Panel passes Hermosa Creek bill — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Iulia Gheorghiu):

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act with language that more faithfully follows the original language in the bill developed by community stakeholders.

The Senate amendment clarified language in the House version that Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, reintroduced in late September. The measure will grant a special protective status for more than 100,000 acres.

The bill passed without opposition in the committee, along with 11 other bills, and now goes to the full Senate.

According to Sen. Mark Udall, changes included in the amendment represent the work and support of Southwest Colorado, including environmental groups, local leaders and motorized recreational sports interest groups.

“This is a truly homegrown Colorado bill,” Udall said during the hearing, “It enjoys wide and bipartisan support, and I look forward to it becoming law.”

Sens. Michael Bennet and Udall co-sponsored the bill and made it a priority this term.

“All of the key community stakeholders were involved in the bill that passed today, including local governments, snowmobilers, wilderness enthusiasts, and property owners,” Bennet’s depute press secretary, Philip Clelland, wrote in an email.

The House version included amended language that supported snowmobilers and the use of motorized vehicles. Those changes alarmed environmental groups.

Before the hearing, the Senate’s bill was made available to community stakeholders. Local sponsors recognized efforts Tipton made to redress their complaints by working with Bennet…

The Senate version more closely aligns with language created by the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, a group of community stakeholders who worked to forge a bill diverse users could support.

Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator at with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, is optimistic the bill can pass quickly.

“There were numerous land bills passed forward today,” Buickerood said. “We’re just trusting that there’s enough support to move it forward in this session.”

From the San Juan Citizens Alliance (Jimbo Buickerood):

A long step was made today down the trail towards enhanced protections for the Hermosa Creek watershed with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources unanimously voting to move forward the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. The La Plata and San Juan county community members who created and supported the legislation deserve hearty congratulations for their tireless and ongoing commitment to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed and should celebrate today’s positive action.

During the hearing, Senator Mark Udall spoke eloquently of both the community consensus that generated the momentum to protect the area as well as the inherent beauty and wildness of the Hermosa Creek watershed. Senator Udall was a co-sponsor of the Act that Senator Bennet introduced in the Senate and Representative Tipton sponsored in the House. Hopefully the full Congress will approve the Act in the next few weeks and move it to the President’s desk, however, we know that those couple next steps can only be enjoyed when they are completed.

While the Hermosa legislation was dealt of a disfiguring blow from the House Natural Resources Committee in September, the legislation passed today in the Senate closely resembles the bill that was originally introduced by Senator Bennet. The recent outpouring of public sentiment to “bring back the community consensus” that was crafted over several years was heeded by our Congressional delegation and through hard work and a lot of give-and-take the Hermosa Creek Workgroup’s intentions were resuscitated.

Perhaps the only element of the ‘Hermosa story’ that surpasses the diversity and wonder of the Hermosa Creek watershed is the reality that the legislation has only moved forward this far due to a diverse and somewhat uncommon set of neighbors and allies that banding together in allegiance to protect a watershed honored by all. Certainly the significant size of the Hermosa gives space for a diversity of wild inhabitants and human users, however, it still holds true that a mutual respect for all points-of-view caught the eye of our Congressional delegation that in turn carried forward the effort.

In a time when discourse is rampant and the inability to look ahead towards protecting the ecological health of our planet seems to be waning, the Hermosa legislation strides forward as an example of community collaboration. And we’re guessing that the elk, lynx, bears, cutthroats and other species of the Hermosa are pleased to know that good things can happen when Homo sapiens work together.

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.

NM Interstate Stream Commission staff recommends #GilaRiver water diversion project — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver

Last 3 years in the Western US have been the hottest AND driest since systematic records began in 1895 — Peter Gleick #ColoradoRiver

Graphic via USA Today
Graphic via USA Today

Opinion: Just call John Hickenlooper the Silver Fox — High Country News #COWaterPlan

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

From the High Country News (Forrest Whitman):

John Hickenlooper, the recently re-elected (by a whisker) governor of Colorado, should be called the new “silver fox” for his work on water sharing, in memory of Delphus Carpenter, who earned that title back in 1922. That year, Carpenter cajoled seven Western states into signing the historic agreement that divvied up the Colorado River.

