Action items to be injected into #ColoradoWaterPlan — Aspen Journalism

raftingphotoaspenjournalism

The Western Slope headwaters of the Yampa River, which legally still has water that could be put to beneficial use on the Front Range.
The Western Slope headwaters of the Yampa River, which legally still has water that could be put to beneficial use on the Front Range.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Officials at the Colorado Water Conservation Board are going to add more action items with deadlines to the final Colorado Water Plan by the board’s next meeting on Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

Final public comments on the draft water plan were due by Sept. 17. And on Oct. 6, the Colorado Water Conservation Board met in a five-hour work session to go over the latest draft of the state’s first official water-supply plan.

At that meeting, board members told staff to add to the plan specific “measurable objectives” with “date certain” deadlines, according to James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The board wants to see “clear measurable goals” for water conservation, water storage, land use and other issues, Eklund said, noting that Gov. John Hickenlooper also wants to see action items with deadlines.

“He was very clear that we cannot surrender the momentum we’ve developed during the drafting of the water plan,” Eklund said.

The final water plan is due on Hickenlooper’s desk by Dec. 10, but Eklund said he and his staff are working hard to get the document finished and approved by the board at its next regular meeting, set for Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

“It’s a target date,” said Eklund of Nov. 19, noting that the CWCB was slated to meet at the History Colorado Center and approval of the state’s first statewide water plan there would be a fittingly historic moment.

One of a number of dams on the headwaters of the Yampa River. Interests on both the West and East slopes are eager to see more water storage project build in Colorado.
One of a number of dams on the headwaters of the Yampa River. Interests on both the West and East slopes are eager to see more water storage project build in Colorado.

More storage, conservation

Alan Hamel, a board member, told the members of the Arkansas River basin roundtable on Oct. 14 about a number of actions that are now to be included in the final water plan, according to an Oct. 16 article in the Pueblo Chieftain.

The action items included “obtaining an additional 400,000 acre-feet of (water) storage by 2050, reducing the municipal (water supply) gap from 560,000 acre-feet annually to zero by 2030,” and “setting a goal of 400,000 acre feet of urban conservation by 2050,” according to the Chieftain.

Hamel also said the list of such action items in chapter 10 of the water plan was to be trimmed from 200 items to 36, according to the Chieftain article, which was written by veteran water reporter Chris Woodka.

The potential addition of these and other specific action items has caught the interest of officials at the Colorado River District, which met Tuesday in Glenwood Springs.

Erik Kuhn, the director’s general manager, told the district’s board that he had talked Monday with Eklund about the addition of new action items into the plan and told him he would like to see and comment on the list before they are included in the final water plan.

The River District, which closely guards Western Slope water, is also concerned with “what happens next” after the water plan is approved.

Kuhn posed a question in a memo to his board that many people in the state also are asking.

“Will the plan sit on the shelf, collect dust and largely be ignored?” Kuhn wrote. “Or, will we find a way to use it as a template and move forward?”

Kuhn said one key is if the Colorado Water Conservation Board will help or hinder the state’s river basin roundtables as they get started on water projects identified in various “basin implementation plans” developed as part of the water plan process.

Other issues raised by Kuhn include where the state will find the money to pay for both water projects and environmental protections and if a statewide water conservation goal of 400,000 acre feet of water is feasible — especially given the doubts voiced by several Front Range municipal water providers.

In a Sept. 17 comment letter to the board, the River District also raised a series of concerns, including the need to avoid a “compact call” from lower basin states, whether measures to reduce the use of water by agriculture will be effective and the need to improve coordination of local land-use policy and water supply.

The district also addressed the emerging concept of developing “stream management plans” to better understand how water diversions in the state’s rivers are affecting the environment. The district suggests that the $1 million budgeted by the state for such plans is likely not enough.

Also Tuesday, a group called Citizens for Western Slope Water said it had delivered a petition to Hickenlooper and Eklund signed by 1,500 residents of western Colorado, including many citizens from Grand Junction and Durango.

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” the petition states. “We the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new transmountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan. We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism has been collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. Both the Times and the Post Independent published this story on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015.

Brent writes on Twitter: “Your wknd reading: the Sept. 17 letters to CWCB on the Water Plan.”

Click here to read the documents on Document Cloud.

Colorado Springs asks councillors for water rate increase in 2016

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com
Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

The Southern Delivery System, due to become operational next year, hasn’t cost as much as predicted in 2010, which led to lower and fewer rate increases since that time. Originally, Colorado Springs Utilities planned to increase water rates by 12 percent per year for six years. Instead, rates went up by 12 percent each in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent each in 2013 and 2014.

That said, revenue hasn’t generated as much money as CSU planned, according to a City Auditor’s Office assessment of water rates released this month.

When the costs of the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs came in some $400 million less than originally projected, that meant the city had to borrow less, the audit reports…

In any event, Springs Utilities proposes to change gas, electric and water rates in 2016. The water rate increase would increase the typical residential bill from $57.07 a month this year to $59.62 next year, an increase of $2.55 per month, or 4.5 percent…

Rates changes will become effective January 1 if approved by City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board.

La Plata County: Water Information Program land use forum recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Land use choices and water use are connected. So how come water people and land use planners don’t work together as water supply becomes more at risk and state population keeps growing?

That was the focus of a water and land use forum on Oct. 23 at the La Plata County Administration Building. It was organized by the Durango-based Water Information Program (WIP).

Denise Rue-Pastin, the director of the program, cited predictions that global population will reach 10 billion by 2050.

“Some of the information being presented is kind of a downer,” she warned. “Hopefully you (participants) will be armed with the information you need to make really good decisions.” She showed maps of global water shortage areas, including in the U.S., areas of growing food demand, and regions where wars are being fought over water…

She cited the Colorado Water Plan aimed at addressing water supply gaps as state population grows to a predicted 10 million.

The final plan must be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. She cited the familiar statistic that 80 percent of state population is on the Front Range while 80 percent of the water is on the West Slope, and 80 percent of water use in Colorado is for agriculture…

The Colorado Water Plan “doesn’t say a lot about what we should be doing,” although it lists ideas such as development that does not increase water demand, referred to as net zero, [Drew] Beckwith said. “The divide between water planners and land use planners is sometimes a challenge.” There are efforts to come up with estimates of how increased density might affect water use, he said.

The Water Plan will tout a goal to have 75 percent of state population living in communities that have incorporated water saving actions, Beckwith said. He asked for comments…

Beckwith said, “The challenge I see is for you in the southwest (part of the state) to say we don’t want any more trans-mountain (water) diversions, you need to lead by example.”

Shepard cited subdivision covenants and homeowner associations that require outside landscaping, and the HOA will sue for non-compliance.

That’s illegal under a state law passed a couple years ago, Beckwith responded.

Rue-Pastin raised another issue. “I know of a water utility that got rid of their water conservation because one of their directors said, ‘If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.'”

Beckwith added that some utilities depend on the income from selling more water, but, “When you need more supply and conservation is the cheapest alternative, it makes sense.”[…]

Green and Beckwith listed ways to link water and land use:

. a system to allocate water taps

. impact fees on building permits

. use of state authorized 1041 powers to protect water supplies from diversions

. comprehensive/ master plans that encourage denser development and water conservation

. landscaping codes

. more development restrictions in areas with less groundwater

. prohibitions on outside water use, as in Summit County

. requirements for water efficient appliances.

Green cited the need to go beyond “aspirational” master plans to implementation in land use regulations.

Beckwith said, “At the end of the day, it depends on what your community cares about.”

“Good Samaritan” legislation on agenda — The Pueblo Chieftain

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Congressional Republicans revived “Good Samaritan” legislation Thursday designed to encourage companies and nonprofits to help clean up thousands of abandoned mines across the nation by protecting them from liability for environmental accidents.

The proposal was one of three the House Natural Resources Committee unveiled after the Environmental Protection Agency inadvertently unleashed 3 million gallons of wastewater laced with heavy metals from an inactive Colorado gold mine in August. Rivers were contaminated in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including the Southern Ute Reservation and Navajo Nation.

A second bill would allow the Bureau of Land Management and nonprofits to solicit donations to clean up abandoned mines and oil and gas wells. The BLM oversees more than 380,000 square miles of federal land. The third would funnel more money toward training mining engineers as the current generation nears retirement.

An EPA-led contractor crew accidentally triggered the spill at the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while trying to drain water backed up inside. The crew was trying to insert a drainage pipe through debris blocking the mine but didn’t measure the water depth first, according to a review by the Interior Department.

Republicans have been among most vocal in criticizing the EPA for the spill, but none of the bills revealed Thursday appeared to directly target the agency or limit its authority to clean up abandoned mines.

“The idea is EPA is still involved,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the committee. “The magnitude of the scale is simply overwhelming, and they cannot handle it. They need help.”

Similar legislation previously introduced by both Republicans and Democrats has failed. Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, sponsor of the new measure, said that’s because either environmentalists or the industry didn’t like the bills.

“We’re trying to thread the needle and have both buy-in from environmentalists and industry support,” he said.

He said the Obama administration might block his bill, until a new president takes over in 2017. But without liability protection, “no one in their right mind” would attempt a cleanup, he said.

Lamborn and Bishop said the bill will not offer protection for deliberate or negligent acts or cover companies that caused the environmental damage in the first place.

“Bad actors by definition are not Good Samaritans,” Bishop said.

None of the bills provides compensation for rafting companies, farmers or others who lost money because of the spill, which released pollution into the Animas and San Juan rivers and sent an eerie mustard yellow plume downstream.

Bishop said he wants to see a compensation fund, but that will require cooperation from other committees.

#ColoradoRiver Basin: Parties looking to build on 2007 Shortage Sharing Agreement for Powell and Mead

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

nterim guidelines for managing both Lake Powell and Lake Mead and the Colorado River system still have more than a decade to go before they expire, but have been successful enough that parties are already looking to start talks about making them a little less interim.

The guidelines were finalized in 2007 and are scheduled to expire in 2026. While negotiations to extend them are scheduled to begin in 2020, they could start even sooner, Steve Wolff with the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office said Thursday at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum, presented by Colorado Mesa University’s Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center.

“They’re starting way in advance of when they actually expire,” he said.

Ted Kowalski, interstate section chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, credited former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, of Colorado, for helping provide direction for the agreement. He said it has resulted in a “historic relationship” between states in the Upper and Lower Colorado river basins. Beforehand, representatives of the two basins couldn’t agree on anything and meetings between them usually included talk about possible litigation, he said.

Now, he says, “I can’t stress enough how the 2007 guidelines are working in the context of collaboration.”

The two big reservoirs are the two most important storage facilities in the river basin, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs. The guidelines integrate operations of the two reservoirs, for the first time operating them as a system, and govern what level of water shortages the Interior secretary has to impose when there’s not enough water to fully supply the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona.

Chuck Cullom with the Central Arizona Project, which diverts Colorado River water for use in that state, said the project is a junior water user vulnerable to shortages. It’s important to understand how the river system will operate in shortages, and the guidelines determine how much water will be sent downstream from Powell each year based on rigorous and “refereed” determinations, he said.

“There’s no shenanigans. Everyone knows how the system is going to operate from year to year regardless of politics or changes in administration, and that’s important for all of us,” he said.

Conservation and collaboration have been important components of the guidelines, with water entities across the river system being motivated to take voluntary steps to keep water in the reservoirs at levels that avoid shortages. Kowalski said an example is the investment by Lower Basin states of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cloud-seeding programs in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to try to boost precipitation levels.

The Lower Basin states don’t get to claim any of the extra water that results.

“But rather it’s built on this idea that if we have more water in the system, we’re all going to benefit,” he said.

#ClimatecChange: #ExxonKnew “…their sins of omission are truly inexcusable” — Bill McKibben

From The Guardian (Bill McKibben):

Like all proper scandals, the #Exxonknew revelations have begun to spin off new dramas and lines of inquiry. Presidential candidates have begun to call for Department of Justice investigations, and company spokesmen have begun to dig themselves deeper into the inevitable holes as they try to excuse the inexcusable…

As the latest expose installment from those hopeless radicals at the Los Angeles Times clearly shows, Exxon made a conscious decision to adopt what a company public affairs officer called “the Exxon position.” It was simple: “Emphasise the uncertainty.” Even though they knew there was none.

Someone else will have to decide if that deceit was technically illegal. Perhaps the rich and powerful have been drafting the laws for so long that Exxon will skate; I confess my confidence that the richest company in American history can be brought to justice is slight.

But quite aside from those questions about the future, let’s take a moment and just think about the past. About what might have happened differently if, in August of 1988, the “Exxon position” had been “tell the truth”.

That was a few months after Nasa scientist James Hansen had told Congress the planet was heating and humans were the cause; it was amid the hottest American summer recorded to that point, with the Mississippi running so low that barges were stranded and the heat so bad that corn was withering in the fields. Imagine, amid all that, Exxon scientists had simply said: “Everything we know says Hansen is right; the planet’s in serious trouble.”

No one would, at that point, have blamed Exxon for causing the trouble — instead it would have been hailed for its forthrightness. It could have begun the task of finding alternatives to hydrocarbons, and the world could have done the same thing. This would not have been an easy job: the world was utterly dependent on coal, gas and oil. But it would have become our planet’s single-minded job. With Exxon — largest company on Earth, heir to the original oil baron, with tentacles reaching around the world — vouching for the science, there is no way we would have wasted 25 years in fruitless argument.

There’s no way, for instance, that Tim DeChristopher would have had to spend two years in jail, because it would have been obvious by the mid-2000s that the oil and gas leases he was blocking were absurd. Crystal Lameman and Melina Laboucan-Massimo and Clayton Thomas-Muller would not have had to spend their whole lives fighting tar sands mining in Alberta because no one would seriously have proposed digging up the dirtiest oil on the North American continent. Students would not have — as we speak — to be occupying administration buildings from Tasmania to Cambridge, because the fossil fuel companies would long since have become energy companies, and divesting from them would not be necessary.

More urgently, rapid development of renewables might well have kept half of Delhi’s children — 2.5 million children — from developing irreversible lung damage.

The rapid spread of decentralised renewable technology might have kept oil and gas barons like the Koch Brothers from becoming, taken together, the richest man on Earth, and purchasing America’s democracy. The Earth’s oceans would be measurably less acidic — and we are, after all, an ocean planet.

Some climate change was unavoidable even by 1988 — that’s about the moment when we were passing what now seems the critical 350 parts per million threshold for atmospheric CO2. And with the best will in the world it would have taken time to slow that trajectory; there’s never been an overnight fix. So we can’t say which of the various droughts and floods and famines might have been avoided. But because we wasted those critical decades, we’re now committed to far more warming than we needed to be — as one scientist after another has shown recently, our momentum has carried to us the point where stopping warming at even the disastrous 2C level may at this point be barely manageable if it’s manageable at all.

Of all the lies that Exxon leaders told about climate change, none may quite top the 1997 insistence that “it is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.”

Exxon scientists knew that was wrong, and so did pretty much everyone else. If you could poll all the experts about to descend on Paris for UN climate talks and ask them what technology would be most useful in the fight against climate change, I’m pretty sure they’d say: a time machine that could take us back 20 years and give us those wasted decades.

And if you think it’s just scientists and environmentalists thinking this way, it’s actually almost anyone with a conscience. Here’s how the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News — Exxon’s hometown paper, the morning read of the oil patch— put it in an editorial last week: “With profits to protect, Exxon provided climate-change doubters a bully pulpit they didn’t deserve and gave lawmakers the political cover to delay global action until long after the environmental damage had reached severe levels. That’s the inconvenient truth as we see it.”

Those years weren’t inconvenient for Exxon, of course. Year after year throughout the last two decades they’ve made more money than any company in the history of money. But poor people around the world are already paying for those profits, and every generation that follows us now will pay as well, because the “Exxon position” has helped take us over one tipping point after another. Their sins of emission, like so many other firms and individuals, are bad. But their sins of omission are truly inexcusable.

