Moab tailings cleanup reaches 5-year mark — Deseret News #ColoradoRiver

moabtailingscleanupsite

From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

This week marked the five year anniversary of when the U.S. Department of Energy began the $1 billion cleanup of the 16 million tons of tailings left over a legacy of uranium mining at the now defunct Atlas Mill.

The 130-acre site was leaching uranium and hazardous chemicals into the Colorado River, spurring contamination concerns for 30 million downstream users.

In 2009, an infusion of $108 million in federal stimulus money fast-tracked the project, accelerating the removal of the tailings to a disposal site 30 miles away at Crescent Junction.

“It is slowly getting there,” said project manager Don Metzler. “It is on track and we feel good about that.”

Metzler, whose supervision of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action garnered national recognition in 2011, said the massive cleanup effort is now 42 percent complete.

“We have moved 6.7 million tons of the 16 million tons,” he said. “We still have a lot to go.”

The tailings are scooped and loaded into the beds of huge dump trucks and then poured into rail cars. A train leaves the site once a day, four days a week, traveling north to a specially-engineered disposal site at Crescent Junction.

Metzler said the annual funding of $35 million received a boost to $38 million, and the additional money will be used to further cover a section of the disposal cell.

“We do this in sequential steps. We are not going to wait until the entire project is over before we cover,” he said.

Clay and rock material has been put on 40 acres and another 10 acres or so will also receive a protective fill.

Metzler is also in the process of implementing a flood control plan.

With spring runoff in full swing, the Colorado River has risen 2 feet in the past few weeks, Metzler said, and it expected to crest its banks in another 30 to 40 days.

Protective berms have been engineered to keep the river water away from the radioactive dirt, he added, and the project will be doing community outreach to keep residents informed of flood threats.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

DWR: HB13-1248 Fowler Pilot Project Lessons Learned Workshop, June 5

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From email from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Kevin Rein):

During the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly enacted HB-1248 to provide for fallowing-leasing pilot projects. At its November 2013 Board meeting, the CWCB approved Criteria and Guidelines for the pilot projects and in December, the CWCB received an application for selection and approval of a pilot project for the Town of Fowler. That application was subsequently withdrawn.

On June 5, 2014, CWCB staff will hold an informal workshop to review the Fowler Pilot Project and discuss the lessons learned through the application and review process. The CWCB’s objective is to apply lessons learned to any upcoming pilot project applications.

Fowler Pilot Project
Lessons Learned Workshop
June 5, 2014
9:00 am to Noon
1313 Sherman Street
Room 318

RSVP Not Required

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Denver Water’s summer watering rules begin May 1

La Plata River: Construction of Long Hollow Reservoir expected to be complete by July

Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald
Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

Construction of the dam designed to corral 5,100 acre feet of runoff from two modest streams in this arid section of La Plata County is expected to be completed in July – two years after groundbreaking. Long Hollow Reservoir will be a water bank against which irrigators in the area can draw. They will be able to pull more water from the La Plata River, which must be shared with New Mexico because the reservoir can make up the difference…

Brice Lee, president of the sponsoring La Plata Water Conservancy District, said the district has been pursuing the Long Hollow project since the 1990s when the irrigation-water component was removed from the larger and seemingly interminable Animas-La Plata Project, known as A-LP…

Potentially, 500 to 600 irrigators could be interested in reservoir water, he said. A fixed fee would be set to cover maintenance and operations, plus a charge based on consumption. Irrigators who don’t go for the backup source of water will continue to take their chances with the fickle La Plata River.

The reservoir will store water from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw, which drain 43 square miles east of Colorado Highway 140. The reservoir is about five miles north of the New Mexico line and a half-mile from the confluence of Long Hollow Creek and the La Plata River.

An outlet on the left side of the dam feeds the natural channel of Long Hollow Creek below the dam, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service requirement aimed at maintaining aquatic life.

Water also can be diverted into a high-flow pipeline if water demands from New Mexico exceed 10 to 12 cubic feet per second or if an emergency release were required.

It was first estimated that the project would cost $22.5 million. The pot consisted of $15 million set aside by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority for future projects when the A-LP was downsized. Accrued interest and $3 million from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe completed the budget. But a bill making its way through the state Legislature is expected to contribute an additional $1.575 million to cover the expense of meeting unexpected difficulty in readying the dam’s bedrock foundation for construction.

The dam is 151 feet high with a span of 800 feet. A central clay core is buttressed upstream and downstream by tons of sand, dirt and rock. Construction, which began in July 2012 with excavation down to bedrock, was followed by filling with grout under pressure fissures in the bottom and embankments of the dam to prevent leaking. Some grout holes were bored as deep as 120 feet. All construction material, with the exception of steel and concrete, come from on-site sources.