Delph Carpenter
Delph Carpenter

Hickenlooper was certainly wily as a fox when he brokered a difficult deal this summer between the oil and gas industry and Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Hickenlooper got Polis to back down from his campaign to put anti-fracking legislation on the ballot, and created a bipartisan commission to work out tougher fracking rules. Hickenlooper avoided a messy political battle while also spurring a fracking pact and developing a first-ever statewide water plan. It was the kind of thing Delphus Carpenter might have done.

Hickenlooper did something revolutionary when he signed a water plan for the entire state, and now, what he calls regional round tables are working hard to find ways to turn the plan into action. Early results show that some water providers east of the Rockies might agree to stop their destructive “buy up and dry up” programs on the state’s Western Slope. At the same time, stakeholders are working on water-conservation ideas, since we’re expecting a shortfall of a half-million acre-feet within the next decade.

This is not just a Colorado plan, because it offers relief to hard-pressed states downstream. That’s important, of course, because water in much of the West begins in Colorado. If we can put more water into rivers that feed into the Colorado River, neighbors as far away as the Sea of Cortez will benefit. It will certainly help states like California, now ravaged by terrible drought.

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives
Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

When Delphus Carpenter, the first “silver fox of the Rockies,” got seven states to agree on how to share a river, he put a stop to legal water battles that were just beginning to get bitter and expensive. The compact wasn’t perfect, organized as it was during some of the wettest years in recent history. And increasing drought continues to dim and challenge its assumptions. Changing realities over time will also affect the new Colorado water plan, as well as the oil and gas pact.

Meanwhile, stakeholders have been asked to do something that is not in their natures. The oil and gas industry is seriously looking at ways to interfere less with local communities, which means that it’s talking beyond the mineral rights to which it’s entitled. The same is true with the water plan. Instead of trying to divert existing water for more supply in their own basin, the assembled landowners, water utilities and others are talking about ways to deal with shortages. They’re talking about how much water they can save and how to help the whole state have water. Interstate water compacts are at the table as well, because these obligations don’t go away.

Hickenlooper is responding to many obvious factors, such as the big drought of 2004-’05, and especially to the frightening predictions that Colorado, like the rest of the West, is soon going to be at “peak water” yield. Peak yield will happen when the water resource is giving us absolutely everything it can give. Hickenlooper’s also responding to the political facts about oil and gas development. Fracking may not be popular, but it’s also a $30 billion industry.

I’ve never served on an oil and gas commission, but I have served on one of those water roundtables. I’ve seen how hard it is to look beyond the immediate water needs of “our” basin. It’s also tough to preach moderation and quality of life to oil and gas drillers. How did this new “silver fox” do it?

Hickenlooper played what baseball managers call “little ball.” He didn’t hit for the fences, but made one little move at a time. He apparently aimed to be successful with just one person at a time. He is inclusive, he listens, and he’s persuasive: I still have the little silver water pin he once gave me.

Delphus Carpenter did the same thing. He urged representatives from the seven states that rely on the Colorado River to come together at Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe 92 years ago. The basic compact they signed back then still holds. Years ago, Carpenter gave all the credit for the deal to President Herbert Hoover. Hickenlooper does much the same thing with his “aw shucks, it wasn’t me” attitude. If that doesn’t sound like a Silver Fox, I don’t know what does.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

Major class of fracking chemicals no more toxic than common household substances — University of Colorado

Gelled hydraulic fracturing fluid via the Denver Business Journal
Gelled hydraulic fracturing fluid via the Denver Business Journal

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

The “surfactant” chemicals found in samples of fracking fluid collected in five states were no more toxic than substances commonly found in homes, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Fracking fluid is largely comprised of water and sand, but oil and gas companies also add a variety of other chemicals, including anti-bacterial agents, corrosion inhibitors and surfactants. Surfactants reduce the surface tension between water and oil, allowing for more oil to be extracted from porous rock underground.

