#Drought News: Cooler-than-average temperatures over parts of Colorado this past week

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

This week a southwesterly flow returned to the Southeast, ushering in a tropical like air mass that produced widespread precipitation across the region. Meanwhile, a strong upper level low developed in the Midwest, producing heavy rains, which prompted flash flood watches. Warm, dry air continued to dominate the West…

Northern Rockies / Plains and Northwest

Above-normal precipitation effected western South Dakota, southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming during the period. Temperatures in those areas were running as much as 6 degrees above normal. As a result of the recent rains, the remaining D0 was removed in Nebraska and South Dakota. Warmer-than-normal temperatures and large precipitation deficits continued to hold their grip on Washington and Oregon this week. D3 conditions were expanded in Washington where hay growers are suffering from millions of dollars in losses due to the ongoing warm, dry conditions. It was also reported that pear and apple trees are stressed along with hops…

Southwest

The monsoon season brought some good rains into Arizona prompting drought improvements in southeast Arizona. Cooler-than-average temperatures were seen in portions of Colorado and Utah. It was reported that eastern Colorado had started to dry out, but thanks to the spring moisture and cooler than normal temperatures for much of the summer, evaporative demand has been lower than average. Consequently, the soils have been able to retain the moisture and prevent drought degradation. Temperatures for the period were generally warmer than average across the region. Drought was contracted in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico…

West

California continues to deal with its ongoing drought. Water managers and farmers are adapting their practices to help conserve water and reduce economic loss in the state. Temperatures in California were warmer than average in the south, gradually transitioning to cooler than average northwards. The only precipitation that fell during the period was in south and east Nevada…

Looking Ahead

During the next 6-10 days, the probability of cooler than normal temperatures are high in the Ohio and Tennessee River Valley’s extending into the Great Lakes and Midwest. Chances are likely that the rest of the country will experience warmer than normal temperatures, especially in the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest.

Over the same period, precipitation associated with the large system centered over Wisconsin will move through the Great Lakes area. Further south, the precipitation will slowly move eastward and dissipate as the low pressure moves into Canada. Another, less powerful and dryer system will follow producing the heaviest precipitation in the Midwest. Ridging continues to hold its grip in the West while monsoonal precipitation may bring light drought relief in the Southwest.

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Aspen Times Weekly: Could a mine-waste spill happen here?

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com
Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

From The Aspen Times Weekly (Scott Condon):

Pitkin County has between 600 and 800 mine features, including multiple adits into the same mine, according to an estimate by the Colorado state government. And as Cooper’s experience shows, there are Aspen mines that are filled with water — but just because there’s water, that doesn’t mean it’s contaminated water.

Still, that hefty inventory of adits and shafts makes it reasonable to wonder if something similar to the discharge of 3 million gallons of toxic water from the Gold King Mine near Silverton into the Animas River earlier this month could happen in Aspen (see story, page 33).

State and federal officials as well as miners with street credibility will never say never, but a similar disaster in Pitkin County is unlikely, in large part because of geology, they agreed.

Aspen Mountain’s mines tended to be internally drained to the water table, so “there is generally no significant surface drainage discharges associated with the underground workings,” said Bruce Stover, an official with the Colorado Inactive Mine Reclamation Program. That means there is a “very limited possibility” of underground impoundments of water being formed, he said.

Mines in the San Juan Mountains and other parts of the state have water above the surface. Toxic water was intentionally captured inside the Gold King Mine. It breached when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency undertook a reclamation effort.

Aspen miners tended to encounter water below the level of the water table and Roaring Fork River, said Jay Parker, a partner in the Compromise Mine on Aspen Mountain and a miner and tour guide at the Smuggler Mine.

The water emerging from Aspen’s mines hasn’t been found to be acidic or laced with heavy metals in any testing to date. In one of Aspen’s few hard-rock mine reclamation projects, water in Castle Creek tested similarly above and below where the Hope Mine discharged, according to Forest Service records.

Parker said water draining from the Compromise Mine on Smuggler Mountain feeds ponds where fish thrive and ducks gather.

Local Mine reclamation aimed at safety

Many of Pitkin County’s mines have collapsed, either naturally or by public agencies for safety reasons.

“Our records show we have safeguarded approximately 90 hazardous, non-coal openings in Pitkin County, many of them on Aspen Mountain,” said Stover. Numerous closures have also been completed on coalmines in the Coal Basin and Thompson Creek areas.

The Forest Service typically performs safety closures on three or four mines per year, according to Greg Rosenmerkel, engineering, minerals and fleet staff officer on the White River National Forest. “There are hundreds of mines across the forest.”

The focus of both the Forest Service and the Inactive Mine Reclamation Program is to prevent people from entering an unsafe situation. Old mining timbers have often rotted, making interior travel perilous. Air deep underground can be toxic without proper ventilation.