#Drought news: October 28 #ColoradoRiver streamflow at the #Colorado #Utah line in upper quartile for this time of year

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

A slow-moving storm that had first arrived in California on October 15 drifted eastward across the southwestern and south-central U.S., generating heavy showers. Eventually, the storm lifted northward across the Plains, providing beneficial moisture for emerging winter wheat. However, rain mostly bypassed a few areas, including eastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma. Farther south, the storm’s trailing cold front became infused with tropical moisture from Patricia, the strongest hurricane on record. (On the morning of October 23, several hours prior to crossing the southwestern coast of Mexico, Patricia’s sustained winds peaked at 200 mph and the central barometric pressure plummeted to 25.96 inches, or 879 millibars. When Patricia made landfall later that day near Cuixmala, Mexico, winds were estimated at 165 mph and the central pressure was 27.17 inches, or 920 millibars.) In part due to the influx of tropical moisture, October 22-25 rainfall topped 20 inches at a few locations in northeastern Texas. Storm-total rainfall reached 5 inches or more in a broader area covering much of eastern Texas, as well as portions of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Consequently, areas of the South that had received little rainfall in the last 4 months were suddenly deluged by flooding rains. Significant rain began to overspread parts of the Midwest and Southeast on October 27, after the drought-monitoring period ended, and will be reflected in next week’s U.S. Drought Monitor…

Great Plains

Widespread rain fell from the southern and central High Plains northward into the Dakotas, hampering fieldwork but providing much-needed moisture for emerging winter grains. On October 25, Oklahoma’s winter wheat was rated 22% very poor to poor, while only 31% of the crop was rated good to excellent. A substantial portion of the wheat was also rated very poor to poor in Texas (20%), Colorado (16%), and Kansas (15%). Although many areas of the Plains received rain that should help to revive pastures and promote winter wheat growth, eastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma remained dry. In those areas, there was some introduction or expansion of dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1). In Kansas, statewide topsoil moisture was 52% very short to short by October 25. However, topsoil moisture was at least 70% very short to short in central, north-central, and northeastern Kansas…

West

Precipitation began to wind down as the drought-monitoring period began, although heavy showers lingered in the Southwest. New rain and snow, along with further analysis of last week’s precipitation, led to reductions in the coverage of dryness and drought—some widespread—in the Four Corners States. Despite the recent precipitation, low reservoir levels remain a long-term concern in parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Nevertheless, flows in the upper Colorado River basin have been on the rise in recent weeks. Near the Utah-Colorado state line, the instantaneous streamflow of the Colorado River on October 28 was above 5,100 cubic feet per second, ranking in the upper one-fourth of the historical distribution for this time of year. Meanwhile, a mostly dry week led to “status quo” conditions in the hardest-hit drought areas of the Far West, including California. On October 25, California led the nation in topsoil and subsoil moisture rated very short to short (both 90%). Oregon ranked second in both categories (77% very short or short for topsoil moisture and 87% very short or short for subsoil moisture), and led the U.S. with 66% of its rangeland and pastures rated in very poor to poor condition…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days, active weather will continue across much of the nation. As a storm system moves across eastern Canada, rain will end later today in the northeastern U.S. However, a few rain and snow showers may linger in the Great Lakes region. Meanwhile, a parade of Pacific storms will cross the Northwest, where 5-day rainfall totals could reach 5 to 10 inches (or more) west of the Cascades. Significant precipitation (locally 2 to 6 inches) will also reach the northern Rockies. The first of the Pacific storms will dip into the Southwest before tracking eastward. As a result, heavy rain will return to parts of the south-central U.S. and quickly spread eastward. Five-day rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches can be expected from the southeastern Plains to the southern Appalachians. In contrast, little or no precipitation will occur across the northern Plains and southern California. Elsewhere, mild weather in the western U.S. will be replaced by sharply colder conditions early next week.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for November 3 – 7 calls for the likelihood of warmer-than-normal weather across the eastern two-thirds of the U.S., while below-normal temperatures will cover the West. Meanwhile, wetter-than-normal conditions across the majority of the nation will contrast with below-normal precipitation in the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and lower Southeast.

biggestdroughtmonitorreductionsin16yearhistory10272015

Rueter-Hess Water Purification Facility celebrates grand opening in Parker, CO — WaterWorld

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provided regulatory approval for the first-time use of ceramic membrane filters for a drinking water system in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Dewberry)
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provided regulatory approval for the first-time use of ceramic membrane filters for a drinking water system in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Dewberry)

From WaterWorld:

On Wednesday, Oct. 21, the Rueter-Hess Water Purification Facility (RHWPF) — located in the town of Parker, Colo., southeast of Denver — officially celebrated the grand opening of tours for the facility.

The water treatment plant, which serves a community of approximately 50,000 residents, uses new technologies that have enabled the Parker Water and Sanitation District (PWSD) to convert from rapidly declining groundwater sources to a renewable water supply, including surface water, groundwater, alluvial well water, and reclaimed wastewater.

Designed by Dewberry, the RHWPF is the first plant in the world to incorporate a trio of cutting-edge technologies to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards. The process includes three key stages:

A coagulation, flocculation and sedimentation chamber using microsand to enhance particle sedimentation while reducing the chamber’s surface area requirements.

A recirculating powdered activated carbon (PAC) chamber cutting costs by sending used PAC back through the system, increasing the amount of contact time between PAC particles and dissolved organic compounds for a more aggressive and efficient treatment.

The treated water being pumped through ceramic membrane filters to remove remaining particles larger than 0.1 microns in size and any remaining microsand or PAC.

In the first such application in a drinking water system in the U.S., the 600 ceramic membrane modules were specifically chosen for their ability to withstand impacts from the abrasive sand and PAC particles used in upstream processes and then be cleaned back to like-new condition. The ceramic membrane filtration system is anticipated to last much longer than conventional polymeric membranes.

“The ceramic membranes are very durable and can withstand impacts from sand and powdered activated carbon, which is very abrasive,” said Alan Pratt, PE, Dewberry project manager for the design of the RHWPF. “The ceramic membranes can be cleaned back to a new condition, whereas polymeric membranes typically deteriorate over a life of six to 10 years and need to be replaced.”

The completion of the 10-MGD RHWPF (expandable to 40 MGD) is part of a visionary, multi-phase plan for the water district, where district leaders had long recognized groundwater as a diminishing resource within the rapidly developing area. The new network features a 50-CFS pump station that brings surface water from nearby Cherry Creek and Cherry Creek alluvial wells into the 75,000-acre-foot Rueter-Hess Reservoir, completed in 2012.

Water stored in the reservoir flows by gravity into the RHWPF. After moving through the two ballasted sedimentation chambers and the ceramic membrane filters, the disinfected water is pumped into the PWSD’s distribution piping network for use by customers. Wastewater is returned to nearby reclamation facilities and then to Cherry Creek for reuse.

In addition to Dewberry, the project team included Western Summit Constructors, Inc. as the primary contractor, Garney-Weaver for construction management, and Kruger, Inc. for the ballasted sedimentation and ceramic membrane filter technologies. “The ability for us to turn many different water qualities into a high-quality potable water supply has been made possible only with the combined effort of many different companies coming together,” said PWSD District Manager Ron Redd. “Dewberry, Western Summit and Kruger have all worked very hard to make this plant a reality.”

CMU Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum recap #ElNino

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The payoff for Colorado from El Niño might take six months to take shape, and could leave ski resorts wishing for some other weather pattern, an expert in the weather pattern said Wednesday.

El Niño — a warming of the waters in the Pacific Ocean frequently tied to strong precipitation over the western Continental United States — already is taking shape and it looks to be a “big boy,” climate researcher Klaus Wolter told the Colorado Mesa University Water Center’s Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum.

That doesn’t mean Colorado’s ski resorts can simply dispense with snowmaking and wait for the snowy bounty to fall from the skies, though.

Snowpack, in fact, could dip below average come March 1, Wolter said.

If the 2016 version of El Niño is like four of its five predecessors, though, the March 1 to May 1 period could deliver the goods, Wolter said, in the form of high-country snowfall that will regenerate reservoir storage and send runoff down the Colorado River to Lake Powell.

Even though the signals are suggesting a strong El Niño, it’s far from a given that the phenomenon will bring much needed water to a parched Southwest.

“This fall still needs work,” said Wolter, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Ski resorts have greeted the prospect of a poor winter less than enthusiastically, Wolter said.

Still, “A bad day of skiing in Colorado is better than a good day skiing in Michigan,” Wolter said.

At best, Wolter said, El Niño looks to be a mixed blessing.

Even a low-snow winter will have plenty of cold spells and is likely to reduce the chances of more intrusions of deep Arctic cold air into the United States, like the recent “polar-vortex” phenomenon, Wolter said.

Mid-September 2015 Plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center
Mid-September 2015 Plume of ENSO predictions via the Climate Prediction Center

Republican River Basin: Wells in a tug of war with senior rights

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From the Republican River Water Conservation District via The Julesburg Advocate:

In an effort to inform well owners of the legal actions taken by the Jim Hutton Educational Foundation, the Board of Directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District voted to provide the following basic information.

In February 2015, the Hutton Foundation sued State Engineer Dick Wolfe and others. The lawsuit makes no claim for relief against individual well owners but if successful the Hutton Foundation would demand the State Engineer force the shut-down of groundwater pumping to supply water for the senior water rights owned by the Hutton Foundation.

On September 30, 2015, the Colorado Water Court ordered the Hutton Foundation to notify well owners that everyone owning groundwater rights in the Northern High Plains Basin will be forced to abide with the final outcome of this lawsuit.

Recently well owners received a legal notice of this lawsuit from the Hutton Foundation. This puts the use of your wells and your legal rights at risk. You must respond if you intend to protect your rights.

The RRWCD received the same legal notice you received. This lawsuit threatens the use of the wells in the Compact Compliance Pipeline wellfield and the ability to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact.

The RRWCD Board voted to take action to protect these wells. This is likely to be a very complex legal proceeding and will require significant time and effort. It is very important that well owners consider what you should do to protect your rights. There are several options available:

1.) An individual can hire an attorney to represent them.

2.) An individual can contact your local groundwater management district. It may be possible for

3.) Individuals can join into groups and together hire an attorney to represent their group.

4.) Individuals, but not corporations or other entities can proceed without an attorney. If you each groundwater district to ask their legal counsel to represent the well owners as a whole in their district.
proceed on your own, you will be responsible for filing all required paperwork and meet all required deadlines.

You can choose not to respond to this court case. If you choose to participate in this legal action or not your water right will be subject to the decision of the court regarding this lawsuit.

Once you involve yourself in the lawsuit you can’t simply stop participating. To be released from the lawsuit you will be required to receive an order from the Court. It is possible you will have to pay costs after the legal action is finalized if the Hutton Foundation is successful.

Everyone’s situation is different. Please consult with an attorney or other professional to help you decide how to protect your irrigation rights. As stated in the legal notice if you desire to participate, you must file your answer or other response with the Water Court in Greeley within 35 days after the last publication on November 6, 2015. In otherwords your response must be filed no later than December 10, 2015.

A copy of the Complaint filed by the Jim Hutton Educational Foundation in February is available on the RRWCD web site: http://www.republicanriver.com. You can contact the RRWCD office (970) 332-3552 if you have additional questions or concerns but the staff will not provide you with legal advice.

This lawsuit could have devastating effects on the economy of Northeastern Colorado. Irrigation contributes to the viability of every community in the Basin including our schools, hospitals, law enforcement, fire protection, etc. Whether you have irrigated crops or not you will be affected by the outcome of this lawsuit. It is your responsibility to be informed in making your best decision on how to protect your rights.

#ColoradoRiver Basin: Aspinall Unit operations update

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 1300 cfs to 600 cfs on Friday, October 30th. This reduction coincides with the shutdown of the Gunnison Tunnel. River flows may fluctuate by up to 200 cfs during the day of the diversion shutdown, but will return to the current level afterwards. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 676,000 acre-feet which is 81% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for the remainder of the year.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be down to 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should still be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. For questions or concerns regarding these operations contact Erik Knight at (970) 248-0629 or e-mail at eknight@usbr.gov

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation October 1 through October 25, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation October 1 through October 25, 2015

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Manitou Springs to rehab 118 year old supply line from French Creek

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The city of Manitou Springs plans to take advantage of a much-needed upgrade to an almost 120-year-old deteriorating pipeline and become a bit more environmentally and economically efficient.

A more than $3 million project to upgrade the iron pipe just entered its beginning stages. And city officials already plan to add a small hydroelectric generator to the line that brings water from French Creek on the eastern slopes of Pikes Peak and into the city’s water treatment plant.

The city began plans for the project after heavy rains in September 2013 eroded soil that covers the pipe, which was installed in 1897 and is hidden less than three feet below the Ute Pass Regional Trail.

The line was exposed in multiple places during the 2013 storms that pummeled the entire Front Range, causing roads to wash away, resulting in at least eight deaths, according to Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and leaving some people stranded for days. The pipe sprung a couple of leaks during the torrent. The city temporarily shut off its water main for repairs. And officials became urgently concerned about just how long the three-and-a-half mile pipe will last.

“If it were to fail, there is only a couple days-worth of reserves,” said Sara Hartley, a flood recovery project manager with Manitou Springs. “This is a very high priority project.”

As city council discussed the plans earlier this year, one council woman suggested piggy-backing the hydroelectric generator onto the project.

“Coreen (Toll) brought up the idea that if we were going to replace the pipe, we might as well look into hydro,” said city administrator Jason Wells.

Just last week Manitou Springs received word from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it will receive a $3.3 million Community Development Block Grant for the pipeline project. Adding a bypass that will send water flowing through a 40-kilowatt water turbine and generate electricity is expected to add about $300,000 to the cost.

Kurt Johnson, a consultant at Telluride Energy LLC, said a pressure-reduction valve would be needed to ensure that water flowing into the treatment plant doesn’t cause damage to the facility and its controls. According to Johnson, the bypass and the water turbine will consume any extra water pressure and make good use of the energy that would otherwise be wasted.

By adding the turbine during the pipeline project, some of the costs for installing the hydro generator will be avoided, Wells said. He and Johnson also talked about potentially designing the new pipeline so it can accommodate multiple future turbines at low cost.

Hartley said that possibility has been discussed by Manitou officials. She said those details could be added to the plans in the design and construction phases of the project.

This isn’t the first time the city has explored potential benefits of hydropower. Manitou Springs did a feasibility analysis in 1990 to see if installation of a hydro generator at the treatment plant would be cost effective, Hartley said.

According to Johnson, it wasn’t until 2013 when the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama, that small hydro projects became economically feasible. Johnson said that prior to 2013, tens-of-thousands of dollars were going toward bureaucratic paperwork and trickling down to consumers. He said the bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support and has led to “small hydro innovation,” more grant money for such projects and low-interest loan availability.

Manitou Springs plans to borrow money for the hydropower supplement to the pipeline project. The turbine is expected to generate about 237,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average residential utility customer used just under 11,000 kilowatt-hours in 2014.

The next step for Manitou Springs is to compile preliminary plans and engineering designs and turn them over to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for an environmental review. Upon completion, a “funding obligation date” will be determined. From that date, the block grant guidelines require Manitou Springs complete the pipeline project within 24 months.

Hartley said the city will submit a Request for Proposal next year and accept bids to choose a contractor. She estimates it will be at least 10 months before construction begins on the project.

In the meantime, Manitou Springs must simply wait and hope that the 188-year-old pipe holds up.

“It’s just long overdue,” said Kirk Greasby, the city’s water treatment plant operator.

Denver Basin Aquifer System: Chatfield Acres and Chatfield East subdivisions to get water through IGA

Denver Basin aquifer system
Denver Basin aquifer system

From The Highlands Ranch Herald (Alex DeWind):

Rick Beane, a certified arborist who lives in Chatfield Estates southwest of Highlands Ranch, fills a 350-gallon tank with water from a nearby fire hydrant three times a week. He takes the tank home and uses his cistern to get tap water.

He’s been doing this for the past five years because his well went dry.

“It’s unbelievable considering he lives in south metro Denver,” said Melanie Goetz, a former Roxborough Water and Sanitation District board member.

But Beane’s water troubles may now be solved.

Like many others in the area, he will receive treated water — hopefully by next fall — from an intergovernmental agreement between Roxborough Water and Sanitation District and Centennial Water and Sanitation District.