In a new study published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, the research team identified the surfactants found in fracking fluid samples from Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas. The results showed that the chemicals found in the fluid samples were also commonly found in everyday products, from toothpaste to laxatives to detergent to ice cream.

“This is the first published paper that identifies some of the organic fracking chemicals going down the well that companies use,” said Michael Thurman, lead author of the paper and a co-founder of the Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry in CU-Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. “We found chemicals in the samples we were running that most of us are putting down our drains at home.”

Imma Ferrer, chief scientist at the mass spectrometry laboratory and co-author of the paper said, “Our unique instrumentation with accurate mass and intimate knowledge of ion chemistry was used to identify these chemicals.” The mass spectrometry laboratory is sponsored by Agilent Technologies, Inc., which provides state-of-the art instrumentation and support.

The fluid samples analyzed for the study were provided through partnerships with Colorado State University and colleagues at CU-Boulder.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a technique used to increase the amount of oil and gas that can be extracted from the ground by forcing fluid down the well. Fracking has allowed for an explosion of oil and gas operations across the country. In the U.S. the number of natural gas wells has increased by 200,000 in the last two decades, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Among the concerns raised by the fracking boom is that the chemicals used in the fracking fluid might contaminate ground and surface water supplies. But determining the risk of contamination—or proving that any contamination has occurred in the past—has been difficult because oil and gas companies have been reluctant to share exactly what’s in their proprietary fluid mixtures, citing stiff competition within the industry.

Recent state and federal regulations require companies to disclose what is being used in their fracking fluids, but the resulting lists typically use broad chemical categories to describe the actual ingredients.

The results of the new study are important not only because they give a picture of the possible toxicity of the fluid but because a detailed list of the ingredients can be used as a “fingerprint” to trace whether suspected contamination of water supplies actually originated from a fracking operation.

The authors caution that their results may not be applicable to all wells. Individual well operators use unique fracking fluid mixtures that may be modified depending on the underlying geology. Ferrer and Thurman are now working to analyze more water samples collected from other wells as part of a larger study at CU-Boulder exploring the impacts of natural gas development.

Thurman notes that there are other concerns about fracking—including air pollution, the antimicrobial biocides used in fracking fluids, wastewater disposal triggering earthquakes and the large amount of water used—that are important to investigate and ameliorate. But water pollution from surfactants in fracking fluid may not be as big a concern as previously thought.

“What we have learned in this piece of work is that the really toxic surfactants aren’t being used in the wells we have tested,” he said. [ed. emphasis mine]

The study was funded in part by The Borch-Hoppess Fund for Environmental Contaminant Research and the National Science Foundation.

High Flows Through Grand Canyon National Park Met With Mixed Reactions — National Parks Traveler #ColoradoRiver

Before and after photos of results of the high flow experiment in 2008 via USGS
Before and after photos of results of the high flow experiment in 2008 via USGS

From National Parks Traveler:

Having peaked on Thursday, high flows of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park will taper back down to normal by Saturday, leaving behind replenished shores, improved fish habitat, and more space for campers. But the benefits will be lingering, according to the Glen Canyon Institute.

While the high-flow experiment, the third in six years, is being applauded by both the Institute and the National Parks Conservation Association, a news release put out by the Institute indicates the experiments are essentially useless in terms of the long-term health of the river as it flows through the national park.

”Once those sediments are redistributed from the channel to the banks, they are immediately attacked by a return to hydropower-driven, fluctuating flows,” said Dave Wegner, a former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation engineer quoted by the Institute. “The result is that instead of protecting and stabilizing the new beaches, the return to normal hydropower-defined operating patterns from the dam act like putting a hot knife into a stick of butter – the sand sloughs off quickly and right back into the river.”

The high-flow releases were to reach a peak volume of 37,500 cubic feet per second on Thursday, and taper back down to normal release rates of between 6,500 CFS and 9,000 CFS by Saturday afternoon. This is the third such experimental release since 2008. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam only has 6 percent of the sediment that it received before the Glen Canyon Dam was built in the 1960s. This sediment is vital to the health of the Grand Canyon ecosystem. While experimental high-releases provide some relief, the beaches – and consequently the ecosystem – of the Grand Canyon will continue to suffer until there is a systematic change in water management on the Colorado River that significantly increases the sediment flow in the canyon, according to the Institute.

