33 percent — a savings of 207 million gallons of water. Bixler noted that crews let the grass grow longer in city parks last summer to help minimize evaporation.

“We had very few complaints about the turf conditions and many compliments,” he said in a statement this week.

An unexpected benefit — the drier conditions also cut into the plague of Japanese beetles in city parks. Bixler said traps set in 2012 routinely caught 1,000 or more beetles a day. Last summer, the traps often held fewer than 100 beetles a day.

More conservation coverage here.

Salida: City Council okays water and sewer rate task force

Salida Colorado early 1900s
Salida Colorado early 1900s

From The Mountain Mail (J.D. Thomas):

Salida City Council agreed to form a task force to evaluate the city’s 2014 rate and fee schedule for sewer and water and to review the city’s lump-sum merit pay plan for 2014. The decision came after a revision and a tie-breaking vote during the council meeting Tuesday. Council members Mike Bowers, Hal Brown and Melodee Hallett voted against forming a task force, while Tom Yerkey, Eileen Rogers and Keith Baker voted in favor. Mayor Jim Dickson cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of forming the committee.

Brown said he voted against formation of the committee because the scope of the task force was limited to review of sewer and water fees and the employee merit pay plan.

“It really ought to be broader. Perhaps council will allow us to look at more items on the budget after we look at these two specific items,” Brown said. “I’m going to work hard, as much as I can, with our limited scope,”

Before council voted on the matter, Brown raised questions about City Administrator Dara MacDonald and Finance Director Jan Schmidt serving as voting members. Council agreed to a revision making MacDonald and Schmidt nonvoting members.

“I was worried the makeup of the task force would be skewed,” Brown said. “I know Dara and Jan both worked very hard on the 2014 budget. I felt they may have a vested interest to keep the budget the way it was adopted.”

Brown will be part of the five-member committee along with other voting members Rogers and City Treasurer Cheryl Brown-Kovacic.

“I look forward to working with the city administrator and finance director,” Brown said Thursday. “They are going to be valuable resources to help the task force.”

The idea for a task force was formed during the Dec. 5 city council meeting following Brown’s questions about the city’s rate and fee schedule for sewer and water and a review of the city’s lump-sum merit pay plan for 2014.

Rogers said Thursday that she does not want to comment on the task force until March.
Brown-Kovacic could not be reached for comment.

More infrastructure coverage here.

A section of the St. Vrain Greenway on the west end will re-open Monday #COflood

St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call
St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

Starting Monday, the westernmost end of the trail — from Hover Street west to South Airport Road — will be completely usable again, according to city project manager Steve Ransweiler and city natural resources director Kim Shugar. On Friday, the city had begun to replace boulders for the “Waterline” public art project near Hover.

The stretch is part of the “Phase 1” work on the trail, the flood damage considered easiest to repair. City officials had hoped to have all the Phase 1 work done by mid-January, but snowy weather put the work a week or two behind…

On Friday, the area around Roger’s Grove and the Boulder County Fairgrounds pond had begun to be closed off for about two weeks of repair work, including restoration of the crusher fine trails. Once done, Ransweiler said, the Greenway will reach the southeast of Roger’s Grove, specifically to the bridge near the “Listening Stones” sculpture.

Massive flooding in September destroyed much of the St. Vrain Greenway, the most popular feature of the city’s parks and trails system, and one that had taken 20 years to build. In November, its restoration was broken down into three stages of increasing difficulty: Phase 1, where the trail needed to be repaired; Phase 2, where it needed to be rebuilt; and Phase 3, where it needed to be redesigned due to a shift in the course of the St. Vrain River.

Complete restoration of the Greenway is expected to take two to three years…

…a piece of one Phase 3 area may be back in action sooner than expected. The trail from Ken Pratt Boulevard to just past County Line Road should be finished by the end of this year, Shugar said; the easternmost tip, from County Line to Sandstone Park is still a longer-term project, though decisions on the river’s course there should be pretty straightforward…

In February, the city will also put up maps of the flood-damaged areas and signs to help route around them, and will also begin removing large debris from the river. In March, work is set to begin on restoring the channel of Left Hand Creek.