The agreement will deliver water to residential customers in Chatfield Acres and Chatfield East subdivisions, along with existing businesses in the Titan Road Industrial Park.

“The biggest benefit is that we are going to have good, domestic water,” Beane said. “I think it’s great that the county and two water districts have come to a solution for a 20-year problem.”

Douglas County and its Water Alternatives Program spearheaded the agreement to help communities that owned wells.

Once word was out that the county wanted to help, Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella worked with Aurora Water to get 150 acre-feet of water supplied through Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, said general manager Larry Moore.

The county then paid for preliminary engineering work to determine if it was possible to get treated water to homes in Chatfield and businesses in Titan Road Industrial Park.

Last November, an election was held for the public with a detailed ballot about the logistics of the new water, including how the project would be financed and the infrastructures needed.

“The results were a pretty good indication that the people wanted this water project,” Moore said.

Aurora Water, Centennial Water —the provider for Highlands Ranch — and Roxborough Water worked together to deliver treated water to about 251 homes.

Centennial will pick up the water from Aurora Water, treat it, store it and deliver it to paying customers in master meters, the volume of public water used by residents and businesses. Roxborough will then measure the master meters to determine how much water its customers will need the following month.

Construction for appropriate delivery infrastructures will start in early 2016. It will take about seven months to complete the project, Moore said. Paying customers will have treated water by next fall.

Climate change, the Rio Grande forecast problem, and the death of stationarity — John Fleck

From InkStain (John Fleck):

[David] Gutzler is part of the New Mexico Universities Working Group on Water Supply Vulnerabilities, which has been working on identifying points of vulnerability in our societal-ecosystem-water system. One of their key findings, developed by Gutzler’s student Shaleene Chavarria, is that changes in the climate weaken the old forecast tools, which are used to relate winter snowpack to runoff the following year.

#COWaterPlan: CWCB posts an updated water plan

Click here to read the latest Colorado Water Plan news from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

#COWaterPlan: #ColoradoRiver Basin roundtable meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Aspen Times (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Members of the Western Slope delegation to the state Legislature said Monday the Colorado Water Plan is a good starting point, but it doesn’t provide clear solutions to the state’s water challenges. Representative Bob Rankin, a Republican who represents House District 57, which includes Garfield County, said the water plan lacks a prioritized list of specific water projects, a financing plan and a schedule.

“So, I view this as the start of a negotiating process on all of those details that will be worked out,” Rankin said. “So, I hope we’re positioning ourselves as a Western Slope for a negotiating process that’s going to go on for a couple of years.”

Rankin spoke Monday at a meeting of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable in Glenwood Springs along with seven other Western Slope state lawmakers: Reps. Millie Hamner, Diane Mitsch Bush, K.C. Becker, Yeulin Willett, Dan Thurlow, J. Paul Brown and state Sen. Kerry Donovon.

Rankin pointed out that there are only 12 Western Slope legislators in the 100-member Colorado Legislature and as such, it can be hard to adequately represent Western Slope interests in Denver.

Almost all of the lawmakers at the meeting praised the hard work the roundtable has done over the past two years to develop a basin-specific water-supply plan and to help shape the statewide plan.

But many also said the forthcoming plan — now expected to be finalized by Nov. 19 — will not resolve issues such as the potential for a new transmountain diversion of water to the Front Range. And not surprisingly, none of the lawmakers called for more Western Slope water to be moved east.

“Another transmountain diversion is not only bad for the Western Slope, it’s bad for Colorado, it’s bad for our state’s economy, it’s bad when, not if, there is going to be a compact call, and it’s very, very bad obviously for our recreational and environmental-based economy,” said Mitsch Bush, a Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties in House District 26.

Mitsch Bush said the employees in new businesses relocating along the Interstate 25 corridor “don’t come here to Colorado and bring jobs and money with them because they want to hang out on I-25, they want to see free-flowing Western rivers.”

Willett, a Republican representing House District 54, which includes rural Mesa County and Delta County, said he’s begun to wonder if it is time for the state to stop accommodating Front Range growth, especially in light of calls to add more lanes to I-25.

“When do we say ‘no more’?” Willitt asked. “When do you say no more highway lanes, … no more diversions? You want to start a business, you want to expand, come to the West Slope. I don’t say that is my position, but it is certainly one I’m starting to consider.”

Thurlow, a Republican who represents the portion of Mesa County around Grand Junction in House District 55, said his background was in the printing business and that when he started his job as a legislator, he didn’t know anything about water.

He said his fellow legislator, Rep. Don Coram, told him, “Don’t worry, go to the meetings and stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to let the bastards steal any more of our water,’ and you’ll be fine.”

But Thurlow, who said he’s been reading the draft water plan, asked the roundtable whether it might be advantageous to perhaps take a different approach and ask if the Western Slope might get something out of a new transmountain diversion project, such as new storage projects of its own.

“What should the negotiation strategy be? Hard-line or ‘Let’s talk about this’?” Thurlow said.

Becker, a Democrat from Boulder who represents both Front Range and Western Slope counties, said she feels the water-plan process has generally been a good thing, but she said there are some “troubling aspects” to the draft plan.

Most troubling to Becker is the emphasis on “streamlining” the approval and permitting processes for new water projects, especially as a bill along those lines is expected to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes.

“We have to be really thoughtful about how we permit water projects,” said Becker, an attorney with extensive experience managing federal review processes while at the Department of Interior.

She said any new water-storage project has to “respect the values of all the interests, because there are a lot of interests,” and that “when it comes to moving water around, you are going to have fights about it.”

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

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

State lawmakers representing Western Slope constituents are viewing a nearly complete Colorado water plan with a mix of hope and fear.

Eight of them addressed the Colorado Basin Roundtable Monday, with their thoughts not surprisingly mirroring those expressed by roundtable members and the Western Slope more broadly regarding the plan. Those thoughts included concern that the plan could open the door to more diversion of Western Slope water to the Front Range, and hope that it is bringing about useful statewide discussion about water issues.

State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, was alarmed by a Denver Post story last week quoting Front Range water interests as pressing to have the plan specifically include new reservoirs, along with plans for new diversions across the Continental Divide to fill them.

“Another transmountain diversion is not only bad for the Western Slope, it’s bad for Colorado, it’s bad for our state economy,” said Mitsch Bush.

She said companies that come to the Front Range want to see free-flowing western rivers.

“They use them, and that’s one of the reasons they come here,” she said.

Other lawmakers talked of the need for more growth to occur in western Colorado, rather than the region just being looked to as a source of water for continued growth on the Front Range.

“Economic development on the Western Slope ought to be a big part of the water argument, in my point of view,” said state Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

State Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, said that just as the idea arises at some point about saying “no more” to continued expansions of highways to accommodate increased traffic, he wonders if there’s a point where the same thing has to be said about more transmountain diversions.

“If you want a business, you want to expand, come to the Western Slope,” he said of the alternative to diversions, adding that he’s not taking that position now, but it’s one he’s considering.

The water plan currently contains a seven-point framework for discussing possible transmountain diversions. Last week, a group called Citizens for West Slope Water delivered Gov. John Hickenlooper a petition signed by almost 1,500 Western Slope residents opposing any further diversions to the Front Range.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told The Daily Sentinel last week that he thinks the projected future gap between supply and demand in the state can be met through new storage projects already under way and conservation, and no further diversions are needed to meet it.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, sees a strength of the water plan as being that it was developed “from the river bottom up,” through the work of individual basin roundtables like the Colorado River one. She voiced hopes that it will be looked to for years to come for guidance as to what goals the state should be working toward.

But she added, “I hope it’s the basis for discussion and not an assumption for approval.”

Donovan worries that interests will pull parts of the plan out of context to justify pet projects. She said she also hopes the framework for transmountain discussions isn’t viewed by state lawmakers, lobbyists and the state executive as “something that has wholehearted endorsement” in western Colorado, when that’s not the case.

Willett said he worries that the framework could end up being “a broad proclamation that is going to be subject to interpretation” later, resulting in the Western Slope having to live with something that’s been put in writing.

State Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, said he’s not sure what the water plan is worth.

“The one thing it has done, it has made us talk about what the problems are, and from here I think we need to look at what really is a solution to our water needs in Colorado. It’s made us look at conservation and it’s made us look at storage, really, where the water is.

“In that it has stimulated that conversation, it’s been a good thing. Otherwise it’s worthless,” he said.

Other lawmakers at Monday’s discussion were state Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction; state Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon; and state Rep. K.C. Becker, D-Boulder, whose House district extends west of the Continental Divide.

Hamner called the water plan “a brilliant idea” by Hickenlooper, and said the more that Western Slope water interests can reach consensus on water issues, the more that Western Slope lawmakers can reach consensus and get the right things done regarding water.

Voters to decide Orchard Mesa Sanitation District’s future

sewerusa

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Greg Ruland):

Residents who live within the boundaries of the Orchard Mesa Sanitation District will vote Nov. 3 on a plan to shut down the 39-year-old district and transfer all of its sewer lines, pipes, fittings, taps, valves and controls to the city of Grand Junction as of Dec. 31…

In the unlikely event voters fail to approve the plan, the district will continue to operate as it has since 1976, according to a contract negotiated between the city and the district in 2004.

The 2004 contract resolved a longstanding conflict over the use of fees the district paid the city to process a portion of its sewage, district officials said.

“The board decided it was the best deal we would could get for the ratepayers,” said Deborah Davis-Heidel, district manager since 1982.

Approval of the dissolution plan required by the contract will save district residents about $12 a year on their sewer bill, Davis-Heidel said.

It could also result in immediate improvements. Cash reserves and proceeds from any property sold by the city within two years of the transfer must be spent “exclusively” on capital improvements for district infrastructure, according to the plan.

For example, the sanitation district’s headquarters at 240 
27¼ Road — a 1,500-square-foot office building on slightly more than a half-acre — is expected to be sold in July, she said.

The plan also requires the district to continue billing ratepayers until October. It must transfer all of its billing records to the city by July. The three months between July and October will give the city the time it needs to write new software that syncs the district’s billing records with the city’s, Davis-Heidel said. After October, the city will take over billing.

Voter approval also means two longtime employees, Davis-Heidel and billing secretary Debra Kuhn, will lose their jobs and several independent contractors will lose a reliable, paying client. Attorney Larry Beckner, engineer Steve LaBonde, line cleaner Thomas Gund, construction contractor Mike Kelleher, and auditor Jeff Wendland will lose the district’s business as result of the transfer.

The district’s board of directors approved the dissolution plan in April before City Council approved it in July. In November, voters get their chance to approve or not, Davis-Heidel said.

Board members and staff of the district are prohibited from campaigning for or against the ballot issue, Referred Measure A, she said.

Davis-Heidel expects Referred Measure A to pass. At age 62, she is updating her resume for the first time in 37 years. She’s hoping to sign on with a sanitation district in a mountain town somewhere along the Continental Divide. At least one head hunter has already expressed interest, she said.

She called the district “my first child” and detailed how over nearly four decades it built and then updated and improved sewer lines for hundreds of homes in several Orchard Mesa neighborhoods.

The district spent about 
$1 million in the past five years to upgrade all of its lines prior to the handoff and will have retired all of its debts — including the original bond issue that built the system — before the end of the year, she said.

“We’re leaving the system in better shape than we found it,” she said, crediting the district board with wise stewardship.

What keeps you up at night?

Mile High Water Talk

We asked water industry experts from around the country to share their customers’ concerns. Some sounded quite familiar.

By Steve Snyder

Call it taking the temperature of the room.

More than 1,000 water professionals turned out for the annual WaterSmart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas, and there was plenty to talk about, from conservation and recycling to the latest innovations in water efficiency.

It’s a great time to hear about water issues in other parts of the country, share our own ideas and experiences, and learn new ways to better serve our customers.

To no one’s surprise, water managers in other cities had plenty to say — and more than a few issues keeping them up at night. Here’s a snapshot of those water challenges, based on some conversations with WaterSmart attendees in Las Vegas.

And while we were talking with them, we thought we’d get their perspective on our…

View original post 16 more words

#CleanWaterRules: The law that no one loved — Boulder Weekly

From the Boulder Weekly (Angela K. Davis):

On Oct. 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a stay for the Clean Water Rule, which seeks to clarify protection of the country’s streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The stay halts implementation of the regulation, also known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, across the country. This ruling follows an earlier injunction by a district judge in North Dakota that prevented the implementation of the regulation in Colorado and 12 other litigating states, which claim the regulation is federal overreach into states’ authority.

The WOTUS rule seeks to clarify which types of bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act following two Supreme Court cases earlier this century that called into question the protection of streams and wetlands. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the two agencies that developed the rule, state that one in three Americans get their drinking water from streams, and both streams and wetlands are the foundations of clean water in the U.S.

The two agencies issued the final WOTUS ruling in June of 2015, despite earlier internal memos wherein the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers challenged changes made between the draft rule and final rule. “If the rule is promulgated as final without correcting those flaws it will be legally vulnerable, difficult to defend in court, difficult for the Corps to explain or justify, and challenging for the Corps to implement,” one memo states.

As predicted, the final rule, which was to take effect Aug. 28, was immediately met with litigation from both sides of the political spectrum. Colorado Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, joined other states in filing suit, which resulted in the August injunction. The ruling on Oct. 9 follows the previous ruling by halting the implementation of the regulation in all states until a federal judge can decide whether or not the rule is in fact federal overreach.

“The attorney general of Colorado and other states have believed that there needs to be clarification in the courts of what the EPA’s actual reach into a state’s natural resources is or should be,” says Roger Hudson, chief communications director for the Colorado Attorney General. “If WOTUS happens, we believe it violates the provision of the Clean Water Act and overreaches into the state of Colorado. The Attorney General’s assertion is that Coloradans should decide how to use and maintain and keep pristine the natural resources of Colorado, not a federal agency.”

Not only did states challenge the rule, but environmental and conservation groups filed lawsuit in July stating the WOTUS rule was too weak and could actually provide less protection than the original 1972 Clean Water Act.

Nonprofit organizations, including Waterkeeper’s Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity, challenge the rule stating that it would have “adverse impacts” on the “use, enjoyment and preservation of the waters of the United States.” The organizations maintain the rule weakens protection of certain streams, wetlands and ponds that are either too far from larger streams and rivers, or too close to bodies of water used for agriculture and ranching.

rifflesaspenjournalismbrentgardnersmith

Gold King spill heightens concern and awareness of abandoned mines

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Toxic mines hang over this haven [Crested Butte} for wildflowers, contaminating water and driving residents — like counterparts statewide — to press for better protection.

A local group went to federal court this month seeking long-term assurances that a water-treatment plant will always remain open as the collapsed tunnels and heaps of tailings leak an acid mix of heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, zinc and others.

State data show these contaminants reaching Coal Creek — the primary water source for Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley’s green pastures — at levels exceeding health standards.

“A lot of people are nervous,” said Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates. “We’d like to get it as clean as possible.”

Municipal officials in Nederland, Georgetown, Breckenridge and other mountain towns also urge faster cleanup of festering inactive mines after the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine disaster, where an Environmental Protection Agency team triggered a spill of 3 million gallons that turned the Animas River mustard yellow.

Tens of thousands of inactive mines in Western states continue to taint headwaters of the nation’s rivers, including an estimated 230 sites in Colorado where state officials have documented bit-by-bit degradation of waterways.

But stopping the harm — even as clean water increasingly is coveted — remains technically and politically difficult.

Congressional efforts to create a national cleanup fund haven’t gotten off the ground. Gov. John Hickenlooper and fellow Western governors are trying to sort out liability and funding to spur cleanups. State lawmakers are asking questions.

Five miles west of Crested Butte at Standard Mine, the EPA a decade ago declared an environmental disaster and launched an $8 million Superfund cleanup. EPA contractors currently are designing a “flow-through” bulkhead plug that could partially block mine drainage before it contaminates the valley.

That’s a tricky approach because bulkheads can back up muck and cause it to rocket out elsewhere — poisoning more land and water. At Gold King Mine, a bulkhead in nearby Sunnyside Mine may have set up the deluge the EPA set off…

The High Country Conservation Advocates’ lawsuit seeks financial assurance from U.S. Energy to guarantee that treatment of Keystone Mine drainage would continue if the company closes. High Country Conservation targeted the U.S. Forest Service, because mining activities occur on federal land, accusing the feds of failing to collect, as required, financial assurance bond money.

