H.R. 3189: The House Majority Leader indicated on Mar 06, 2014 that this bill may be considered in the week ahead.

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

Click here to go to the GovTrack page for the bill.

More water law coverage here.

From The Goat (Krista Langlois):

The German philosopher with the impressively bushy mustache, Friedrich Nietzsche (below), said that all things are subject to interpretation. Had he lived in the Western U.S., he might have tacked on a clause: “Especially when it comes to water policy.”

A House bill to be voted on this week hammers his point home, with policy experts, conservation groups, the U.S. Forest Service and the ski industry each reaching different conclusions about the potential consequences of HR 3189, the “Water Rights Protection Act.” The bill seeks to prevent the federal government from imposing cond­itions on water rights owned by public land leaseholders. Opponents contend it would also weaken federal agencies’ ability to conserve stream flows for wildlife and recreation…

“This bill is written way too broadly,” says Matt Niemerski, Western water policy director for Washington, D.C.-based American Rivers. “It would undermine efforts to improve the health of rivers and public lands, and force federal agencies to put private water use ahead of public uses, like wildlife, fishing or boating.”[…]

The mess began decades ago. Reed Benson, water law professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law points to the late ‘90s, when the Forest Service began claiming authority over “bypass flows” on public lands – meaning that to get their permits renewed, entities that operate on public lands had to keep a modicum of water in streams and rivers to ensure that enough water was retained for other uses, including fish and wildlife conservation. Water users in Colorado and beyond fought for local control, but ultimately two court cases ruled in favor of the feds, Benson says.

Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association, says the issue began even earlier, when the Forest Service changed its policies to take ownership over private water rights. Either way, the fight was renewed in 2011, when the Forest Service demanded that the 122 ski resorts that operate in national forests turn their water rights over to federal management. The ski industry sued and won. In response, the Forest Service began working on new regulations that would protect stream flows without taking rights away from ski resorts. But the process has been slow, and the ski industry doesn’t believe that the federal goernment will ultimately act in their best interest.

More H.R. 3189 coverage here.

@CityofThornton storm spotter training May 8th — via @ThorntonWeather

The March 2014 Colorado Stewardship Project newsletter is hot off the presses

Justian I first codifier of riparian rights
Justian I first codifier of riparian rights

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Public Trust Ballot Initiative Introduced

A proposed Public Trust Doctrine Ballot Initiative is progressing through the state’s review process. The proponents made changes to their initial version and re-submitted the amendment on February 25. It is set for a Review and Comment Hearing March 11 at 1:30pm.

The current version of proposed Initiative 83 would amend the Colorado Constitution by adding a new section to Article XVI (the provisions of the constitution that govern mining and water rights). This amendment would, among other issues, establish an “inalienable right” of the people of Colorado to clean air, clean water (including groundwater), and the preservation of the environment and natural resources (called “Public Trust Resources”), as common property of all people including future generations.

For additional summary of proposed Initiative 83 click HERE or visit http://www.cowaterstewardship.com.

CWSP and the Colorado Water Congress are monitoring all initiatives that could affect water resources. To view the full initiatives tracking document click HERE.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

Breakthrough water agreement benefits cities and rivers

Mile High Water Talk

Water management is never easy. And in Colorado, where the resource is scarce, everyone’s interest is valuable, and needs are often widely divergent.

Last year, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited came together to pen a guest editorial for The Denver Post, Together, we can meet Colorado River challenges, acknowledging the fact that there are differences over how to best use water to meet our diverse needs. But, more important, the editorial highlighted the fact that smart water planning and cooperation are the only way to meet the future water needs of all interests along the Colorado River.

Less than a year later, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited have come together again, this time with Grand County, to reveal an agreement that balances municipal needs and environmental health. And, just like the recently finalized Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this partnership demonstrates the benefits of working together to protect our…

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Six months later a lot of irrigation infrastructure is still not in place after the September #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 CBS4Denver.com:

Much of the infrastructure that irrigates Colorado farmlands was destroyed last September, and people are racing against the clock before the spring runoff. This year, those who rely on snowpack will get their share but the problem is getting that water where it needs to be…

Sean Cronin of the Saint Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District says, “irrigating crops in Colorado is absolutely critical.”

He feels getting the irrigation infrastructure intact and running is a number one priority. The floods wiped out dozens of floodgates and diversions. This included the main highland ditch system in Lyons. That system provided water to about 40, 000 acres of farmland and rural communities.

Most areas have been quick to repair damages and are expecting many of the water ditches to be ready by April 1st.

Other areas, like near the Big Thompson and Saint Vrain water districts, may not be ready until October.
“That’s an example of the magnitude that we were looking at,” said Cronin.

ExxonMobil and Natural Soda Holdings, Inc. to research oil shale development #ColoradoRiver

Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon -- Photo / Associated Pres
Colony Oil Shale Project Exxon — Photo / Associated Pres

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

ExxonMobil and Natural Soda Holdings Inc. have edged another step closer to undertaking oil shale research-and-development projects with the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of their development plans. The approvals are for the company’s research, demonstration and development leases on federal land southwest of Meeker in Rio Blanco County. The projects still must undergo review by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety.