In addition to the detrimental effect of normal releases from Glen Canyon Dam, as much as 95 percent of Colorado River sediment flows are trapped behind the Glen Canyon Dam, the Institute said. After 50 years of sediment trapping, the reality is that the beaches of the Grand Canyon are in a downward decline, it added.

”You can’t cut off 95 percent of the sediment source and expect a sustainable supply for the beaches,” said Eric Balken, program director of Glen Canyon Institute. “These high-flow releases give the public the impression that the Grand Canyon is doing OK. Make no mistake: the Grand Canyon is dying — it is starved of life-giving sediment.”

At NPCA, officials said the high-flow experiment serves as an important measure to support endangered fish and help other natural and cultural resources in Grand Canyon National Park.

“This specially timed ‘high flow’ mimics pre-dam floods and will bring in sediment to build up sandbars along the river’s bank,” said David Nimkin, Southwest regional director for NPCA. “It will provide spawning habitat for fish and other wildlife species, better recreational opportunities for Grand Canyon boaters and other visitors, and keep sacred Native American cultural sites protected from the elements.”

The Department of Interior, which operates Glen Canyon Dam upstream from the Grand Canyon, is releasing the water as part of an experimental protocol resulting from a 2012 environmental assessment. An NPCA release said the goal of the protocol is to continue to fulfill the mandate of the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act, which stipulates that Glen Canyon Dam operations adapt with strong scientific research, to better protect the natural, cultural, and recreational qualities of the river within Grand Canyon National Park.

“Grand Canyon National Park is a beloved national treasure, visited by nearly 5 million visitors last year, generating $467 million in economic benefit,” said Mr. Nimkin. “Managing the Colorado River to protect natural conditions in the Grand Canyon makes good ecological and good economic sense.”

Since it was built in 1963, Glen Canyon Dam has regulated the amount of water that flows in the Colorado for its 277-mile stretch through the Grand Canyon. The dam was built to provide an inexpensive source of power for Southwest cities and industry, provide flood control, and store water for farms and communities in the region. Prior to the 71-story dam being erected, the river’s seasonal peak floods averaged over 93,000 cubic feet per second. Since then, the flow of water through the dam’s generating turbines has typically fluctuated between 8,000-25,000 cfs, according to power demand.

Several decades of such highly restricted water flow dramatically altered the conditions of the Colorado River and the canyon itself, prompting Congress to act to protect Grand Canyon National Park.

According to NPCA, Interior Department staff will incorporate data from these experiments, as well as other recent research, in an upcoming management plan that aims to balance the municipal, industrial, agricultural, cultural, recreational, and environmental interests at stake in the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon in years ahead. A draft plan is anticipated to be released for public comment in early 2015.

From the Deseret News (Alex Cabrero):

When construction of the Glen Canyon Dam began in 1956 to store water and generate electricity, it affected the natural flow of the Colorado River through the area and into the Grand Canyon.

This “experimental high-flow release” — the third of its kind in the past three years — is meant to kick up sand and sediment on the bottom of the river and move them downstream.

Scientists with the United States Geological Survey and other agencies say the force from the water will rebuild sandbars, beaches, recreation areas and animal habitat that would have been part of the normal environment if Glen Canyon Dam were never built.

“I wouldn’t judge whether that’s responsible or not, but that it is that you have changed something,” Tucker said. “Experiments like this are ways to find a meaningful way to restore or preserve that ecosystem downstream.”

Fifteen-thousand cubic feet of water per second is flowing out of the dam into the Colorado River.

To put that in perspective, a basketball is about one cubic foot. That means roughly 15,000 basketballs are being released out of the dam every single second.

“It’s something that is very visually striking to see,” Tucker said.

Releasing so much water doesn’t impact drought conditions, he said.