In a 2012 memo, Forest Service officials acknowledged they’re required to do this. Agency officials this month declined to discuss the allegations.

Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep and the Gunnison County commissioners support residents, asking state health officials, in an Aug. 18 letter, “to protect the public against the environmental and human health catastrophe that would ensue” if U.S. Energy failed to operate the plant…

Problems at mines

The old mines leaking above Crested Butte exemplify problems at the estimated 230 inactive mines statewide that health and natural resources officials know are contaminating waterways.

West of Boulder above Nederland, a plug blocking waste in Swathmore Mine popped loose around Sept. 20, turning the Middle Boulder Creek orange. A hiker noticed and alerted Nederland authorities. Firefighters raced to the mine, followed by the EPA, town administrator Alisha Reis said.

“We routinely see orange iron runoff in the spring. It is a fact of life around here. And definitely, post-Gold King, folks are more aware than usual,” Reis said. “We pay to do our own water testing. It is in our interest, if we have anything happening — to be sure we know the nature of any release and what we need to do to handle it. That is our watershed. We’re always incredibly vigilant about protecting our watershed.”

In Georgetown along Interstate 70, town leaders last summer implemented a watershed-protection plan that focuses on threats from mining, town administrator Tom Hale said. Town officials also encourage the Forest Service to clean up old mines on federal land.

Breckenridge projects to make more open space available for recreation increasingly collide with toxic mine waste.

Acid drainage and water leaching through tailings have poisoned French Creek and Blue River to the point that fish cannot reproduce, town manager Tim Gagen said. Breckenridge recently was forced to embark on water treatment at a 1,800-acre site southwest of town, Gagen said.

“The problem with these old mines is tunnels go for miles underneath the mountains and they have different leakage points that you can’t detect,” he said.

An association of mountain resorts has had the issue of toxic mines on its agenda for years, and the Gold King and Crested Butte situations probably will make protection, if not final cleanup, more of a priority, he said.

Statewide, drainage from inactive mines is the main cause of harm to rivers and streams, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — a problem that has left 1,645 miles of waterways classified as “impaired.”

And the specific heavy-metal contaminants trickling into Coal Creek above Crested Butte are among the most pernicious. The CDPHE has found cancer-causing cadmium contaminating 809 miles of rivers statewide. Arsenic contaminates 244 miles. Lead contaminates 185 miles. Manganese contaminates 403 miles. And zinc, lethal for fish, contaminates 907 miles.

Handling toxic mines

Methods for dealing with toxic mines include rerouting streams around tailings, installation of various bulkheads, and building water treatment plants.

Yet, at the federal level, there’s no dedicated funding for cleanup — other than Superfund money that may or may not follow an official declaration of environmental disaster — which usually requires support from a governor.

Colorado officials said state funds are even more limited.

“We will continue to direct available time and resources to the highest priority sites where we can have an impact,” state spokesman Todd Hartman said.

In Congress, staffers for Sen. Michael Bennet said he’s still working on a bill with New Mexico senators to reform the 1872 law that governs hard-rock mining — aiming to charge companies royalties to create a cleanup fund. Bennet, Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton also are working on legislation to shield groups that embark on voluntary cleanups from liability for accidents.

Meanwhile, Western governors are discussing the problem.

“These are all conditions that were created by previous generations. And there’s a resistance to the present generation wanting to pay for it — because it is expensive,” Hickenlooper said. “To address all the issues, just at the mines in Colorado, you’re looking at billions of dollars.”

“(Western governors) are looking at that, and looking at how do we cobble together some local funding and some federal funding? What would that look like? And what timeline is reasonable? How do you prioritize what comes first?”

Hickenlooper adviser John Swartout, who was working on the issue recently in Washington, D.C., said towns seeking Superfund intervention may face a stigma without necessarily receiving funding for cleanup. “(But) because of this terrible accident,” Swartout said, “it is the right time to have this conversation and have it result in some legislation.”

For some residents, Superfund stigma is the least of their worries, and waiting on Congress appears futile.

Earlier this month, an EPA crew working on Standard Mine accidentally triggered another spill — of only about 500 gallons — and blamed it on a vacuum truck dipping too low into metals-laced sludge that spilled into Elk Creek, which flows into Coal Creek. No major harm to town water was expected.

For assurance, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition expanded its water testing and was waiting for results. While Crested Butte’s town water-treatment plant purifies water before it reaches households, the plant manager said it couldn’t handle a massive toxic spill.

Even after this hiccup, the EPA, working in partnership with the coalition to contain acid waste from Standard Mine — and possibly, in the future, Keystone Mine — holds the greatest promise for protection, said Steve Glazer, a resident of Crested Butte since 1969 and president of the watershed coalition.

The coalition is looking for ways to expand water monitoring to include groundwater, which may be contaminated and reaching Coal Creek, Glazer said. And residents want to make sure current contamination isn’t hurting children and residents whose immune systems may be relatively weak, he said.

“We’d like Congress to be much more proactive. It’s unfortunate they politicize everything they do. They can’t agree to blow their nose. It’s unfortunate there’s so much dysfunction in national politics,” he said. “We have a problem. How can we fix it? We’re moving forward. The reason this unfortunate accident happened (Oct. 6) is that we’re doing something. We’re not just sitting around. When you’re active, and you have a potentially dangerous site, things happen.”

Tamarisks: They’re back . . . they never left — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Just because there hasn’t been as much talk about tamarisk lately doesn’t mean the invasion is over. Now, talk has begun again, but the message has changed.

Eradication is out; control is in.

While tamarisks, or saltcedars, are watergulpers, a fully grown tree uses only about 20 gallons a day, not 200 gallons as mistakenly was often reported in the past.

And trees should be taken out for a reason, and with a plan, not just because they are bad invaders.

Those messages have been conveyed twice in the last week by the Tamarisk Coalition to area conservancy districts. Based in Grand Junction, the group incorporated in 2002. The group works with other organizations to improve habitat, not just wipe out saltcedars.

“In a nutshell, what we do is help people restore rivers. We’re focused on that,” Stacy Beaugh, executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board last week. “You can’t just cut them down and walk away.”

She assured the Southeastern board, which took the lead in earlier tamarisk removal programs for the Arkansas Valley, that Southeastern Colorado remains a high priority.

A few days later, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard from Rusty Lloyd, program director with the Tamarisk Coalition.

Lloyd explained that the group no longer is concerned with completely removing the trees, many of which were purposely planted for erosion control. But it supports efforts to remove pockets of the plant where possible and natural controls such as beetles to knock back the numbers.

“The beetle can weaken the plants, and some plants don’t come back,” Lloyd said. “It seems to be doing its job, but it’s sporadic.”

Lloyd said there are water quantity and quality benefits from removing tamarisk, but the purpose for any program should look at other issues such as improving wildlife habitat. A plan should be in place to replace tamarisk with more beneficial species.

“There are lots of invasive species we are concerned with,” Lloyd said. “We don’t blindly advocate people tearing out plants. You need to have a purpose.”
Past efforts to remove tamarisks have not always worked and sometimes cleared the way for other invasive species to take hold.

“We learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes,” Lloyd said.

The South Canal and the future of energy — Allen Best

South Canal hydroelectric site -- via The Watch
South Canal hydroelectric site — via The Watch

From The Denver Post (Allen Best):

The South Canal was sculpted through hardscrabble hills to deliver water imported from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The water irrigates 66,000 acres of farms and orchards in the Delta-Montrose area. Emerging from a tunnel, the water drops rambunctiously in several places, with electricity-generating potential that was obvious even when William Howard Taft, our most portly of presidents, visited Montrose in 1908 to dedicate the Uncompahgre Project.

Instead of developing small, local power sources, however, electrical providers in the Delta-Montrose area turned to giant new power sources: the massive new dams of the Colorado River and ever-bigger coal-fired power plants. It was a national trend. After World War II, in response to burgeoning demand, power generation became like products from Costco: big and bigger.

In recent years, Delta-Montrose Electrical Association has challenged that paradigm. It’s among 22 electrical co-operatives in Colorado set up in the late 1930s to service primarily rural areas. Several of them — along with co-ops in other states — in 1952 created a wholesale provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State a decade ago pushed to build another giant coal-fired power plant, this time near Holcomb, Kan. It wanted commitments until mid-century from its 44 member co-ops.

Delta-Montrose, along with Kit Carson Electric, a co-operative in Taos, N.M., refused. Flattening demand has, at least for now, idled plans for the giant new coal plant.

Delta-Montrose instead set out in 2008 to develop the raw power of water in the South Canal. Two turbines able to produce 7.5 megawatts of electricity have been installed. The cost of that electricity is relatively low, 4.5 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, says Jim Heneghan, renewable energy engineer for Delta-Montrose.

Then, Percheron Power proposed to yoke the energy of a remaining 14-foot drop with a technological variation of the Archimedes screw. Would Delta-Montrose buy the power?

Yes, Delta-Montrose was interested, but it had a problem. It was already procuring 5 percent of its own power, the maximum that Tri-State policy allows member co-ops to produce on their own. So Delta-Montrose appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an agency with broad powers in the byzantine world of energy regulation. Delta-Montrose argued that a 1978 federal law trumped Tri-States’ so-called all-requirements contract. FERC agreed.

“We find that Delta-Montrose is obligated to purchase power” from the independent provider, FERC declared in June.

How about Tri-State’s 43 other members? In mid-October, FERC indicated the ruling applies to the other distribution co-operatives. Some think it may apply to others among the nation’s 840 electrical co-ops. Much depends upon whether individual co-ops choose to take advantage of the opportunity.

The FERC decision can be seen in tandem with other Colorado news of late: the debate about net-metering and Boulder’s goal of accelerating innovation and energy transformation by getting a divorce from Xcel Energy.

Even without carbon-reduction goals, market forces have been changing the energy landscape. “The cost of local generation from renewables is rapidly declining while the cost of electricity from traditional sources continues its steady rise,” says John Covert, who has worked to foster innovation of business models in the San Luis Valley.

Colorado farmers in search of help two years after devastating flood — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

[Marsha] Baker is among 27 farmers in Weld, Larimer and Boulder counties eligible for federal help who are still awaiting payment, either in the form of grants or reimbursements for repairs already made.

Meanwhile, 19 farmers have been paid in full, according to the state’s Department of Local Affairs.

In all, $5.5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds was allocated to agricultural interests in Colorado after the September 2013 flood, which caused nearly $4 billion damage statewide.

Of that total, which comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is administered by DOLA, $1 million has been paid out. Another $1 million will be awarded over the next month.

That leaves $3.5 million still needing to be distributed.

Denise Stepto, communications director for DOLA, said she understands the frustration of farmers still waiting for relief two years later but pointed out that disbursing funds is often an “administrative struggle.”

“Anyone receiving federal dollars is hemmed in by federal rules,” she said.

Those rules include a strict accounting of receipts and other documentation to fulfill reimbursement claims. Delays are also often caused by the need to follow Davis-Bacon rules, federal guidelines stipulating wage levels for contractors working on federally funded or assisted contracts.

“You can’t just have your brother-in-law build your barn,” Stepto said.

She further points out that the state didn’t receive the HUD funds until April 2014 — more than half a year after the historic rains fell…

[Deb] Carpio is one of five farmers whose eligibility for the program has been challenged due to her income level. But that’s an unfair measure to use, she said, because the government looks at a farmer’s gross rather than net income. Farms are expensive to run, she said.

“With your net income, you might be able to afford a hamburger at the end of the year,” Carpio said.

Don Brown, Colorado’s agriculture commissioner, said his agency and DOLA are working with the federal government to alter the eligibility rules to take into account the capital-intensive nature of farming.

“I don’t think the means test they’re using is accurate, and HUD is looking at that,” he said.

Carpio hopes the issue is resolved soon so she and her husband can start paying back the debts they owe for the fixes they have made to their property.

“We don’t just want a handout,” she said, “but when this money was allocated to agricultural people, it should be used for that.”

Flooded corn crop September 2013
Flooded corn crop September 2013

#COWaterPlan: “The petition is not anything more than the ‘not one more drop’ statement” — James Eklund

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The state’s top water official is urging calm after some on the Western Slope raised fears that a proposed strategy for the future of water in Colorado may include transmountain diversion plans.

Development of Colorado’s Water Plan – stemming from more than 10 years of conversations – has been relatively smooth and collaborative up until the last week. A group from the Western Slope on Tuesday delivered a petition to Gov. John Hickenlooper urging his opposition to any transmountain diversions that would take water from Western Colorado for use along the Front Range.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – and a key Water Plan stakeholder – has found himself puzzled by the petition, signed by nearly 1,500 Western Slope residents.

For one thing, Eklund pointed out that the plan deliberately does not prescribe policy, instead outlining goals to conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water. The goals, however, could lead to policy, which has always been the intent of the Water Plan.

“We’ve always said that we’re not going to name any projects in the plan, and we continue to say that,” Eklund said.

The plan focuses on conservation, storage, agriculture, land use, water gaps, innovation, funding, the environment and watershed health…

But some Western Slope interests worry after large Front Range municipalities pushed officials to include transmountain diversion in the final plan, which is expected to be submitted to the governor Nov. 19.

“The simple truth is that the Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” said Michael Langhorne, president of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation and a member of Citizens For West Slope Water. “The impacts of additional transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be an economic disaster for us.”

Many of the demands outlined by the Western Slope interests already are included in the Water Plan, including focusing on storage and delivery innovations, considering agricultural needs and prioritizing conservation…

We have the best framework for that conservation that we’ve ever had,” Eklund said. “It’s value added to the Front Range and it’s value added to the Western Slope to have the discussion laid out in front of everybody before the deal gets done.”

He questions the value of the recent petition, pointing out that it simply continues an old conversation.

“The petition is not anything more than the ‘not one more drop’ statement, which I do not think has been effective for the Western Slope, it’s not been effective for the state of Colorado, and I don’t think it’s going to start working magically all of a sudden right now because 1,500 petitioners sent us something,” Eklund said. “If I were getting a new idea through a petition signed by 1,500 people from any part of the state, then I would think, ‘maybe we do need to start scrambling.’”

Purdy Mesa Reservoir update: Fixes to cost a Purdy penny — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

The dam at Purdy Mesa Reservoir, one of Grand Junction’s reservoirs used for drought reserves on the south side of Grand Mesa, failed after it sustained a major crack and currently is drained of water.  That failure is but one of several age-related problems that need to be fixed. Grand Junction city councilors have informally agreed to a plan to borrow $2.6 million and charge water users the remainder to raise $30 million to fund capital improvements over the next 10 years.
The dam at Purdy Mesa Reservoir, one of Grand Junction’s reservoirs used for drought reserves on the south side of Grand Mesa, failed after it sustained a major crack and currently is drained of water. That failure is but one of several age-related problems that need to be fixed. Grand Junction city councilors have informally agreed to a plan to borrow $2.6 million and charge water users the remainder to raise $30 million to fund capital improvements over the next 10 years.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):

Several water-related upgrades and improvements to the failing Purdy Mesa Reservoir dam will increase water bills for Grand Junction residents by 52 percent over the next seven years.

Grand Junction city councilors have informally agreed to a plan to borrow $2.6 million and charge water users the remainder to raise $30 million to fund capital improvements over the next 10 years.

As a result, water bills in 2016 may increase 9.5 percent. That would mean an additional $1.63 more a month for the base rate of 4,000 gallons a month.

Under a plan that councilors are still finalizing, bills will increase by 9.5 percent each year for three consecutive years. The city will then raise water rates 8.5 percent in 2019, 8 percent in 2020 and 7.5 percent in 2021.

The money is needed to make a host of water improvements, city water officials have told councilors at recent meetings. The dam at Purdy Mesa Reservoir, one of Grand Junction’s reservoirs used for drought reserves on the south side of Grand Mesa, failed after it sustained a major crack and currently is drained of water.

An intake diversion at Kannah Creek that was built in the early 1900s and replaced in the 1940s also needs to be replaced, said Bret Guillory, the city’s utility engineer.

