#ColoradoRiver: Grand Canyon Waters, at the Abyss — Mark Udall (The New York Times)

Here’s a opinion piece about protecting the Grand Canyon from Mark Udall writing in The New York Times Here’s an excerpt:

[President Theodore Roosevelt] proclaimed the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908. In so doing, he specifically intended to prevent mining and tourist development from harming one of our nation’s most treasured landscapes. “Keep it for your children, your children’s children and all who come after you,” he said, “as the one great sight which every American should see.”

But mar it we have. An abandoned uranium mine on the canyon’s South Rim has cost taxpayers more than $15 million to remove toxic wastes from the surface. And contaminated water — flowing underground through the mine’s radioactive ore — continues to poison a spring-fed creek deep within the canyon. It is a permanent loss at an unconscionable cost that should never be borne again.

Roosevelt’s proclamation set aside only a fraction of the Grand Canyon as a national monument. His decision rankled mining and tourist businesses in the booming Arizona territory. Local politicians and profiteers fought the postage-stamp-size monument’s further protection as a national park in 1919.

In 1975, Congress nearly doubled the park’s size, declaring that the entire Grand Canyon “including tributary side canyons and surrounding plateaus, is a natural feature of national and international significance.” Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a Republican, introduced the bill. My dad, Congressman Morris Udall, a Democrat from Arizona, helped unite bipartisan support to better protect Arizona’s and America’s most famous natural wonder.

The Grand Canyon Enlargement Act, signed into law by President Gerald Ford four decades ago, returned more than 100,000 acres of federal land to the Havasupai tribe. It also effectively banned the building of two new dams in the canyon’s upper and lower gorge. But it, too, fell short in protecting the Grand Canyon in its entirety.

Today, four uranium mines operate within the watershed that drains directly into Grand Canyon National Park. Arbitrary boundaries and antiquated rules permit these mines to threaten hundreds more life-giving seeps and springs in the desert basins below. Thousands of new mining claims on public lands that surround the canyon were put on hold by a 20-year moratorium imposed in 2012 by Ken Salazar, then the interior secretary. The National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute are suing in federal court to end the ban.

Achieving this hard-won hiatus on new uranium claims took more than five years and one of the broadest coalitions ever aligned to protect the Grand Canyon. The Havasupai, “people of blue-green water,” whose sole source of drinking water is at risk, led the way. They were joined then by county supervisors, chambers of commerce, ranchers, hunters, bird-watchers, artists, scientists, Arizona’s governor, game and fish commissioners and business owners. All united to stop uranium mining from permanently polluting the Grand Canyon and undermining the region’s tourism-driven economy.

But the 2012 victory to halt new claims was temporary. Our challenge now is to rebuild that coalition and make the ban permanent. There’s no reason to wait. President Obama can protect it now…

This past summer, President Obama used this authority to protect over one million acres of federal land in California, Nevada and Texas. Now we must prevail upon the president to permanently protect the Grand Canyon’s sacred waters.

Earlier this year, my wife and I were invited to join native leaders on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. We’ve made many such trips before. But this time, at nearly every spring along the way, we stopped to pray.

All water is sacred to those who have learned to live where it is scarce. We must defend the Grand Canyon’s sacred waters from unconscionable loss.

Stakeholder Briefing: Western impacts of El Niño — NOAA #ElNino #drought

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

From Climate.gov:

Monday, October 19, 2015 – 01:00 to 03:00 EST

As much of the western US continues to grapple with historic drought, an El Niño event has emerged in the Pacific Ocean. What does this mean for the upcoming winter’s weather? NOAA is monitoring and studying this problem using its weather, water, and climate data and forecasting services and scientific capabilities.

A webinar led by NOAA experts has been scheduled for Monday, October 19, 2015, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern/10 a.m. Pacific to share and discuss the latest conditions, forecasts, and uncertainties for winter climate in the West, including but not exclusive to, central and southern California. This webinar is be open to anyone, and formatted to inform the public, farmers, resource managers, and anyone interested in understanding more about the ongoing El Niño event.

If interested please register at this link. This webinar will also be recorded and available to review later.

EPA: Water sent to Navajo Nation met standards — the Farmington Daily Times #AnimasRiver

Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)
Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via the Farmington Daily Times:

New tests on water sent to Navajo Nation farmers after millions of gallons of waste spilled from a Colorado mine indicate that the emergency supply met federal and tribal standards for livestock and irrigation, federal officials say.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results Tuesday, two months after farmers and Navajo officials said the water delivered by a contractor contained oil and was not suitable for use. The new results were consistent with earlier tests, the agency said.

The water was delivered in tanks after mustard-yellow wastewater laced with heavy metals spewed from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado on Aug. 5, polluting the Animas and San Juan rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including on the Southern Ute Reservation and the Navajo Reservation.