For ExxonMobil, its project marks a renewed attempt to commercially extract petroleum from oil shale after what was then Exxon shut down its Colony Project in 1982. That shutdown resulted in some 2,000 workers losing their jobs and caused economic repercussions for years from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction.

Natural Soda, meanwhile, has extensive experience with another kind of mining at a site just north of its federal lease. It injects hot water underground to solution-mine for baking soda, known as nahcolite in its natural form. On its lease, it proposes first removing the nahcolite using its normal process, then producing oil from underground by heating it using either a downhole burner or a closed-loop steam system.

ExxonMobil also is proposing an in-situ, or in-place, development project involving heating the oil shale underground and then pumping out the oil — a process different from the Colony Project, which involved surface mining and heating of oil shale. Exxon wants to hydraulically fracture the oil shale, fill the fractures with conductive material and then electrically heat the shale.

The companies acquired the leases under a second round of R&D leasing conducted by the BLM. The leases initially cover about 160 acres but potentially can be enlarged by some 480 acres for commercial development if certain conditions are met.

Shell, Chevron and American Shale Oil hold R&D leases in Rio Blanco County from the earlier round of leasing — including three leases in Shell’s case — with the potential to convert each lease to nearly eight square miles for commercial development. But while AMSO continues to work on an in-situ project, Chevron, and more recently Shell, have ended their oil shale projects in connection with their leases. Shell had done the most work of any company on an in-situ shale project in Colorado before shutting it down last year.

Economics, environment

In approval documents for the ExxonMobil and Natural Soda plans, BLM White River Field Office manager Kent Walter wrote that each proposed action “with mitigation represents an opportunity to develop domestic energy sources and to inform and advance knowledge of commercially viable production, development and recovery technologies of oil shale resources consistent with sound environmental management. It also will provide a basis for informed future decisions about whether and when to move forward with commercial scale development and allow for the assessment of its impacts on the environment.”

David Abelson, an oil shale policy advisor for the Western Resource Advocates conservation group, said that if history is any indication, there’s a strong likelihood the latest projects won’t prove economically viable.

But he added, “One thing I think we have learned over the years is to proceed cautiously so we don’t repeat what happened in western Colorado in the early ‘80s.”

He said both Shell and Chevron showed a big difference from companies’ past practice in acknowledging failure early on rather than proceeding to the point where shutting down a project is economically devastating.

New approach

He said ExxonMobil and Natural Soda also will operate under a framework governing the second round of leases that requires more reporting regarding protection of air and water quality and other concerns.

“And that is good public policy. That’s the basis for making smart decisions,” he said.

ExxonMobil repeatedly has emphasized the desire to take a prudent, step-by-step approach to its new oil shale undertaking, something reiterated in its development plan.

“It is recognized that development of a commercial(ly) viable in situ oil shale technology will require a paced approach to thoroughly evaluate and optimize technology viability, with appropriate focus on environmental protection, water conservation and responsible land use,” the company said in the plan.

It plans to first conduct an appraisal phase involving drilling one or more test wells to ascertain the oil shale resources within the lease, along with groundwater monitoring wells to do baseline testing of water quality before further work ensues.

It currently estimates a resource of 600 million barrels of oil are contained in the shale within its lease.

The appraisal phase would be followed by three experimental phases, first to establish the ability to install the technology in the test zone, secondly to heat the zone, and then to do a pilot test to determine commercial viability on a field scale.

“ExxonMobil has consistently proposed a staged and deliberate development program that allows for technical advancement while minimizing the potential for environmental impacts,” its plan says.

Natural Soda also is outlining a phased approach in its plan, starting with a monitoring well to be drilled as soon as this year. That would be followed by steps such as building processing facilities, installing heating elements, operating the facilities and expanding and replicating the process over a period of up to nine years.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: New spill contained onsite

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

For the second time in five months, Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill officials have discovered a leak of contaminated water, but both spills reportedly were contained on-site. On Monday, Cotter personnel reported to Colorado Department of Public Health officials a release of greater than 500 gallons of water from the barrier system pump-back pipeline. The water spilled was contaminated groundwater recovered by the barrier system and being pumped back to the facility.

The spill was discovered at 8 a.m. Monday and mill personnel were last on-site at approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday. The spill did not result in contaminated materials leaving the Cotter property. More information will be provided as the investigation continues, according to Deb Shaw, health department program assistant. A similar spill occurred in November when between 4,000 and 9,000 gallons of contaminated water seeped from the same pipeline.

Contaminated water usually is pumped, along with groundwater, to an on-site evaporation pond to prevent further contamination in Lincoln Park, which has been a part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1988. The now-defunct mill is in the process of decommissioning and has not been used to process uranium since 2006.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

More details have emerged in connection with a Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill leak of contaminated water which occurred over the weekend south of town. State health officials reported Tuesday that about 20,000 gallons of the contaminated water leaked from the pump-back system pipeline.

“Analytical results show that the water contained 2,840 micrograms per liter of uranium and 3,740 micrograms per liter of molybdenum. For comparison, the groundwater standard in Colorado for uranium is 30 micrograms per liter and for molybdenum is 100 micrograms per liter,” said Deb Shaw, program assistant for the state health department.

At those concentrations of contamination the spill is not reportable to the National Response Center because the quantity is below 10.3 million gallons, Shaw said.

The contamination did not seep off of Cotter property.

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