In addition, the city needs to replace aging water filters to treat raw water. The funds would cover all the costs to replace all of the city’s underground cast-iron water lines in the next 20 years. The money also would be used for smaller projects, like replacing residential water meters with more accurate meters. Older meters read water usage on the low end, Guillory said.

“My priority is not increasing the homeowners’ rates too much, but increasing it slowly. We need to improve the dam and the failing water lines,” Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein said at a recent meeting.

Councilor Marty Chazen said he wanted city staff to go after grants to improve Purdy Mesa, and the city’s water officials said they would look into those opportunities.

“The decision whether to do this or not is already made. It’s how we pay for it,” Chazen said.

#ClimateChange: How to slow down this runaway freight train of climate change — The Mountain Town News

Our global energy system is like a runaway freight train. Image/Shutterstock
Our global energy system is like a runaway freight train. Image/Shutterstock

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

James W.C. White presents himself first and foremost as a scientist, one who specializes in geological processes. You can call him a climate scientist. He says some things are not a matter of belief, but rather laws of physics. The eventual effect of greenhouse gases on atmospheric temperature is among those basic laws.

But White is also a man of faith, someone who believes in free will and the potential of humans to make choices guided by morals, not laws of nature. I saw this last year when he testified in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan at hearings in Denver. He identified himself as an evangelical Christian.

In a presentation sponsored by the Boulder chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society on Oct. 15, White made no mention of religion. But after explaining for 45 minutes why the laws of physics should alarm us, he delivered his proposed solution. That solution applies not only to climate change, which he said can be solved, if we so choose, but also to the much greater problem of a species that recognizes no planetary limits.

“In the end, I think it is about us growing up as a species. I don’t want to come across as some Tennessee preacher up here,” added White, who grew up in Tennessee, “but in the end it has to be about us becoming better people.”

Jim White via The Mountain Town News
Jim White via The Mountain Town News

A professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, White also has an appointment within the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. For about 25 years, he has been teaching a class on energy and the environment, and his lecture for the Colorado Renewable Energy Society seemed to be a brief summary of that course.

“There are things we know that will happen,” he said at the outset of his lecture. “I won’t get into things we think may happen.”

In its desire to expand, the human species has done only what every other species, from bacteria to primates, attempts to do. “You try to take over the planet,” said White.

In this desire to “have domination over the planet,” however, humans have ratcheted up the game. “I think in the last 30 years, we have demonstrably achieved that goal. While all previous generations saw the Earth as limitless in some ways, all future generations will need to consider planetary limits.”

One example of human mastery: We cause 10 times more erosion than all natural resources.

Another: We can make more fertilizer than all the world’s bacteria. A key discovery about how to short-circuit the natural process was made in the 1930s, and since the 1950s “we have gone from being not a part of the nitrogen cycle to the point that we are on par with all bacteria.”

And this: we have moved past population limits, with rapid expansion beginning about 1800 and now moving rapidly from 7 billion to 9 billion by mid-century. “Growth rates are slowing down somewhat,” said White. “But there’s a lot of momentum.”

global-ghg-emissions-figure3-2014-by-countrymtn

By exploiting carbon fuels, many in the world have been able to lead lives premised on great amounts of energy. It adds up. Together, four major regions of the planet as of 2012 produced over half of the world’s global emissions: China (22%), the United States (14%), the European Union (10%) and India (6%)

co2-emissions-per-countrymtn

Still, an average Indian uses only one-sixth the energy of an average person in Denmark. Along with Indonesia and a great many other countries, India is waiting in the wings, eager to gain the lifestyle of those in the Western world.

Now, about the laws of physics: our climate is governed by three factors: 1) how much energy we get from the sun; 2) how much of that energy is reflected back to space by aerosols, ice, and snow; and 3) the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Energy in the atmosphere is climate by definition,” he said.

Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. It constitutes just 1 percent of the atmosphere, yet it is a powerful determinant of the environment. With it, the landscapes are green. Without rain and snow, the landscapes turn brown. As the world warms, there will be more water vapor in the atmosphere, amplifying the heating.

“Something very small can have big effects,” said White. “I don’t know why people struggle with that.”

Greenhouse gases give us a livable environment, raising the Earth’s surface temperature by about 60°F. (33°C). Water vapor provides about half of the greenhouse effect.

“If we add a lot of greenhouses into the atmosphere, there will be more energy in the atmosphere and by definition the climate will change,” said White. That is, he added, a physical law, not a matter of belief.

Where has this heat been going? About 90 percent of the increased heat has gone to heat up water, mostly the oceans, and that takes time. “If you’re worried about climate on the planet, look at the ocean,” he said. Unfortunately, we don’t do a good job of monitoring the ocean, he added.

One bedeviling fact of climate change is the lag time of greenhouse gas emissions and their effects, 50 to 100 years.

Now, here’s the worrisome math: We were at 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the start of the industrial revolution two centuries ago. That had grown to just 315 ppm as Jack Kennedy began gearing up for his campaign to be president. Now, it’s at 402 ppm.

“We haven’t had 400 ppm for 3.5 to 4 million years,” observed White. At that time, there were alligators in the Arctic Circle and sea level was 20 to 30 meters higher than it is today.

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2015 fourth smallest since measurements started in the 1970s. The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Image/National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Arctic sea ice extent for September 2015 fourth smallest since measurements started in the 1970s. The magenta line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Image/National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Arctic Ocean has not yet warmed sufficiently to support alligators, but it has been thawing at a far more brisk pace than lower latitudes, including places like Colorado. The Arctic sea ice has been rapidly shrinking. Oil companies as well as the world’s major nations have been jockeying to exploit the enormous quantities of oil and gas believed to live below the ocean floor.

“Keep your eyes on the Arctic,” White advised.

With ice melting and the ocean warming, world sea levels will rise. “The physics here are very simple: you put water into a container and warm it up—and it expands,” said White. In addition, there will be melted ice as glaciers on Greenland and Antarctica dissolve.

“The rate of sea level rise is currently such that we expect about one meter of rise by 2100, a rate that is three to five times faster than has been common in the past record.”

A rise of three feet over a century’s time is nothing that people get excited about, but they should, said White. The cost of displacement will be enormous and the refugee issues today caused by war in Syria will seem trifling in comparison.

Efforts are underway in southern Florida to map the effects of the rising Atlantic Ocean. See: http://fiusm.com/2014/11/24/what-sea-level-rise-means-to-south-florida/
Efforts are underway in southern Florida to map the effects of the rising Atlantic Ocean. See: http://fiusm.com/2014/11/24/what-sea-level-rise-means-to-south-florida/

Sea level rise probably won’t stop at one meter, however. If we stay on our current course, a 10 degree increase in temperature is possible. That would mean about 20 meters (65 feet) of sea level rise. The White House would be on the beachfront and Delaware? Under water.

Because of the lag effect of greenhouse warming, we already have considerable warming locked into the atmospheric system. Future sea level rise is inevitable.

White likened it to a freight train. It takes a while to get going, but once it gets going, it takes a while to stop. But we haven’t even decided to slow the train.

“We have to manage expectations,” he said. “You can’t continue to burn fossil fuels and put C02 into the atmosphere and [think] you won’t change the world.”

White’s takeaways were that we must control population, we must empower women, and we must care about our shared planet.

#AnimasRiver: Interior Department Delivers Gold King Mine Technical Assessment to Environmental Protection Agency

goldkingminereport10222015cover

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation delivered a report on its Gold King Mine technical evaluation to the Environmental Protection Agency today. EPA requested an independent review to assess the cause of the August 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout near Silverton, Colo. and provide recommendations to prevent future incidents from occurring.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Technical Service Center in Lakewood, Colo. conducted the independent assessment on behalf of Interior. The TSC provides water resources management-related scientific, applied research, and engineering services. The report was peer reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and produced in accord with Interior’s scientific integrity policy.

The report, entitled ‘Technical Evaluation of the Gold King Mine Incident,’ is available for viewing at http://on.doi.gov/1RdRhD6.

Here’s the executive summary from the report:

On the morning of August 5, 2015, mine reclamation activities led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) onsite project team triggered an uncontrolled rapid release of approximately 3 million gallons of acid mine water from the Gold King Mine located about 5 miles north of Silverton, Colorado. Commonly referred to as a “mine blowout,” the outflow carried with it iron­ oxyhydroxide sediments that had deposited inside the mine workings. The iron­ oxyhydroxide absorbed heavy metals when it formed in the mine, and when released it changed the acid water to a vivid orange-brown color. The blowout eroded soil and rock debris from the mine portal, eroded pyritic rock and soil from the adjoining waste-rock dump, and eroded road-embankment fill from several downstream unpaved road stream crossings. Most of the eroded rock, gravel, and sand were deposited in Cement Creek. As the flow continued downstream, deposition of small amounts of soil particles mixed with orange- brown iron-oxyhydroxide precipitates containing heavy metals continued to occur along the Animas River and San Juan Rivers until the plume reached Lake Powell in Utah on August 14, 2015.

EPA requested an independent technical evaluation of the Gold King Mine incident. The evaluation provided in this report was performed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and peer reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

In preparing this report, BOR found that the conditions and actions that led to the Gold King Mine incident are not isolated or unique, and in fact are surprisingly prevalent. The standards of practice for reopening and remediating flooded inactive and abandoned mines are inconsistent from one agency to another. There are various guidelines for this type of work but there is little in actual written requirements that government agencies are required to follow when reopening an abandoned mine.

The uncontrolled release at Gold King Mine was due to a series of events spanning several decades. Groundwater conditions in the upper reaches of Cement Creek have been significantly altered by the establishment of extensive underground mine workings, the extension of the American Tunnel to the Sunnyside Mine, and the subsequent plugging of the American Tunnel. The final events leading to the blowout and uncontrolled release of water occurred due to a combination of an inadequately designed closure of the mine portal in 2009 combined with a misinterpretation of the groundwater conditions when reopening the mine portal in 2014 and 2015.

In attempting to reopen the Gold King Mine, the EPA, in consultation with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), concluded the adit was partially full of water based on excavations made in 2014 and 2015 into the downstream side of backfill placed at the portal. Adit seepage was observed in the downstream excavations to be emerging at an elevation about 6 feet above the adit floor. It was incorrectly concluded that the water level inside the mine was at a similar elevation, a few feet below the top of the adit roof. This error resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure. The collapsed material in the adit and the backfill added in 2009 were derived from the collapsed rock and soil that contained a significant amount of clay. It was not a typical roof collapse comprised of mostly cohesionless broken rock. The clay content contributed to the significant attenuation (head loss) of flow in the collapsed debris and the placed backfill as the mine water flowed through it. Also, deposition of iron-oxyhydroxide sediments inside the mine likely contributed to additional reductions in the seepage flow as the sediment layer grew thicker with the passage of time. Changes in seepage were observed and documented in photographs in both 2014 and 2015, but its implications with respect to attenuation of the flow through the fill were not accounted for.
After the EPA project team concluded that the adit was not full to the top with water, they implemented a plan to open the mine in a manner similar to the one used successfully to reopen the adit at the nearby Red and Bonita Mine in 2011. The plan consisted of excavating the fill to expose the rock crown over the adit but leave the fill below the adit roof in place. Then a steel pipe (“stinger”) would be inserted through the fill and into the mine pool, a pump would be attached, and the water in the mine would be pumped down.

A critical difference between the Gold King plan and that used at the Red and Bonita Mine in 2011 was the use in the latter case of a drill rig to bore into the mine from above and directly determine the level of the mine pool prior to excavating backfill at the portal. Although this was apparently considered at Gold King, it was not done. Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred.

The incident at Gold King Mine is somewhat emblematic of the current state of practice in abandoned mine remediation. The current state of practice appears to focus attention on the environmental issues. Abandoned mine guidelines and manuals provide detailed guidance on environmental sampling, waste characterization, and water treatment, with little appreciation for the engineering complexity of some abandoned mine projects that often require, but do not receive, a significant level of expertise. In the case of the Gold King incident, as in many others, there was an absence of the following:

1. An understanding that water impounded behind a blocked mine opening can create hydraulic forces similar to a dam.

2. Analysis of potential failure modes.

3. Analysis of downstream consequences if failure were to occur.

4. Engineering considerations that analyze the geologic and hydrologic conditions of the general area.

5. Monitoring to ensure that the structure constructed to close the mine portal continues to perform as intended.

6. An understanding of the groundwater system affecting all the mines in the area and the potential for work on one mine affecting conditions at another.

This evaluation report provides a detailed account of the basis for these findings and recommendations for prudent engineering considerations that EPA (and others) should consider to preclude the occurrence of similar incidents.

It is important to note that although the USACE peer reviewer agreed that the report properly describes the technical causes of the failure, he had serious reservations with the chronology of events internal to EPA from the day of the telephone call to BOR and up to the day of the mine failure. He pointed out that the actual cause of failure is some combination of issues related to EPA internal communications, administrative authorities, and/or a break in the decision path, and that the report was non-specific regarding the source of information concerning EPA documents and interviews with EPA employees and the onsite contractor. The USACE believes that the investigation and report should have described what happened internal within EPA that resulted in the path forward and eventually caused the failure. The report discusses field observations by EPA (and why they continued digging), but does not describe why a change in EPA field coordinators caused the urgency to start digging out the plug rather than wait for BOR technical input as prescribed by the EPA project leader.

The BOR Evaluation Team (evaluation team) believed that it was hired to perform a technical evaluation of the causes of the incident, and was not asked to look into the internal communications of the onsite personnel, or to determine why decisions were made. The evaluation team did not believe it was requested to perform an investigation into a “finding of fault,” and that those separate investigative efforts would be performed by others more suitable to that undertaking.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Federal investigators said Thursday that engineering errors by an Environmental Protection Agency-contracted team “led directly” to the August Gold King Mine spill, which could have been prevented.

The much-anticipated 132-page report from the Interior Department following the spill of an estimated 3 million gallons of acidic mining sludge into the Animas River, pointed to miscalculations and poor planning…

The Interior Department was charged with conducting an independent investigation after national and international coverage of the event that turned the Animas River orange, shutting the river for eight days because of initial spikes in heavy metals, including lead, copper and cadmium.

The investigation revealed that the EPA team should have drilled into the mine from above in order to determine the level of the mine pool…

EPA officials said the agency is reviewing the report.

“This report, in combination with the findings of EPA’s internal review of the incident, will help inform EPA’s ongoing efforts to work safely and effectively at mine sites as we carry out our mission to protect human health and the environment,” said Nancy Grantham, an EPA spokeswoman.

As for not drilling into the mine to determine the level of water, Grantham said the team found that “site conditions made it difficult to undertake such drilling.”

The report is careful to point out that while the EPA team caused the incident, there could have been a blowout regardless.

“With the passage of time, the continued sediment buildup would have made the ‘plug’ even less able to transmit seepage flow. Eventually, even if no action had been taken, it may have failed on its own,” the report states.

Investigators also went on to highlight the historical context of the blowout, pointing out that the owners of the neighboring Sunnyside Mine installed bulkheads, increasing wastewater in nearby mines. Groundwater conditions in Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River, have also been altered by extensive underground mine workings, the extension of the American Tunnel to the Sunnyside Mine and the plugging of the American Tunnel.

“I, again, want to strongly warn the public and the regulators of the potential for catastrophic future failure of the concrete dams placed in the American Tunnel by the operators of the Sunnyside Mine, which would result in a blowout of many magnitudes greater than the one EPA triggered at the Gold King Mine,” Gold King Mine owner Todd Hennis said in a statement.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he is focused on making sure future incidents are prevented, damages are assessed and the EPA makes good on its promise to repair damages and compensate victims.

“It’s what we believed from the beginning, this was preventable. It was a mistake, but it was not malicious,” Hickenlooper said. “The world is not a perfect place.”

One outstanding question is whether the state should file a lawsuit against the EPA. But the governor was cautious, stating: “It’s unclear whether there are sufficient damages to warrant the rather significant cost of a lawsuit. … Lawsuits should be a last resort.”

Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said the report adds a certain emphasis to any conversation on negligence.

“From a legal perspective, this adds an interesting layer to the story because … it does appear the report does establish negligence on behalf of the EPA, and that creates a different question about the nature of the accident,” Coffman said. “There are accidents that would have happened no matter what, and there are accidents that are preventable.”