“It’s almost an attractive nuisance,” Rosenmerkel said of the old mines.

A recent closure was completed earlier this summer at three mines in the high ground beyond Crystal. The typical closure costs $200,000, though no two projects are the same, he said.

Both the Forest Service and Inactive Mine Reclamation Program are focused on finding mines that pose a physical hazard, such as ones located in a ski area or adjacent to a popular hiking trail, and safe-guarding them.

No toxic water impounded

If Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management officials suspect environmental issues, the state Water Quality Control Division is mobilized to test for acidity or metals. If a problem is found, the Inactive Mine Reclamation Program figures out how to solve the problem. If an environmental problem is suspected with a mine on private lands, the Forest Service might be involved if it affects public lands, Rosenmerkel said.

The Hope Mine in Castle Creek Valley warranted remediation while the Ruby Mine in Lincoln Creek Valley has raised concerns but hasn’t been found in need of monitoring (see related stories), according to officials.

Rosenmerkel said there is no situation in the Aspen-Ranger District where water as toxic as that in the Gold King Mine is being impounded.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit focused on water quality and quantity issues in the valley, doesn’t specifically test to see how water coming from mines affects rivers and streams in the basin.

“Outside of Ruby, I don’t know if we have a big enough problem or big enough source,” said Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director.

Sen. Bennet talks water and mine clean-up in Vail – the Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Vail Colorado via Colorado Department of Tourism
Vail Colorado via Colorado Department of Tourism

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Speaking at the Colorado Water Congress’ summer meeting in Vail on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said it would take an “all-of-the-above” strategy to meet Colorado’s future water needs.

“The bottom line for me is that we’ve got to look at water a little bit like we look at energy in Colorado,” said Bennet, a Democrat who was elected in 2010. “We need an all-of-the-above strategy that includes storage and conservation and efficiency. The reality is that we will need to make the best use of the water we have for the rest of our lifetimes.”

The need for additional water storage facilities — new dams and reservoirs — is a consistent message heard at the Water Congress meeting and at water-supply planning meetings around the state.

Bennet acknowledged the time and effort that many attendees at the event have spent developing a statewide water plan, which is being prepared by regional “roundtables” and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The plan is to be submitted to the governor in December and comments on the second draft are due Sept. 17.

“I know that a lot of you here already have contributed many hours and days, and even years, and even, really, lifetimes to the effort,” Bennet said. “The water community, the environmental groups, utilities, local governments and agricultural users have all been involved in the drafting of that plan.”

He added, “Whatever comes out in the final plan, it’s clear that action will be necessary to address the challenges that Colorado will face in the coming decades.”

In his opening remarks, Bennet was highly critical of the gridlocked nature of the U.S. Congress and said he’s tried very hard not to spend “one second over the last six years contributing to the dysfunction that’s there,” but instead has worked to find “bipartisan solutions to real challenges that we have.”

He spoke of a week-long tour of the wheat fields of eastern Colorado that he took recently with Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, and how the two of them also agreed to travel to Durango together in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill that discolored the Animas River on Aug. 5.

“It is fun, people see a Democrat and a Republican working together, and they wish they were seeing that in D.C.” Bennet said.

In response to a question, Bennet said he was exploring a Colorado-only version of “Good Samaritan” legislation, which would shield individuals and organizations that want to work to clean up old hard-rock mines from inheriting the full liability for the mine.

“If we could figure out a way to develop some sort of pilot legislation — we’ve been talking to Congressman Tipton’s office about that — that would allow us to do what needs to be done in our state, that would be a good step forward,” Bennet said, noting there are “thousands” of old mines in Colorado that need to be cleaned up. “Being stuck in this stasis of not being able to address it guarantees exactly what happened the other day, and I don’t think we ought to have our state have to confront something like this again.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin are now in final draft form, next stop water court

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Time’s almost up.

In the works for several years, the groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin are now in final draft form and should be filed with the water court within the next month. Last-chance comments on the final draft of the rules are due tomorrow, August 19, with the rules anticipated to be filed with the water court either by the end of this month or next, depending on how many comments come in.

The groundwater rules, which will apply to well owners in the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley), are designed to protect senior surface water rights and Rio Grande Compact obligations in addition to promoting long-term sustainability of the basin’s aquifers.

The rules apply to hundreds of well owners in the Valley including towns and cities. A well solely permitted for in-house use would not need to be regulated under these rules. Primarily these rules will affect those who are using their wells for irrigation of crops, livestock or municipal water supplies, wells required to be metered. Although there’s been a moratorium on new wells for many years, the existing wells have continued to negatively affect senior surface water rights, a problem the well regulations are designed to rectify either en masse through collective water management sub-districts or individually through augmentation plans or substitute water supply plans.