The capricious flow of the La Plata River has produced verbal shoving matches between Colorado and New Mexico since the signing in 1922 of the compact that requires the states to share the river. Each state has unrestricted use of the water from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15. But from then until Dec. 1, if the river is flowing at less than 100 cubic feet per second at the state line, Colorado must deliver one-half the flow at Hesperus to New Mexico. Living up to the terms of the agreement isn’t easy.

The La Plata River, which tumbles from its origin high in the mountains north of U.S. Highway 160, isn’t the most generous of sources at best. A porous river bed and thick vegetation grab an inordinate share of the flow. The growing season is longer than the period of river flow…

The dam was designed by GEI Consultants, a national firm with a branch in Denver. The Weeminuche Construction Authority is the builder. Among the 50 crew members, 80 percent are Native American, with 65 percent being Ute Mountain Utes, said Aaron Chubbuck, the Weeminuche project manager.

The construction engineer, hired by the water district, is Rick Ehat, who brought the A-LP to completion on time and on budget after an earlier administration fell disastrously behind on both counts.

The finished dam may appear a monolithic structure. But it’s actually an amalgamation of “zones” comprised of dirt, rock, sand and clay with each ingredient serving a certain purpose.

After the topping-out ceremony marks the completion of construction, the “borrow areas” where construction materials were taken will have to be revegetated. Also, certain electrical and mechanical work remains to be done. Among the tasks, sensors will be installed on the downstream face of the dam to measure possible movement or leakage…

Unlike the Lake Nighthorse, the A-LP reservoir, which was filled by pumping water from the Animas River, Long Hollow Reservoir will depend on precipitation runoff and return flow from agricultural operations.

The construction used 900,000 cubic yards of material, compared with 5.4 million cubic yards for Ridges Basin.

While useful for its purpose, the 5,100 acre-feet of water behind Long Hollow dam is peanuts compared to the 123,541 acre-feet in Lake Nighthorse and the 125,000 acre-feet in Vallecito Reservoir.

Depending on the weather, Ehat said, it could take five to seven years for the reservoir to fill from runoff from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw.

More La Plata River watershed coverage here.

CMU: Learn about Water Projects in Israel May 1

ucladesalinizationmembrane

From the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University:

The Water Center at CMU is pleased to host this opportunity to learn about water issues and projects in Israel!

Admission is free, but please pre-register here to let us know you are coming!

More education coverage here.

San Luis Valley county commissioners unite against endangered listing for the Rio Grande Cutthroat

Rio Grande cutthroat trout   via Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Rio Grande cutthroat trout via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Without a doubt, the Valley’s six governments are against the potential Rio Grande Cutthroat (RGCT) endangered species listing. The San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (VCC) unanimously decided Monday to add its organizational name to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between 10 county governments stating there is no need to list the species.

In addition to the six Valley counties – Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache – Hinsdale, Las Animas, San Juan and Archuleta Counties also have a signatory line on the MOU. To date, Rio Grande, Conejos, Mineral, Saguache and Hinsdale have already made the commitment on paper.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the RGCT warranted but precluded, according to the Federal Register , Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish soon.

“The deadline has come and gone,” said Tom Spezze, who is heading up the local RGCT listing fight. The delay, he said, is “good news for us” because having the MOU in place prior to the decision shows a “stronger level of commitment” and allows the VCC to use its “political horsepower.”

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish , which is also found in New Mexico, will classify the species as endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing.

Spezze and Hinsdale County, whose government is acting as the campaign’s fiscal agent, also asked each county to contribute some funding to the effort. According to Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier, about $23,000 – roughly $3,000 from each county – is needed for both Spezze’s work and legal counsel.

“We did this (became the fiscal agent) in good faith because we believe all the counties will get on board,” Dozier said.

Before the counties offer up any money, a financial subcommittee will form and discuss contributions.

“We need to take this back to individual counties and see what our finances are,” said Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen.

His fellow commissioner Michel Yohn added, “This (the potential listing) does affect us tremendously. I see more costs coming. As counties, we need to realize this.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence , actual or potential.

“The RGCT are what we say they are,” Spezze said. “There is a 90 to 95-percent genetic confidence . There are no lineage crossovers.”

Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and can include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“There are impacts beyond the RGCT,” said Travis Smith, San Luis Valley Irrigation District manager and Colorado Water Conservation Board member. “We are in a place right now to send a strong message about a culture change. It transcends more than just fishing.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide, which includes the model efforts of the Trinchera Ranch to keep the species thriving in its creeks. Spezze added that should the RGCT make the endangered species list it is not foolish to think senior water rights could be affected in the future.

“We can’t just bury our heads in the sand,” said Rio Grande Commissioner Karla Shriver. “Every county should look at it seriously, and as a group we can do more. Maybe we can proactively stop this? We need to protect our constituents. We need to give them a voice.” For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded. Between 2003 and 2011, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts , according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.