The report stops short of assigning fault to any individuals, despite prior claims from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that it would determine fault and any negligence.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official whose review of the conclusions was included in the report expressed “serious reservations” over the EPA’s failure to explain exactly how its communications broke down and why its officials were so insistent on starting work without more information about the complexities involved.

Richard Olsen, a senior geotechnical engineer with the Corps, also questioned why a change in the EPA field coordinator for Gold King led to an “urgency to start digging” even though another EPA official had expressed some uncertainty about the potential risks.

That second EPA official in July asked for an outside review of the agency’s plans by one of the Bureau of Reclamation engineers involved in Thursday’s report. A meeting between the EPA and the engineer had been scheduled for Aug. 14 – nine days after the blowout.

The technical report on the causes of the Aug. 5 spill has implications across the country, where similar disasters could lurk among the hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that have yet to be cleaned up. Some estimates put the total cost of containing this mining industry mess at more than $50 billion.

The report says the root causes of the Colorado accident began decades earlier, when mining companies altered the flow of water through a series of interconnected tunnels in the extensively mined Upper Animas River watershed.

From the Associated Press (Matthew Graham) via The Farmington Daily Times:

The spill that fouled rivers in three states would have been avoided had the EPA team checked on water levels inside the Gold King Mine before digging into a collapsed and leaking mine entrance, Interior Department investigators concluded.

The technical report on the causes of the Aug. 5 spill has implications across the United States, where similar disasters could lurk among an estimated hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that have yet to be cleaned up. The total cost of containing this mining industry mess could top $50 billion, according to government estimates.

The root causes of the Colorado accident began decades ago, when mining companies altered the flow of water through a series of interconnected tunnels in the extensively mined Upper Animas River watershed, the report says.

EPA documents show its officials knew of the potential for a major blowout from the Gold King Minenear Silverton as early as June 2014. After the spill, EPA officials described the blowout as “likely inevitable” because millions of gallons of pressurized water had been bottling up inside the mine.

The Interior report directly refutes that assertion. It says the cleanup team could have used a drill rig to bore into the mine tunnel from above, safely gauging the danger of a blowout and planning the excavation accordingly. Instead, the EPA crew, with the agreement of Colorado mining officials, assumed the mine was only partially inundated.

“This error resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure,” according to engineers from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, who spent two months evaluating the accident…

Members of Congress seized on the report to slam the government’s handling of the spill. But whereas Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado focused their ire on the EPA, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, also of Colorado and a Democrat, repeated his call for industry reforms to speed mine cleanups.

Guidelines for cleaning up abandoned mines focus on details such as water sampling and treatment. Yet they have “little appreciation for the engineering complexity,” and require but don’t receive significant expertise, the Interior Department’s 132-page report concluded.

Plugging abandoned or inactive mines has been common industry practice for more than a century. The report lists 31 mines across the U.S. where so-called bulkheads were installed since the 1950s to stem the flow of water into or out of a mine.

With coal mines, monitoring and cleanups are funded in part by a fee companies pay. No such arrangements exist for inoperative hard-rock mines, and that’s a national problem, the report noted.

Given industry opposition to efforts to hold mine owners accountable, the cleanup has been left to a scattering of federal and state agencies, without common standards or even lists of the most problematic mines.

In the wake of the Gold King spill, EPA temporarily halted some work at 10 polluted mining complexes in Montana, California, Colorado and Missouri because of similar conditions.

Abandoned hard-rock underground mines are not subject to the same federal and state safety requirements other mining operations must follow, and “experience indicates that they should be,” the report concluded.

“A collapsed flooded mine is in effect a dam, and failure must be prevented by routine monitoring, maintenance, and in some cases remediation. However, there appears to be a general absence of knowledge of the risks associated with these facilities. A comprehensive identification of sites, evaluation of the potential to fail, and estimation of the likely downstream consequences should failure occur, are good first steps in such an endeavor.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley and Jesse Paul):

Man-made changes in the underground landscape, including installation of bulkhead plugs at the nearby Sunnyside Mine, primed conditions for the 3 million-gallon blowout, according to a 132-page report released by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The Aug. 5 spill above Silverton could have been avoided if the EPA and its contractors used a drill to check wastewater levels inside the mine before digging with heavy machinery to open a clogged portal, the report said…

“Current state of practice”

Tens of thousands of abandoned mines across Colorado and other Western states have yet to be cleaned up. And the federal investigators from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation found that the conditions that led to the Gold King disaster “are not isolated or unique and in fact are surprisingly prevalent.”

There are no standards for reopening inactive mines, the review found.

However, cleanup workers in 2011 at the adjacent Red and Bonita Mine used a drill to bore into the mine from above and check the level of wastewater in the mine prior to excavating backfill at the portal.

“Although this was apparently considered at Gold King, it was not done. Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred,” the report said.

EPA officials pointed to their internal review blaming “technical challenges, safety, timing and cost” as factors in why the agency failed to drill into the mine to check the level of wastewater. They also blamed “the steepness and instability of slopes” at the mine, citing safety.

The investigation concluded the Gold King disaster “is somewhat emblematic of the current state of practice in abandoned mine remediation. The current state of practice appears to focus attention on the environmental issues.

“Abandoned mine guidelines and manuals provide detailed guidance on environmental sampling, waste characterization, and water treatment, with little appreciation for the engineering complexity of some abandoned mine projects that often require, but do not receive, a significant level of expertise.”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet issued a statement saying “the EPA made unacceptable mistakes and did not have adequate procedures in place.” Bennet said he is working on legislation to shield groups that embark on voluntary cleanups at inactive mines from liability and on “hard rock mining reform” to help clean up mines and reduce the risk to communities.

House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing recap

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Mining-reclamation experts this week told a congressional panel that good Samaritan legislation and funding for restoration efforts are “inseparably tied together.”

The comments came during a hearing Wednesday on good Samaritan cleanups of abandoned mines, held by the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment…

In the wake of the Gold King incident, Congress has taken a look at how to address tens of thousands of inactive leaking mines across the nation. At least 23,000 mines have been identified in Colorado alone.

The debate has hit familiar political currents, with Republicans pushing back against efforts to collect fees and royalties from hard-rock mining to fund restoration efforts. Instead, the GOP favors legislative efforts to eliminate liability concerns for private entities – referred to as good Samaritans – who want to independently restore inactive mines…

“The lesson from Gold King is not so much that an EPA contractor screwed up, as it is that we need to have a much greater sense of urgency about addressing the problem of pollution from abandoned mines all across the nation,” said Chris Wood, president and chief executive of Trout Unlimited.

Republicans on the committee pushed back, highlighting that good Samaritan legislation might be the only pragmatic thing to consider.

“Would you prefer having no cleanup be performed at an abandoned mine site, or having a good Samaritan perform a cleanup?” asked Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana.

Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, said it is not an either/or conversation.

“I would hope we could also get good Samaritans additional funding from reclamation funds to do these cleanups,” Pagel said.

Doug Young, senior policy director for the Keystone Policy Center in Colorado, cautioned against repeating the same discussions from the past, encouraging lawmakers to steer away from addressing the issue through the Clean Water Act.

Instead, Young suggested taking a look at reforms to the federal Superfund program, which targets blighted areas. He also advocated for offering incentives to good Samaritans to bring their own resources.

“I agree this is a major funding issue,” Young said. “I just think there’s a way we can do this without directly having to assess a fee or royalty.”

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Comments sought for decommission plan

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Public comment is being sought on a Quality Assurance Project Plan designed to help health officials oversee decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill.

The plan establishes the requirements for environmental data collection. It can be viewed at recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm

State health officials will be accepting informal public comments until Nov. 13. Submit comments to Jennifer Opila at jennifer.opila@state.co.us.

Researches find plastic pollution at the sea surface of Arctic waters

Northern gannet (Morus bassanus) are using old fishing nets as nesting material in their nesting colony at the island Helgoland (North Sea / Germany), Credit: Image courtesy of Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research
Northern gannet (Morus bassanus) are using old fishing nets as nesting material in their nesting colony at the island Helgoland (North Sea / Germany),
Credit: Image courtesy of Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research

From the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research via Science Daily:

In a new study, researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) show for the first time that marine litter can even be found at the sea surface of Arctic waters. Though it remains unclear how the litter made it so far north, it is likely to pose new problems for local marine life, the authors report on the online portal of the scientific journal Polar Biology. Plastic has already been reported from stomachs of resident seabirds and Greenland sharks.

Plastic waste finds its way into the ocean, and from there to the farthest reaches of the planet — even as far as the Arctic. This was confirmed in one of the first litter surveys conducted north of the Arctic Circle, carried out by an international research team from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and Belgium’s Laboratory for Polar Ecology. The researchers presented their results in an article released on the online portal of the journal Polar Biology.

In order to gauge the level of pollution, the researchers took advantage of an expedition that brought the research icebreaker Polarstern to the Fram Strait, the area between East Greenland and Svalbard. In July 2012, AWI biologist Dr Melanie Bergmann and her team searched for litter floating on the sea surface from the ship’s bridge and by helicopter, maintaining a “litter watch” for a combined distance of 5,600 kilometres. “We found a total of 31 pieces of litter,” reports Bergmann.

Although this number may sound low, it confirms that there is indeed litter floating in the remote Arctic Ocean. “Since we conducted our surveys from the bridge, 18 metres above sea level, and from a helicopter, we were only able to spot the larger pieces of litter. Therefore, our numbers are probably an underestimate,” the marine biologist explains. It is well-known that, with time, plastic breaks down into small fragments at sea, which can only be detected properly by analysis of net tows.

The plastic litter reported from the Fram Strait could be leaking from a sixth garbage patch, which may be forming in the Barents Sea according to computer models. Such accumulation zones are created when large amounts of floating plastic debris are caught by ocean currents and concentrate in the centre of gyre systems.

We currently know of five garbage patches worldwide; the sixth patch in the Barents Sea is most likely in the early stages of formation. Bergmann believes it may be fed by the densely populated coastal regions of Northern Europe. “It is conceivable that part of that litter then drifts even farther to the north and northwest, and reaches the Fram Strait,” states the AWI biologist, adding, “Another cause for litter in the Arctic could be the retreat of the Arctic sea ice. As a result more and more cruise liners and fish trawlers are operating further north, following the cod. Most likely, litter from the ships intentionally or accidentally ends up in the waters of the Arctic. We expect this trend to continue.”

In a previous study, Melanie Bergmann analysed photographs from the deep Arctic seafloor for signs of plastic, glass and other types of litter. Her conclusion: in the time frame of ten years the amount of litter in the deep sea has doubled with densities in a similar range to those from southern Europe. In fact, the litter density on the deep seafloor of the Fram Strait is 10 to 100 times higher than at the sea surface. “On the deep Arctic seafloor, we found an average of 2.2 to 18.4 pieces of litter per kilometre of our route. This indicates that the deep seafloor may be the ultimate sink for marine litter,” Bergmann suggests.

The litter floating in the Arctic is particularly detrimental to seabirds, which feed at the sea surface. A recent study from the nearby Isfjorden fjord on Spitsbergen showed that 88 percent of the northern fulmars examined had swallowed plastic. These birds spend their entire life at sea. Even Greenland sharks are swallowing plastic litter: researchers found plastic litter in the stomachs of up to eight percent of the sharks caught south of Greenland.

Bergmann notes that the litter data for her latest study were collected in the course of a study on marine mammals and seabirds on board of RV Polarstern: “We just took advantage of these surveys to count marine litter.” Scientists refer to chances such as this one, where valuable scientific data is gathered during expeditions of a different purpose, as “ships of opportunity.” “Since it’s reasonably easy to count litter from a ship in motion, it makes sense to use ‘ships of opportunity’ more often in the future to help us to learn more about the global distribution of floating litter, especially in remote areas. This could be done during patrol flights and voyages with research ships, cruise ships, coast guard, merchant and fishing vessels,” adds Bergmann.

Report: The Great Divide screening at the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at CMU

Great Divide
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Jim Spehar):

I suppose it could have been the free beer.

Why else would around 300 Mesa County residents show up at 6 p.m. last Saturday, catch the county’s slowest elevator and sit for an hour and a half on hard chairs in one of Colorado Mesa University’s ballrooms?

Perhaps that little red ticket for one can of Palisade Brewing Company’s finest was a stroke of genius on the part of CMU’s Water Center, which organized the showing of a new water film, “The Great Divide.”

Or perhaps it was concern about water issues along the Colorado River which filled the room. From headwaters high in the northern Colorado Rockies to its southernmost point, where most years there’s barely a trickle into the Sea of Cortez, water availability from the Colorado River has been the subject of much discussion as recent droughts compelled us to think about shortages.

Jim Havey’s film and the accompanying book by Havey and Stephen Grace offer a thorough history of water development in Colorado and a comprehensive analysis of issues that’ll impact those of us who rely on its water for years to come.

Let’s consider some thoughts from those interviewed for the film and book.

“I think a river would simply say: ‘What I want to be is healthy. I would like to be able to sustain you…but I can’t do it unless you all do what you do thoughtfully.”
— Amy Beatie, Colorado Water Trust

“We’re going to have to sustain ourselves, our grandchildren, and theirs with the same basic water supply, aggravated by the effects of climate change, that the Ancestral Pueblans had at their disposal. Now that’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?”
— Gregory Hobbs, former Colorado Supreme Court justice

What Beatie and Hobbs imply is a need to thoughtfully plan future water use in a state that’s expected to double in population by 2050. The CEO of Denver Water worries about that too.

“If we grow the next five million people in Colorado the way we grew the last five million people, that may not be a sustainable model. And we need to have a much deeper conversation about the connection between land use and water.”
— Jim Lochhead, Denver Water

One representative of outdoor interests agrees with Lochhead, a former Western Slope water lawyer and ex-head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

“…There might be enough water for everybody for a long time to come. But we can’t have unlimited growth and achieve that. There’s got to be a tipping point.”
— Kurt Klancke, Trout Unlimited

No one in the film or book argued against the idea that climate change will require adaptability and a sense of urgency on the part of nearly 40 million people in the southwest who depend on the Colorado River.

“If the computer models that our field really relies on give some sense of what the future is most likely to be, then 2012, as ugly as it was here, starts being statistically quite a common occurrence as soon as 30-45 years from now. And that’s just a generation. It’s not that far away.”
— Nolan Doesken,
 Colorado State Climatologist

The need to plan for the sort of svhortages Doesken and other anticipate ignores traditional battle lines. It also implies some give and take between sometimes competing uses.

“If we’re going to have a healthy river…if we’re going to have a quality of life along the river…we’re going to have to reduce our consumptive use of the river. That’s going to have to come from conservation by the cities. And it’s going to have to come from reductions in agricultural use.”
— Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District

“What we need to do is design our environment to reflect the desert environment and not try to re-create the eastern environment that came to Denver back in the 1800s and 1900s. And not just Denver, but Grand Junction as well,” he says.

One thing is certain. Sooner rather than later we’ll all be paying more, using less and wondering how to deal with inevitable shortfalls in our water supplies. That’s when we’ll find out if we can meet our looming water crisis head on, blessed with facts and a willingness to address the problem proactively and collaboratively.

Jim Spehar represented western Colorado municipalities for eight years on the Colorado Water Congress Board of Directors. Comments are welcome at speharjim@gmail.com

@USACEOmaha: Bear Creek Reservoir to be lowered for inspection and repair

Following heavy rains which fell mid-September [2013] in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.
Following heavy rains which fell mid-September [2013] in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.

From the US Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District (Kathryn Seefus/Eileen Williamson):

Bear Creek Reservoir near Lakewood, Colorado, will be lowered 5 feet from the normal operating pool elevation of 5,558 feet to allow for inspection and repair work at Bear Creek Dam.

Starting Friday, October 23, releases will be around 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) which fall within channel capacity and are significantly less than the maximum summer release of 500 cfs. The drawdown is expected to take about a week.

During the first three weeks of November, no release will be made from Bear Creek Dam to accommodate planned maintenance, survey, and inspection activities at the outlet works facilities of Bear Creek Dam. Valve repair work will also be conducted in response to damage documented following recent flooding. Beginning the last week of November, normal operations will resume and the lake will continue to refill.