It was sent for Navajo farmers who use water from the San Juan for irrigation. An EPA-led crew inadvertently triggered the 3 million-gallon spill while doing cleanup work at the mine.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said Thursday that he was glad the EPA released the test results, but he again said a number of the tanks contained petroleum residue, rust and other contaminants.

“Navajo farmers and ranchers could not use the water without further assurances,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “All told, Navajo farmers were left without water for over two weeks while the (Navajo) Nation awaited preliminary test results from the tanks.”

Separately, the EPA said a temporary treatment plant is ready to start cleansing metals from wastewater still draining from the mine.

#AnimasRiver: Gold King water treatment to begin — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

On Friday, EPA officials expect to finally turn on operations at a temporary treatment facility that will last the winter. The retention ponds built in the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 5 blowout were located in an avalanche zone and were never intended to operate beyond a few weeks.

The treatment facility, in an area 10 miles north of Silverton, will begin to take in acid mine drainage from the Gold King Mine, which is discharging about 500 to 600 gallons of the mine wastewater per minute.

A 4,800-foot pipe from the portal of the Gold King Mine will direct the drainage down a steep slope into the treatment system. The water is then treated with lime to raise the pH and systemized to separate heavy metals.

Lime treatment is the most effective system for handling acid mine drainage, but it is also regarded as a costly one, which leaves behind solid waste that operators are tasked with handling.

“The solid disposal is always a challenge,” said Steve Way, on-scene coordinator for the EPA. “That’s why treatment with lime addition is something any corporation, any agency wants to avoid if they can. It’s an expensive treatment process.”

Way said the EPA is still weighing its options on how to manage the solid waste, but it’s likely the material will be stored on site. He estimated that the facility will generate about 2,500 cubic yards over the next 10 to 12 months.

The water released from the facility over winter into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River, will reduce the metals of concern – namely zinc, copper and cadmium – 90 to 95 percent, at minimum, Way said.

However, the site at this time is taking in acid mine drainage from only the Gold King Mine. The adjacent Red and Bonita and Mogul mines, as well as the American Tunnel, together are still discharging about 500 gallons per minute into Cement Creek. Down the line, Way said there is an option to collect that water into the system.

And despite the launch of the new treatment system, the Animas River is still not expected to meet water-quality standards. An entire network of abandoned, leaking mines poses a more complicated and expensive problem to environmental experts…

The facility cost about $1.5 million – lower than the estimated $1.78 million the EPA projected – and runs about $16,000 a week to operate. That money will come out of a fund related to the Superfund program.

Harrington said the system is designed to endure the area’s harsh winter weather. An average of two staff members will monitor the site through that time, and each will be issued with the proper equipment to notify downstream communities in case of an emergency.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

The EPA had been treating the water laced with heavy metals in small ponds, manually treating the water, and releasing into nearby Cement Creek. But Way said that system wouldn’t work through the cold winter months.

“There may be a couple of people through the winter here as needed. It’s not a 24-hour a day staffing [need],” said Way.

Work on the treatment plant was happening on a tight deadline; snow has already fallen on peaks in the San Juan Mountains.

An executive at Alexico, the company that designed the plant, told the Durango Herald the facility could be expanded on should regulators decide to employ it in their long-term plans for the site. Way said that decision will be made over the winter months.

Video: “The Drive” Broncos v. Browns (01/11/1987)

Sorry, not water related, but I can’t help myself. I loved watching this video of “The Drive.”

Southeastern Water board meeting recap: Lake Pueblo sedimentation discussed

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lake Pueblo is slowly filling with sediment that has reduced its capacity to hold water by about 7 percent over the last 40 years.

The equivalent of 19 feet of dirt over a football field, or 19 acre-feet, is coating various parts of the bottom of the reservoir, a natural consequence for any lake fed by streams and rivers.

The capacity for conservation storage — accounts that can be emptied and refilled — is down to 245,800 acre-feet.

The Bureau of Reclamation made the determination to apply the new limits at the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1 based on data collected in 2012, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project. It’s the first detailed look at sedimentation since 1994, when Reclamation found deposits were less than expected because the Arkansas River maintained its current at the bottom of the lake.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board, the impact on future storage was discussed.

“We’re looking at water for the next generation,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “We’ve been in a wetter period for the last couple of years, and reservoir levels have been near the top.”

About 25,000 acre-feet — nearly the amount Pueblo Water pumps in a year — could spill next spring if weather conditions are normal through the winter months and water is used in the same fashion as in the past. Lake Pueblo water levels still are about 138 percent of average, even though some water has been released over the past three months.

“What are the solutions?” Broderick asked Vaughan.