“Essentially, the Confined Aquifer New Use Rules recognize that there is no unappropriated water in the confined aquifer, so that any new withdrawal requires one-for-one replacement,” the proposed rules state.

“The rules are designed to allow withdrawals of groundwater while providing for the identification and replacement of injurious stream depletions and the achievement and maintenance of a sustainable water supply in each aquifer system, while not unreasonably interfering with the state’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact.”

Those themes are stressed throughout the regulatory document: no new withdrawals will be all o w e d w i t h – out the same amount being replaced; injuries to surface r i g h t s m u s t be replaced; and the state’s agreement with downstream states in the Rio Grande Compact must be upheld.

“Nothing in the rules is designed to allow an expanded or unauthorized use of water ,” the rules state.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten told local water leaders last week that State Engineer Dick Wolfe advised legislators serving on the water resources review committee the rules would be completed within the next month.

“We do have the final draft of the rules out for public comment until the 19th,” Cotten said. “We think the rules are basically done, just giving everybody a last chance to make comments. After that we will take those comments and then file in court.”

Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan, who previously served as Division 3 engineer, said water court resume timelines start from the end of a month, and folks have 60 days after that to respond to the case in court.

“It doesn’t matter if we filed the rules August 10 or August 31, as the clock starts essentially August 31. Thus I think the earliest we could/ would file would be the end of August or September. It all depends on getting any comments considered and gathering all the pieces into a complete package for the court,” Sullivan stated.

“After all the work from the water user community in helping craft the rules I imagine folks would like to get the next phase rolling as soon as possible.”

The rules will be effective 60 days after publication unless protests are filed in the water court, which would delay the process until the protests were resolved.

An approximately 50-member advisory committee has been working with Wolfe since 2009 to develop groundwater rules for this basin. Advisory committee members included representatives from water conservancy and irrigation districts, water user associations, counties, state and federal agencies, municipalities and attorneys . As a group, the advisory committee concluded its work in May, after meeting 25 times over the last several years. The state sent its final draft out to the advisory committee members for one last look this month.

Once the groundwater rules are in place, well owners in the Valley will have two years to come into compliance with the rules by joining one of several water management sub-districts or filing an individual augmentation plan or substitute water supply plan. The other alternative is to be shut down.

One of the delays in getting the groundwater rules to this stage was the development and refinement of the Rio Grande Decision Support System groundwater model that simulates groundwater flows in this basin and helps determine how much water well users must pay back to make up for the injuries they have caused in the past and are currently causing. That model and subsequent simplified calculations called response functions have been under refinement for several years.

After the first water management sub-district (a subdistrict of the sponsoring Rio Grande Water Conservation District) was formed, subsequent sub-districts throughout the Valley waited for the model and its response functions to be refined to the point that well owners in those sub-districts would know what kind of water debts they were looking at before they formally formed their sub-districts . Many of them have been ready to collect signed petitions from those who will be included in the sub-districts , or have already collected petitions, pending those model runs that would tell them how much they would need to replace to senior surface rights.

Most of the sub-districts are organized by geographical areas of the basin such as Conejos River, San Luis Creek and Saguache Creek, while some are organized by the type of wells they encompass, such as confined aquifer wells.

Only the first sub-district is operating (encompassing wells north of the Rio Grande), but four or five others are in various stages of preparing to file their paperwork and petitions with the water court.

Well irrigators who are part of recognized sub-districts with state-approved water management and replacement plans essentially possess a “get out of jail free card,” but the rules state the sub-districts have to live by their management plans and show some progress over time, or the state will require additional action. Another reason it took longer to finalize the well rules was the lengthy discussions over how to meet the state legislature’s mandate to restore this basin’s confined, or deeper, aquifer to the healthy level it presumably experienced between the years 1978 and 2000, before the devastating drought of the early 2000’s . The draft of the rules, as proposed, allows for fluctuations in the aquifer in the same way the aquifer fluctuated during those years, as long as the average levels are similar to those occurring between 1978 and 2000. Fluctuations will also be permitted in the unconfined , or more shallow, aquifers, which the rules acknowledge are underground water storage reservoirs.

Because artesian pressure data is lacking for the confined aquifer during the period from 1978-2000 , the rules provide for a well network to collect data over the next decade to help estimate artesian pressures in the confined aquifer. Once that data is collected, the state tngineer will define the methods proposed to maintain a sustainable water supply in the confined aquifer system, and if that means a change in the rules, that could trigger another rule making process at that point.

The proposed rules also specify the irrigation season for this basin, presumed to begin April 1 and end on November 1, given some flexibility in climate and other conditions. See http:// water. state.co.us/