“The same amount of water is going to be released from Glen Canyon Dam throughout the year, so since this is a higher-flow period, obviously with the experiment that is here, that will be compensated for in other months where there will be less water that will go through the dam,” Tucker said.

This is the third in a five-year plan to conduct experimental high-flow releases.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Pitkin County: The Colorado River District, et al., to appeal recent water court decree for Busk-Ivanhoe Ditch

From The Aspen Times (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Pitkin County, the Colorado River District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association have each filed an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court over a recent Water Court decree setting the size of a diversion from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. The decree gives Busk-Ivanhoe Inc., an entity owned by the city of Aurora, the right to divert an average of 2,416 acre-feet of water a year from four high-mountain creeks for use within Aurora’s water-service area east of Denver.

But the appellants want the high court to review how Water Court Judge Larry C. Schwartz calculated the historical use of the 1928 water right and then used the answer to define the size and scope of Aurora’s new right. At issue is whether the period from 1987 to 2009, when Aurora was admittedly using water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes without a decree to do so, should be included in a representative study period of use.

The original 1928 decree for the Busk-Ivanhoe water right only allowed the water to be used for irrigation in the lower Arkansas River Valley.

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said if the 22 years of undecreed use at issue is factored in, Aurora’s new right might be half the size of the one approved by the judge.

The state engineer and three division engineers, who enforce water-right decrees, also have appealed the judge’s decision.

“The engineers believe that ‘undecreed’ use is equivalent to no decreed use, and that a calculation of average annual historical use must include the 22-year period during which there was no decreed use,” the appeal from the state engineer states.

But the judge sees it differently.

“In the circumstances of this case, including the years after 1986 in the study period but attributing zero diversions to all such years is not necessary to protect junior water rights from injury,” Schwartz wrote.

Aurora, which began buying Busk-Ivanhoe irrigation water in 1987, filed documents with the Water Court in 2009 to change the use of its water from irrigation to municipal uses.

In July 2013, a five-day trial was held in Pueblo. Schwartz issued a substantial ruling on May 27. On Aug. 15, he issued a decree defining the water right.

In early October, the four appeals were filed with the Supreme Court, which directly hears appeals from Water Court. Opening legal briefs are expected by mid-February.

High-mountain water

Busk-Ivanhoe Inc. owns half of the roughly 5,000 acre-feet diverted by the Busk-Ivanhoe system each year. The other half is owned by the Pueblo Board of Water Works and is not at issue in the case.

Busk-Ivanhoe has the right to divert 100 cubic feet per second of water from Hidden Lake Creek, 50 cfs from both Pan Creek and Lyle creeks and 35 cfs from Ivanhoe Creek. A 21-foot-tall dam on Ivanhoe Creek forms Ivanhoe Reservoir, and a 30-inch pipe carries water for 1.3 miles under the Continental Divide near Hagerman Pass. Water exits the pipe, runs down Busk Creek to Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs and then is moved to Aurora.

The new decree would allow Aurora to divert as much as 144,960 acre-feet of water over a 60-year period, at an annual average of 2,416 acre-feet.

Joining the Colorado River District in its appeal is the Basalt Water Conservancy District and Eagle County, and joining the Grand Valley Water Users Association is the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District.

Those entities also question the judge’s decisions regarding the storage of Busk-Ivanhoe water on the Front Range, which has been done for decades without a decreed right.

Schwartz said even though the original decree was silent on the subject of storage, it was always the “intent” of the water developer to store the water on the Front Range.

He also found that storing the Busk-Ivanhoe water without a decreed right after it had been moved under the Continental Divide “did not cause an injurious expansion or alteration of stream conditions” in the Colorado River Basin.

The appellants disagree.

“We feel the Water Court’s rulings were erroneous and would set a dangerous precedent of holding transmountain diverted water rights to different requirements as in-basin rights when it comes to decree and decree-change calculations,” said Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu. “There should not be separate rules for transmountain diversions.”

Greg Baker, manager of public relations for Aurora Water, said Aurora officials couldn’t discuss the litigation.

Aspen Journalism is an independent, nonprofit news organization collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More water law coverage here.