“Enlargement or dredging,” Vaughan replied quickly. “It’s been a 7 percent reduction over (40) years. That’s not to say something could be put in place. But what are the costs and who’s willing to pay?”

A third option would be to time storage and releases among users of the dam.

Two of the options, enlargement and re-operations, were considered in the district’s Preferred Storage Options Plan, largely abandoned when it stalemated after a decade of contention among Arkansas Valley water users.

Re-operations have largely been addressed by long-term federal contracts that overlay the basic protocol for Pueblo Dam’s operation.

Physical enlargement of the dam likely would mean reopening negotiations.

Dredging has its own issue. For one thing, the sediment is broadly spread over the floor of the lake, and is not lying in a big chunk that could be scooped out. According to the Reclamation report, it’s not settling in the area immediately above the lowest outlet on the dam.

Dredging might also worsen water quality, adding costs for treatment.
There are other economic considerations.

“The Fry-Ark water will stay in place because it’s cheap,” Broderick said. “But can you get your water out if you bring it in from transmountain sources? How much is the water worth? If we lose storage, how do we replace that?”

Board member Vera Ortegon said water users have managed water in the past so it does not spill. Water does not actually shlosh out of the dam, but is released to keep levels low enough to contain potential floods from upstream.

“We have not spilled much, have we?” Ortegon asked.

“No,” Vaughan said. “But we use additional storage in wet years, and then it’s pulled down in a dry cycle. You have to figure out what to do in wet years, so enlargement still comes into play.”

More from the Chieftain:

Lake Pueblo

  • Lake Pueblo began storing water in January 1974 and released water the next year.
  • Its total crest is almost 2 miles long, with 23 concrete buttresses in the center of the earthen dam.
  • Its original capacity to store 265,000 acrefeet for conservation use has been reduced to 245,800 acrefeet
  • The 550foot spillway at an elevation of 4,898 feet is designed to carry 191,500 cubic feet per second when the reservoir is at maximum elevation, 4,919 feet. That has never happened.
  • There are five outlets on the dam, all with multilevel intakes: Bessemer Ditch (393 cfs), the north outlet works (1120 cfs), the spillway outlets (8,190 cfs), the fish hatchery (30 cfs) and the south outlet works (345 cfs). To reduce flooding downstream, releases to the river are usually kept below 6,000 cfs.
  • Flows below the dam are timed to match water coming into the reservoir, except when water is being released from accounts or stored by exchange or in the winter water program.
  • Sedimentation could be accelerated if erosion increases on tributaries above Lake Pueblo, including runoff from areas damaged by large wildfires (such as the Royal Gorge Fire in 2013) or prolonged rain (such as road washouts in Fremont County earlier this year).
  • #COWaterPlan: “A plan isn’t any good unless something gets done” — Alan Hamel

    Basin roundtable boundaries
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The state is looking at an early release of the Colorado Water Plan, possibly as soon as the November Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting.

    “The board worked on the final draft of the plan last week,” Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the board, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

    The CWCB staff is working to get the final document ready for presentation to Gov. John Hickenlooper by its Nov. 19 meeting in Denver, Hamel said.

    “The meeting will be at History Colorado, and this is history,” he said.
    Hickenlooper ordered the CWCB to develop the water plan by Dec. 10 back in 2013. The board wants to complete it sooner after collecting input for the past two years on how to satisfy the water demand of a growing population.

    Some changes are coming, based on more than 30,000 comments from the public as the plan was being developed. Some of them criticized the plan for not whittling down a long list of actions to a manageable number in order to prioritize projects.

    The board directed staff to streamline the critical action item contained in Chapter 10 of the plan to just 36, down from a suite of 200 total actions. All of the actions are included in earlier chapters, but the board wanted to focus on the most important tasks.

    “The other thing we heard was that it was important to have measurable objectives,” Hamel said.

    He gave the roundtable some of the specific things that will be included in the final plan:

  • Reducing the municipal gap from 560,000 acre-feet annually to zero by 2030.
  • Setting a goal of 400,000 acre-feet of urban conservation by 2050.
  • Obtaining an additional 400,000 acre-feet of storage by 2050.
  • Maximizing the productivity of agriculture while identifying 50,000 acre-feet of voluntary alternative transfers that will not permanently dry up farmland.
  • Setting an objective to have 75 percent of the state’s population living in communities that have incorporated water-saving options by 2025.
  • Covering 80 percent of locally prioritized streams and watersheds with management plans by 2030. About 48 percent are covered now.
  • “It is an exciting time,” Hamel said. “A plan isn’t any good unless something gets done.”