USACE has coordinated this inspection and repair work with the State of Colorado.
Pool elevation graphs for the Tri-Lakes including Bear Creek Reservoir can be found online at: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/DamandLakeProjects/TriLakesProjects.aspx

Pool elevation data for these and other USACE-operated dams, updated hourly, can be tracked online at:
http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/plots/plots.html#omaha_plots

Uravan: Confluence (Dolores and San Miguel rivers) Cleanup October 24, 2015 — Sheep Mountain Alliance

From the Sheep Mountain Alliance:

doloressanmiguelsheepmountainalliance

Here’s an opportunity to get outdoors, meet people, and help the environment. On Saturday, October 24, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., join SMA as we clean up the confluence of the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers just west of Uravan, Colorado.

We’ll team up with members of the San Miguel Watershed Coalition and others. Email Leigh Robertson leigh@sheepmountainalliance.org if you’d like more information or if you’d like to sign up.

Bumble bees turn generalist to survive #climatechange on high peaks — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Pennsylvania Mountain rises to 13,006 feet in the Mosquito Range of Colorado. From the summit, you can look down on the old mining towns of Leadville and Fairplay as well as a mining operation on a nearby mountain.

The above-treeline slopes of Pennsylvania Mountain, however, have remained pristine, distant from pesticides and other human influences.

A bumble bee does its thing with a flower on Pennsylvania Mountain. Photo/Christine Carlson
A bumble bee does its thing with a flower on Pennsylvania Mountain. Photo/Christine Carlson

Or so researchers studying wildflowers and bumble bees thought. Then they noticed something that surprised them. The bumble bees above timberline were different than they were in the past. Historically, alpine bumble bees comprised 95 to 99 percent of bumble bees on the above-treeline slopes of Pennsylvania Mountain as well as two other sites in Colorado’s Front Range. Now they share the habitat with lowland species, but even more surprisingly, the tongues of the alpine species are shorter than in the past.

These bumble bees were part of what scientists call an ecological partnership, or a mutualism. For long-tongued bees, with tongues up to half the length of their bodies, they were able to efficiently forage and pollinate the long-tubed wildflowers of Indian paintbrush, monkshood, and other alpine species. Both partners benefited from this specialization. The flowers get pollinated and the bees get nectar.

To find out why tongues of bees had shrunk, they pursued several hypotheses through field research on the three mountains during the summers from 2008 through 2014.

They have concluded that the high-altitude bees have been adjusting to warming temperatures. In their research summary, published in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, they point to a decline in wildflowers as the base cause. With fewer of the already more-rare long-tubed wildflowers available, the bumble bees adapted to the broader menu of more abundant shorter-tubed wildflowers. To adapt, the bees developed shorter tongues over the space of 40 years. The bees reproduce annually.

Scientists not involved with the study described it as important. “Very powerful,” said Koos Biesmeijer, an ecologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. That the changes occurred in just 40 years “is a really significant finding,” he told Science. He said this suggests that bee populations can adapt to effects created by warming temperatures.

Jennifer C. Geib, a biologist at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and one of the study authors, told Mountain Town News that she had been traveling to Colorado to study the plants on Pennsylvania Mountain since she was a graduate student in 2003. Her study was about how the abundance of bumblebee pollinators benefitted the plants.

In 2012, she, her former adviser Dr. Candace Galen, and Dr. Nicole Miller-Struttmann of SUNY-Old Westbury, formed a collaboration to compare alpine plant-pollinator interactions in modern times to those of the past. That’s when the anomaly was discovered. The short-tongued bumble bees were much higher on the slopes than was expected.

A researcher does the hard work of science amid the wondrous setting of Pennsylvania Mountain. Photo/Christine Carlson
A researcher does the hard work of science amid the wondrous setting of Pennsylvania Mountain. Photo/Christine Carlson

Geib says the current study would have been impossible had it not been for researchers in the 1960s and 1970s who had taken measurements, providing baselines for comparison.

One important comparison is temperature change. The paper reports that summer minimum temperatures have increased about two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on Pennsylvania Mountain since 1960. But some plants like it cooler. The changes have not favored them. From 1960 to 1985, temperatures associated with reduced flowering occurred 12 percent of the years on Pennsylvania Mountain, but 48 percent of the years since 1985.

Warming summer minimum temperatures in the last 56 years have also been recorded on two other mountains in Colorado’s Front Range, Niwot Ridge and Mt. Evans, which were used in the study from 2012 to 2014.

Alpine flowers don’t grow as well when nighttime temperatures stay above 37.85 degrees Fahrenheit (3.25 degrees Celsius).

This loss of wildflowers wasn’t universal on the mountain. Toward the summit, flowers still did well. By definition, however, there’s less land near mountain summits. On Pennsylvania Mountain, total food resources for alpine bumble bees have fallen 60 percent since the 1970s.

Measuring and more measuring, that’s what scientists do. Photo/Christine Carlson
Measuring and more measuring, that’s what scientists do. Photo/Christine Carlson

Bumble bees adapted by developing tongues that are on average nearly 25 percent shorter. As bees reproduce every year, this adaptation has occurred over the span of 40 generations. With fewer of the long-tubed wildflowers to draw nectar from, they improved their odds by having a broader menu.

Geib routinely arrives in Colorado in mid-June, hiking every morning above treeline to study bumble bees and the wildflowers until thunder clouds chase her down the slopes in the afternoons. She stays two months.

The effect of this new tongue length cannot be registered quickly on the wildflowers because they have long lives, 50 and even 100 years.

Does this mean that the wildflowers above treeline will forevermore be more scarce? Not necessarily, says Geib. Climate change models predict increasing warmth, decreasing soil moisture, and decreased snowpack.

“But if this doesn’t hold true, then the plants should be able to recover. If that happens, then instead of this being a change, it would just be a hiccup.”

Photos courtesy of the <a href="http://www.savetheland.org/pennsylvania-mtn"Mountain Area Land Trust.

#Drought news: Topsoil moisture very short to short on the #Colorado High Plains

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

Dry weather dominated much of the country, favoring summer crop harvesting and winter wheat planting. However, topsoil moisture shortages hampered wheat emergence and establishment in a variety of regions, including portions of the Plains, lower Midwest, and interior Northwest. Meanwhile, significant short-term drought continued to grip the South, primarily from the southeastern Great Plains to the Mississippi Delta. In addition to concerns about recently planted winter wheat, Southern drought issues included stress on pastures and late-maturing summer crops; an elevated risk of wildfires; and diminishing surface-water supplies. In stark contrast, dry weather in South Carolina and environs favored flood-recovery efforts. Starting on October 16-17, widespread freezes ended the Midwestern growing season—as much as 1 to 2 weeks later than the normal first freeze in some locations. On October 18-19, freezes into the mid-Atlantic region and interior Southeast were roughly on schedule, or even a little earlier than normal. Elsewhere, a period of record-setting Western warmth preceded the arrival of a slow-moving storm system. Showers overspread California by October 15 and over the next several days reached into the Great Basin, Southwest, and Intermountain West. The Western precipitation caused local flooding, but replenished topsoil moisture, benefited rangeland and pastures, and provided limited relief from long-term drought. Significant rain began to overspread the south-central U.S. on October 21, a day after the drought-monitoring period ended, and will be reflected in next week’s U.S. Drought Monitor…

Great Plains

Mostly minor expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) was noted across the northern and central Plains. Conditions were not as dry as those being experienced farther south, but some impact on winter grain emergence has been reported. In Colorado, most (95%) of the winter wheat had been planted by October 18, but emergence (60%) lagged the 5-year average by 12 percentage points. On the same date, topsoil moisture was 59% very short to short in Kansas and 50% very short to short in Colorado…

West

Precipitation began to overspread central and southern California on October 15 and eventually reached into many other areas of the western U.S. However, extremely dry conditions persisted in much of Oregon and Washington, hampering winter crop establishment. By October 18, winter wheat emergence was at least 10 percentage points behind the 5-year average pace in Oregon (18% emerged) and Washington (62%). California led the nation with both topsoil and subsoil moisture rated 90% very short to short. Approximately two-thirds of the rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor in Oregon (67%) and California (65%). Finally, significant water-supply shortages—owing to the multi-year drought—were noted in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico. In the Northwest, statewide reservoir storage was also below average in Oregon, and Washington. On September 30, California’s statewide reservoir storage was 54% of the historical average for this time of year—and the second-lowest on record behind 1977.

During the drought-monitoring period, precipitation became heavy enough to result in some very minor improvements in the long-term drought depiction, primarily in Arizona and Nevada. Further refinements may be needed next week as assessments continue, especially since the storm was still in progress on October 20…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days, a slow-moving storm system will provide significant drought relief but possibly cause flash flooding in the south-central U.S. Five-day rainfall totals could reach at least 2 to 5 inches on the southern High Plains; 2 to 6 inches in the western Gulf Coast region; and 3 to 7 inches across the southeastern Plains. Showers will also overspread the northern and central Plains, although totals from Nebraska to the Dakotas will be mostly an inch or less. Scattered showers will also reach the Ohio Valley and the Midwest, but mostly dry weather will prevail through the weekend in the southern Atlantic States and the Far West. Outside of the storm system’s primary impact area (e.g. the south-central U.S.), warm weather will prevail nearly nationwide.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for October 27 – 31 calls for the likelihood of warmer-than-normal weather across Florida, Alaska, and from the Pacific Coast to the northern and central Plains and the upper Midwest. Meanwhile, near- to below-normal temperatures can be expected across much of the South, East, and lower Midwest. The last 5 days of October should feature near- to above-normal precipitation across the majority of the U.S., with the greatest likelihood of wet weather occurring across the lower Southeast. In contrast, drier-than-normal conditions should occur in western Alaska and from the northern Plains into the upper Great Lakes region.

#ElNino: Global Temperatures Smash September Record by Widest Margin in History — Slate

267monthsglobaltempaboveaverageericholthaustwitter

From Future Tense (Eric Holthaus):

Powered by a huge El Niño and decades of fossil fuel burning, last month’s global temperatures were truly exceptional, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

September 2015 broke the monthly global temperature record by the widest margin of any month since 1880, when records begin. The magnitude of this month’s record, combined with the fact that seven months so far this year are now the hottest in history—including the last five in a row—means 2015 is now virtually certain to wind up as Earth’s hottest year ever measured.

Stories on these broken records increasingly sound like—wait for it—a broken record, so we’re writing fewer of them at Slate unless something truly exceptional happens. This month definitely qualifies.

El Niños like this one have the ability to shift weather patterns on a global basis and in general send a surge of extra heat into the atmosphere from the warmer-than-normal tropical Pacific Ocean. So far, the 2015 El Niño has been neck and neck with the all-time strongest event ever measured, back in 1997. One of my weather textbooks in college was titled The Climate Event of the Century in reference to that El Niño. It’s something you don’t really expect to see again in your lifetime.

There’s good reason to believe this year’s El Niño will keep strengthening, at least in the near term, with a litany of impacts worldwide. Several notable effects have already been recorded, in addition to the unprecedented spike in global temperatures:

  • So far this year there have been 21 tropical cyclones of category 4 or 5 strength north of the equator—a new all-time record. Twenty of these have been in the Pacific, where El Niño tends to create exceptionally favorable conditions. The Washington Post’s Jason Samenow described it as “the most extreme tropical cyclone season on record in the Northern Hemisphere.”
  • Last week, a torrential rainstorm the National Weather Service described as a thousand-year rainfall event created a horrific mudslide that buried California highways, trapping hundreds of cars. Those near the scene described it as a “wall of mud.” No one was seriously hurt.
  • Earlier this month, much of Australia dealt with a brutal spring heat wave that likely reduced farmers’ yields. Australia is typically one of the countries hit hardest by El Niño.
  • In Indonesia, a huge burst of peatland wildfires has blanketed cities across the region with dense smoke for weeks, producing more daily carbon dioxide emissions than the entire United States. Also, new research shows a spike in dengue fever outbreaks in Southeast Asia during particularly strong El Niño years.
  • A rare and venomous yellow-bellied sea snake was recently spotted on a beach in California, the furthest north sighting ever recorded, thanks to the warm water. But don’t worry, it’s probably nothing.
  • Colorado Springs offers stormwater assurances — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities tried to assure a district that has threatened federal court action that it fully intends to fund stormwater control on Fountain Creek.

    “We have been working with Pueblo County on an intergovernmental agreement that deals with one topic: stormwater,” Colorado Springs spokesman Mark Pifher told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday.

    He said there have been three drafts of the IGA, which was initiated shortly after John Suthers was elected mayor.

    “We’re meeting again next Tuesday, and hope to reach an understanding of what our commitments are,” Pifher said.

    Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place in 2009 when Pueblo County approved a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

    The enterprise was initiated in 2005 with the participation of the Lower Ark District. The district had a larger portfolio of water issues it wanted to address with Colorado Springs, but made headway only with Fountain Creek flood control issues.

    Over the next few years, they spent a combined $1.2 million to develop a plan and keep the newly formed Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District afloat.

    After the Colorado Springs City Council voted to abolish the stormwater enterprise, the Lower Ark district began to prepare a federal lawsuit, first against the Bureau of Reclamation and now against Colorado Springs, claiming violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

    For the last year, Colorado Springs has asked the Lower Ark to hold off on filing the suit, and with Suthers’ election, the district has returned to a wait-and-see mode.

    Pifher presented documentation that Suthers supports a 10-year program to fully fund stormwater control and permitting at $19 million annually in his budget request to City Council. Council made a similar proposal last year that was shot down by the former mayor, Steve Bach.

    The upcoming vote on a sales tax to fund street repairs will not affect stormwater funding, Pifher claimed.

    “They’re two separate issues,” he said.

    However, Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, is challenging that position, saying that some of the bonds being eyed for flood control could be used for streets.

    Colorado Springs is working with the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on the best places to spend the money. It also intends to start up SDS early next year, which would release $50 million in flood control payments over five years to the Fountain Creek district, Pifher noted.

    #COWaterPlan: “There are all sorts of good reasons to think we can close the gap” — James Eklund

    Governor Hickenlooper and James Eklund at the roll out of the Colorado Water Plan December 11, 2014 via The Durango Herald
    Governor Hickenlooper and James Eklund at the roll out of the Colorado Water Plan December 11, 2014 via The Durango Herald

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Much of the water storage contemplated in the Colorado water plan already is under study, said the head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “There are all sorts of good reasons to think we can close the gap” between current supplies and the demands expected by 2050, said James Eklund, executive director of the CWCB, which has a Dec. 10 deadline to present a state water plan to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    Completion of four projects already in process could account for the 400,000 acre-feet of water expected to be needed annually more than three decades from now, Eklund said.

    “We could essentially zero out the gap by 2030” with greater conservation and moving ahead with existing storage plans, Eklund said.

    “And we could do it reasonably,” Eklund said. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket in a West Slope water transfer or in buy and dry” on the Eastern Slope.

    Even if that’s the case, there are fears that a surprise could lurk in the plan.

    “The issue that has people concerned and disappointed is going to be the unnamed and unforeseen project,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    While Eklund said the plan will include a framework under which transmountain diversions can be discussed, the fact is that Colorado won’t need another transmountain diversion.

    “We can get to a pretty good spot” with existing projects and conservation, Eklund said.

    The existing network of transmountain diversions now sends as many as 600,000 acre-feet of water from west to east.

    That doesn’t necessarily preclude additional storage, however, Eklund said.

    Each of the state’s river basins have a gap between existing supplies and projected demands, Eklund said.

    “Our goal is to make storage, and conservation is going on,” Eklund said.

    Fluoride will return to the Snowmass water supply — The Aspen Daily News

    Calcium fluoride
    Calcium fluoride

    From The Aspen Daily News (Madeleine Osberger):

    The Snowmass Village Water & Sanitation District Board voted in a split decision Wednesday to return fluoride to the community water system serving 3,400 users. Board members said their 3-2 vote responded to the will of the people, and to the threat of recall.