    Fountain Creek District study: Flood control will not affect water rights

    Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
    Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    An e‹ort to advance flood control on Fountain Creek surged ahead Wednesday with the completion of a study of how water rights would be a‹ected if a dam or side detention ponds were built.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District wrapped up the yearlong e‹ort with a presentation to those most concerned about the project — the state of Kansas, the Amity Canal, junior water rights holders and even some Fountain Creek irrigators.

    “This is the first step in what we originally wanted to accomplish,” said Larry Small, executive director of the district. “There are two things we need to accomplish, flood control and controlling sedimentation and erosion. We can’t do flood control until we get rid of the sedimentation and erosion.”

    The district originally approached the Arkansas Basin Roundtable in July 2014 with a more detailed feasibility study, but was told to solve the water rights issue first.

    It will go back to the roundtable in January with a proposal similar to the earlier draft, Small said.

    Engineer Duane Helton determined that it would be possible to satisfy all downstream water rights if 10,000 cubic feet per second were allowed to flow down Fountain Creek during a flood event. Water would then be released as quickly as possible as flow levels dropped.

    He modeled the September 2013 flood, and used actual diversions in the following two weeks to determine how and when water would be distributed.

    “It could work with lower or higher thresholds,” Helton said.

    There were questions about whether senior rights downstream would be satisfied as junior rights took water. Helton said they would, depending on how the Division of Water Resources administers the Arkansas River.

    “That’s always going to be a challenge,” said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer. “That’s not going to change with flood detention.”

    There could be exceptions, such as when a canal is breached during the flood event and cannot divert water.

    There have been at least 18 events where flows exceeded 10,000 cfs on Fountain Creek since 1948. In eight cases, the volume of water was so high that it triggered conservation storage in John Martin Reservoir — basically “free river” conditions.

    Irrigators on Fountain Creek are interested in erosion issues.

    “I had a 12-foot diversion that went 300 feet,” said Tracy Tolle of the Wood Valley Ditch at Pinon in Pueblo County. “From what I’ve seen on Fountain Creek this year, whatever you put in is going to get washed out. I’d like to see the plan to control erosion.”

    Small replied that so far, the district has only $50 million in funding coming, but its purpose is for flood control that benefits Pueblo under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

    Comments are still being solicited on the study and will be incorporated into the final report.

    EcoFlight gives students bird’s-eye view of ‘mega-drought’ — The Aspen Times


    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    Aspen resident Bruce Gordon has flown countless hours over the Four Corners region, but something struck him as different Tuesday as he gazed at one of the most prominent features of the landscape.

    “I saw Lake Powell as just a river,” Gordon said Thursday while recounting the flight. The water level is so low that Lake Powell resembles the Colorado River that it dammed rather than a mighty reservoir feeding the growth of the Southwest.

    Gordon made the flight as one of the pilots in EcoFlight’s Flight Across America program — where promising college students with an interest in conservation issues are given a whirlwind air tour to study in-depth a topic affecting the Rocky Mountains or the Colorado Plateau. This year’s topic was “Mega-Drought: Exploring the Future of Water Across the Western United States.”

    The students — four undergraduates and four graduates — convened in Aspen on Sunday and got a perspective on the supply and demand on the Colorado River from the Roaring Fork Conservancy. They took to the air Monday on the first leg of a tour that would cover 1,200 miles in three days…

    [A]…highlight of the trip for [Emilio Mateo] was flying the Animas River corridor north of Durango on Wednesday and getting a bird’s-eye view of the Gold King Mine spill. The rock lining the riverbank remains stained an orange hue even though the river has flushed the heavy metals downstream.

    The students witnessed how oil and gas development has fragmented the Roan Plateau outside Rifle. They flew over major industrial complexes such as a potash plant outside Moab, Utah, and open-pit coal mining in the Navajo Nation.

    Katie Junghans, who is pursuing her master’s degree in environmental science and policy at the University of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, said she never realized how small the Colorado River is until seeing the ribbon snaking through the rocky landscape while in the air.

    Ryan Lima, also pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Northern Arizona, said he was struck by how the cities and towns in the high, barren desert pop up as little green spots…

    Gordon founded EcoFlight with his friend, musician John Denver. A variety of programs are designed around the concept of getting current and future policymakers or influencers in the air for a different perspective on issues. Gordon and Denver intended to launch Flight Across America in 2000 as a way to highlight environmental issues. They planned to coordinate flights piloted by celebrities, launching from Alaska and landing in Washington, D.C., on Earth Day. Denver died before they were able to pursue the dream. Gordon chuckled that people didn’t return his calls as frequently after his star collaborator was gone.

    Gordon refashioned the program nine years ago with the idea of getting students up in the air to study issues. They get roughly 25 applications per year and select eight or so students. Other pilots and aircraft owners contribute their efforts to make the program work.