    “We can’t not pay attention to our customers,” said board president Joe Farrell, in reference to a non-binding survey of the district’s water users that showed 64 percent favor fluoride. “We can’t not pay attention to the medical and dental communities,” added Farrell, whose father and grandfather were both dentists.

    Water Values podcast: Membrane Technology and the Revolutionary Aquaporin Membrane with Claus Helix-Nielsen

    watervalues10192015

    Click here to listen to the podcast. Here’s the inside skinny:

    Claus Helix-Nielsen, the Vice President of Public-Private Partnerships for Aquaporin A/S, joins The Water Values Podcast to discuss the state of membrane technology and the Aquaporin A/S forward osmosis membrane. Claus’ depth and breadth of experience will impress you as he provides the history of how these membranes are deployed to provide commercial benefits. Claus also provides unique insight into the research and development process and how funding is such a critical element of technology development.

    #ElNino: WWA & NOAA PSD El Niño Panel Discussion and Webinar Friday, October 23 10:00 – 11:00 am

    CIRES Auditorium
    University of Colorado Boulder Campus

    Open to the Public

    This seminar will be available via live webcast. To view the live webcast please go to Adobe Connect and login as a guest.

    What does the current strong El Niño event mean for this coming snowpack and runoff season in Colorado? WWA and the NOAA ESRL Physical Science Division (PSD) are convening a panel of experts to discuss what El Niño is and what it does, past El Niño impacts across Colorado, and what kind of weather we might expect this fall, winter and spring. After an overview of a 2-page briefing document to be released the same day, the panelists will make brief remarks, followed by questions from the audience.

    Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation
    Average influence of El Niño on US temperature and precipitation

    Steamboat Springs: The “Great Divide” at the Chief Theater on November 14 #COWaterPlan

    Chief Theater Steamboat Springs via WayMaking.com
    Chief Theater Steamboat Springs via WayMaking.com

    From the Community Agriculture Alliance (Marsha Daughenbaugh) via Steamboat Today:

    Mark your calendar now and plan to attend “The Great Divide,” a feature-length documentary exploring the historic influence of water in connecting and dividing an arid state and region. The film will screen at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Chief Theater in Steamboat Springs.

    The Emmy award-winning team at Havey Productions, in association with Colorado Humanities, produced “The Great Divide,” and the film crew angled from every corner of Colorado and all of its major river basins.

    “The water we take for granted each and every day gets its start here in our state,” filmmaker Jim Havey said. “Our goal for this film is to raise public understanding and appreciation of Colorado’s water heritage, and we hope to inspire a more informed public discussion concerning the vital challenges confronting our state and region with increasing urgency.”

    The companion book, written by Stephen Grace, will be a natural resource for viewers who seek additional knowledge beyond the film and will be on sale at the premiere. The coffee table book features a vast array of breathtaking photographs, both archival and contemporary, serving as attractive illustrations and a supplemental way to tell the story.

    The Steamboat showing is the culmination of a 10-city tour throughout Colorado that began Aug. 8. The response throughout the state has sparked conversations about the future of water usage and encouraged better understanding of the related challenges.

    The doors at The Chief will open at 5:30 p.m., and the film will begin promptly at 6:15. Following the film, a Q&A panel session will be moderated by Tommy Rossi, Routt County Cattlemen president.

    Panelists include Taylor Hawes, providing expertise on the Colorado River; Mary Brown, long-serving member of the Yampa-White-Green Round Table; and Alden Vanden Brink, with the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District. Questions and comments will be accepted from the public.

    Sponsored in part by Community Agriculture Alliance, The Nature Conservancy and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, “The Great Divide” is an event not to be missed. It is an opportunity for all of us to better connect with all water users throughout the state.

    Watch the film trailer at http://thegreatdividefilm.com.

    Marsha Daughenbaugh is the executive director of Community Agriculture Alliance.

    Click here to read the Coyote Gulch review.

    #AnimasRiver: After Gold King Spill, Focus Turns to Good Samaritan Legislation — Colorado Public Radio

    Colorado abandoned mines
    Colorado abandoned mines

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    “Blowout scenarios — they are impressive, they get a lot of attention, they are probably not the biggest issue,” said Peter Butler, co-chair of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “The biggest issue is more the continuous metal loading that comes from the mining sites.”

    Take the site of the Gold King Mine spill. Construction crews have now finished a $1.5 million temporary wastewater treatment plant for the Gold King Mine. EPA on-scene coordinator Steven Way explains that 500 to 600 gallons of orange water has continued to gush out of the mine since last August…

    Experts say the slow discharge of tainted waste is gradually polluting waterways. Across the West, a 2011 GAO report estimates about 33,000 abandoned hardrock mines are causing environmental problems. Colorado has identified 230 abandoned mines draining waste into waterways. Money is one hurdle. Legal accountability is another.

    Liability Blamed For Deterring Cleanup

    Right now a primary deterrent to voluntary cleanup efforts involve the ongoing liability that groups would have if they attempt clean up under the Clean Water Act.

    The Colorado-based Keystone Policy Center has worked on ways to solve this problem. Policy Director Doug Young says one solution could come from Good Samaritan legislation, which seeks to amend the Clean Water Act to allow environmental groups and local governments to be involved with more clean-up efforts.

    “Because we really don’t have the resources federally, privately, to do it,” said Young. “I don’t know where else we’re going to find the resources to address the problem.”[…]

    But the Gold King spill has shifted the focus onto abandoned mines and Good Samaritan Legislation. Some in Congress — including Democratic and Republican Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet — have said they’ll sponsor a bill this session. Intense debate of the topic is expected during an Oct. 21 hearing.

    But the fact remains that lawmakers have tried and failed over the past two decades to pass a bill. Former Democratic Sen. Mark Udall unsuccessfully sponsored bills on the topic multiple times.

    Those skeptical of the idea include California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, former chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. She raised concerns about potential legislation at a September hearing on the Gold King Mine spill.

    “These so-called Good Samaritan waivers unless they are very carefully crafted are not the solution,” she said.

    Boxer and others are concerned that companies won’t be held fully responsible for clean up. Other environmental groups prefer charging hard rock mining companies a federal reclamation fee — similar to what coal mining companies pay.

    In the meantime, the clean-up pace of abandoned mines across Colorado continues to be slow. Over the past six years, the state has spent $2 million annually, averaging about three or four mine clean ups per year.

    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through October 18, 2015 via the Colorado Climate Center
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through October 18, 2015 via the Colorado Climate Center

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works is looking at a 3% rate hike for 2016

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works is looking at a 3 percent rate increase for next year, after absorbing a loss of about $800,000 in revenues this year.

    “We’re going to be about $800,000 short in water sales this year, but it shouldn’t affect the budget because we’ve made it up in other areas,” said Seth Clayton, director of administrative services.

    Board member Tom Autobee was concerned that revenues were off from projections, looking at revenue reports for the first nine months of the year.

    Clayton explained that revenues were at 75 percent at that time, but have been increasing because of more outdoor watering during a warm, dry fall. He expects a shortfall of about 350 million gallons of usage, out of an estimated 8.2 billiongallon projection.

    Revenues have picked up in several other areas, including raw water leases, main assessments and the plant water investment fee. Combined, they produced more than $1 million in revenues than was expected.

    The water board will have a workshop on its 2016 budget on Nov. 10, and could have some additional pieces to fit together. A public hearing and adoption is scheduled for Nov. 17.

    On Tuesday, the board heard a presentation from Sparq Natural Gas on the potential long-term savings of converting vehicles to compressed natural gas. The state Department of Local Affairs has grant money available to ease front-end costs.

    The board also reviewed its policy on charging customers for water at a Downtown filling station. New software will streamline the billing process with a “pay at the pump” approach, Clayton said.

    And it looked at the $1 per month fee that serves as an insurance policy for service line replacement and repairs, which began appearing on customers’ bills in September.

    Since May, Pueblo Water has repaired 37 lines at an average cost of $3,500 per incident, said Matt Trujillo, director of operations.

    At that rate, there would be 87 cases per year, within the range of being covered by the $34,000 the fee generates each month. The board agreed to wait for a year of operation to determine how well the program is working.

    Overall, the budget for next year holds few surprises.

    Revenues are projected to be about $33.9 million. Pueblo Water employs 137 people with about $9 million in salaries and $5.5 million in related personnel costs.

    Other large expenditures include $3.6 million for utilities, primarily electricity; $1.9 million for outside services; $1.4 million for main expansion and improvement projects; and $1 million for the continuing automated meter program.

    #COWaterPlan: “We’re going to add a storage goal, a measurable objective” — James Eklund

    Barker Meadows Dam Construction
    Barker Meadows Dam Construction

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Objections from Front Range cities are forcing state officials to make a last-minute overhaul of Colorado’s water plan and pledge to build new reservoirs that enable population growth.

    Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver and Northern Water providers also are demanding that the state detail plans for the diversion of more water across mountains to the Front Range.

    That puts them at odds with western slope residents, who on Tuesday weighed in with their own demand that Gov. John Hickenlooper block diversion of more water…

    Colorado Springs lambasted it as “guardrails without a road” — a list of what Colorado must not do — and said it was biased against cities and failed to direct action to meet growing needs.

    Springs utilities officials issued a 14-page critique demanding corrections to secure city support, asserting that “one or more new transmountain diversions will ultimately need to be constructed to address Colorado’s water supply gap.” The plan “should include an affirmative statement that it is state policy to develop additional storage.”[…]

    The state’s chief planner said in a Denver Post interview that 46 staffers are scrambling to fix the plan and include a massive new commitment for new reservoir storage of 130 billion gallons.

    That’s equal to what planners propose to gain from city water-saving such as less watering of lawns.

    But there’s still no consensus over where water to fill new reservoirs would come from to meet a projected 2050 annual shortfall of 163 billion gallons.

    Aurora shares some of Colorado Springs’ concerns about lining up sufficient supplies and storage, Aurora Water director Marshall Brown said. It also is disappointed the plan emphasizes urban conservation when agriculture uses 85 percent of water statewide, Brown said.

    “We’re still committed to making progress on conservation but that progress isn’t going to be enough to solve the water deficit,” he said.

    Northern Water also urged state planners to make changes, contending increased diversion from the western slope “has got to be on the table,” spokesman Brian Werner said. New reservoirs are essential, he said.

    Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead favored “a more specific action plan” from the state, adding that Denver is optimistic a final plan will help meet water challenges.

    Meanwhile, 1,500 western Colorado residents petitioned Hickenlooper opposing more siphoning to Front Range cities and suburbs.

    “That water’s our livelihood. Our ranchers use it. Farmers use it. We use it for recreation, tourism,” said Bryan Fleming, mayor in the town of Silt.

    “We stand together. We cannot afford to lose any more water on this side of the mountains. We understand they have water issues but we need to come to a comprehensive plan with conservation. We need to watch building and developers should have to secure water before building.”

    A Colorado Water Plan lacking support from Front Range cities and suburbs, where 80 percent of the state’s 5.3 million people live, could be hard to implement, forcing state lawmakers to try to manage water scarcity.

    Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund said he’s aware of Front Range cities’ objections and acknowledged the current plan contains no target for increased reservoir storage.

    “We’re going to correct that,” he said. “We’re going to add a storage goal, a measurable objective.”

    Ensuring new storage space to hold 130 billion gallons would address “a huge chunk of the gap” between water expected to be available and expanded demands, Eklund said.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Meanwhile Citizens for West Slope Water are against another transmountain diversion. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    The soon-to-be completed first version of the Colorado water plan should reject a new diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, according to a group of Western Slope stakeholders.

    Citizens for West Slope Water on Tuesday delivered a petition to Gov. John Hickenlooper calling for the water plan to recognize that no more diversions are practical.

    “The simple truth is that the Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” said Michael Langhorne, president of Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. “The impacts of additional transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be an economic disaster for us. Our families, our local economies and our very lives depend on the responsible use of our water resources, and I believe we should first be looking for ways to conserve and re-use water across the state.”

    The petition contained almost 1,500 signatures of Western Slope opponents of transmountain diversions, the organization said.

    The existing network of diversions now sends as many as 600,000 acre feet of water from the west side of the Continental Divide to the east side.

    As currently drafted, the state water plan includes provisions under which transmountain diversions could be discussed, but there is no prohibition and the plan isn’t binding.

    The petition calls for the plan to recognize the priority of modernizing and maximizing municipal conservation and re-use.

    The petition cites a letter from the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado that says growth on the Front Range could outstrip existing water needs by 600,000 acre feet by 2050.

    The state water plan will likely include a conceptual framework that set the terms for how any proposed transmountain diversion will be handled, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is drafting the water document.

    The framework rightfully has been praised by county commissioners and water officials on both sides of the state, Eklund said,

    “To be clear, absent this framework approach, the status quo is the standard fistfight in water court that leaves everyone unhappy,” including West Slope Citizens for Water, Eklund said.

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

    Officials at the Colorado Water Conservation Board are going to add more action items with deadlines to the final Colorado Water Plan by the board’s next meeting on Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

    Final public comments on the draft water plan were due by Sept. 17. And on Oct. 6, the Colorado Water Conservation Board met in a five-hour work session to go over the latest draft of the state’s first official water-supply plan.

    At that meeting, board members told staff to add to the plan specific “measurable objectives” with “date certain” deadlines, according to James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    The board wants to see “clear measurable goals” for water conservation, water storage, land use and other issues, Eklund said, noting that Gov. John Hickenlooper also wants to see action items with deadlines.

    “He was very clear that we cannot surrender the momentum we’ve developed during the drafting of the water plan,” Eklund said.

    The final water plan is due on Hickenlooper’s desk by Dec. 10, but Eklund said he and his staff are working hard to get the document finished and approved by the board at its next regular meeting, set for Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

    “It’s a target date,” said Eklund of Nov. 19, noting that the CWCB was slated to meet at the History Colorado Center and approval of the state’s first statewide water plan there would be a fittingly historic moment.

    MORE STORAGE, CONSERVATION

    Alan Hamel, a board member, told the members of the Arkansas River basin roundtable on Oct. 14 about a number of actions that are now to be included in the final water plan, according to an Oct. 16 article in the Pueblo Chieftain.

    The action items included “obtaining an additional 400,000 acre-feet of (water) storage by 2050, reducing the municipal (water supply) gap from 560,000 acre-feet annually to zero by 2030,” and “setting a goal of 400,000 acre feet of urban conservation by 2050,” according to the Chieftain.

    Hamel also said the list of such action items in chapter 10 of the water plan was to be trimmed from 200 items to 36, according to the Chieftain article, which was written by veteran water reporter Chris Woodka.

    The potential addition of these and other specific action items has caught the interest of officials at the Colorado River District, which met Tuesday in Glenwood Springs.

    Erik Kuhn, the director’s general manager, told the district’s board that he had talked Monday with Eklund about the addition of new action items into the plan and told him he would like to see and comment on the list before they are included in the final water plan.

    The River District, which closely guards Western Slope water, is also concerned with “what happens next” after the water plan is approved.

    Kuhn posed a question in a memo to his board that many people in the state also are asking.

    “Will the plan sit on the shelf, collect dust and largely be ignored?” Kuhn wrote. “Or, will we find a way to use it as a template and move forward?”

    Kuhn said one key is if the Colorado Water Conservation Board will help or hinder the state’s river basin roundtables as they get started on water projects identified in various “basin implementation plans” developed as part of the water plan process.

    Other issues raised by Kuhn include where the state will find the money to pay for both water projects and environmental protections and if a statewide water conservation goal of 400,000 acre feet of water is feasible — especially given the doubts voiced by several Front Range municipal water providers.

    In a Sept. 17 comment letter to the board, the River District also raised a series of concerns, including the need to avoid a “compact call” from lower basin states, whether measures to reduce the use of water by agriculture will be effective and the need to improve coordination of local land-use policy and water supply.

    The district also addressed the emerging concept of developing “stream management plans” to better understand how water diversions in the state’s rivers are affecting the environment. The district suggests that the $1 million budgeted by the state for such plans is likely not enough.

    Also Tuesday, a group called Citizens for Western Slope Water said it had delivered a petition to Hickenlooper and Eklund signed by 1,500 residents of western Colorado, including many citizens from Grand Junction and Durango.

    “The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” the petition states. “We the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new transmountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan. We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”

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