New Forest Service policy leaves control of water rights to ski resorts — The High Country News

Photo via Bob Berwyn
Photo via Bob Berwyn

From The High Country News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

…the Forest Service abandoned a water transfer clause and issued a new directive that will go into effect January 29. It requires ski areas applying for new permits or modifying existing ones to demonstrate that they have sufficient water to sustain operations for the permit’s duration and allows them to remain at the helm of their water management. In 2011, the agency’s culture leaned toward federal transfer, or co-ownership, of water, says Joe Meade, director of recreation for the U.S. Forest Service based in Washington D.C. “That way we knew the water would always be available in the National Forest Service System.”

[…]

Ultimately, after the court ruled against the agency, Forest Service officials realized that it didn’t matter so much who owned the water as how sustainably water was being used on public lands. “We’re asking now that water needs be documented,” Meade says. “If we issue a permit, we want to know that the operations under that permit can be sustained.”

[…]

In the previous (and controversial) water directive, the Forest Service took the long view on water management — will public lands have the water it needs 100 years into the future? The new directive gives the ski resorts a bigger role in defining that future, which is not without the risk of industry interests infringing on the agency’s responsibility to long-term management of the resource. “I believe we’ve found a place in policy that’s good for industry, good for the skier and upholds our responsibility to public lands,” Meade says. “As the climate changes, we know we’re all in this together.”

#cwcac2016: Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention recap

Click here read the Twitter stream from the convention (#cwcac2016). It will take you a long time to scroll to the start of the stream last Wednesday.

Click here to read the Tweets where I fat-fingered the hash tag as (#cwcac2015).

State provides $9.4 million for small community wastewater and drinking water system improvements

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Meghan Trubee):

Thirty-two drinking water and wastewater systems in small communities throughout Colorado will receive a total of $9.4 million to fund planning, design or construction of public water systems or treatment works necessary for the protection of public health and water quality.

Governmental agencies, nonprofit public water systems and counties representing unincorporated areas with fewer than 5,000 people were eligible to apply for grants up to $850,000. Funding was provided by the state Legislature under Senate Bill 09-165 and SB14-025.

In the event a recipient cannot accept the grant in whole or part, available funds will be distributed per the small communities grant program rules. This list is subject to change based on contract negotiations.

cpdheawardssmallwaterprojects

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Three Pueblo communities are among 32 entities receiving $9.4 million in state grants for planning, design or construction of water projects.

The Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment announced the funding this week. It is available to small towns or water systems serving fewer than 5,000 people.

Boone, located east of Pueblo, will receive $850,000, which will be used to upgrade its water system.
The town is looking for an alternative source, because its wells suffer from water quality issues, said Mayor Robert Ferriter.

Rye, located southwest of Pueblo, will get $440,000 for its water system. The town has been improving its water system since 2009, when it was under a boil order.

The Avondale Water and Sanitation District will get $596,057 to make sewer improvements.

“We were happy to get it,” said Bert Potestio, president of the district. The grant will be matched by local funds and used to lift water to treatment lagoons. “We plan to start work as soon as possible.”
Several other area water and sanitation providers also are tabbed to receive funds. They include: Pritchett, $185,000; Manassa, $15,000; La Veta, $850,000; Manzanola, $253,328; Baca Grande Water and Sanitation, $88,300; Costilla County (Garcia Water), $99,816; Sheridan Lake Water Co., $609,568; Patterson Valley Water Co., $150,500; Fowler, $304,355; and Bristol Water and Sanitation, $94,500.

Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network — The Sterling Journal-Advocate

CoAgMet Station Map via the Colorado Climate Center
CoAgMet Station Map via the Colorado Climate Center

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Wilma Trujillo):

In the early 1990s, a group of plant pathologists from Colorado State University and a group of researchers from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Water Management Unit recognized the need to collect localized weather data in irrigated agricultural areas across the state. The plant pathologists wanted weather data for the prediction of disease outbreaks in high value crops, such as onions and potatoes, while ARS researchers needed almost the same information to provide irrigation scheduling recommendations.

These two groups formed an informal coalition and invited others in the agricultural research community to join. They wanted input into the kinds and frequency of measurements that would be most useful to a broad spectrum of agricultural customers. Eight stations were established in major irrigated areas of eastern Colorado. These stations had a standardized set of instruments collecting and recoding data with a standard data logger program. As interest grew and funds were made available, primarily from potential users, more stations were added. Currently, there are 79 weather stations across the state in the Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network (CoAgMet).

Initially, the station sites were located near established phone service to allow daily collection of data. Currently, the data retrieval is through cellular phone service. Today, this methodology is widely available, reliable and inexpensive. Commercial software is used to download data from the stations shortly after midnight to a USDA-ARS computer, from which it is then distributed to interested users.

As the network grew, the Colorado Climate Center (CCC) at Colorado State University became interested in the data collected, and subsequently took over the daily data collection and quality assessment. The CCC added Internet delivery and a wide range of data delivery options (fax, email, text and voice messages, etc.), and continues to improve the user interface in response to a growing interest in the data collected.

Data collected by the network is also available online at http://www.coagmet.com. Weather records date back to 1992 for the oldest stations. The home page of CoAgMet provides links to weather information descriptions of various aspects of the network. For example, there is a link to a list of the weather sensors typically installed on a CoAgMet weather station and their measurement characteristics. Another link provides a resizable map of all the stations and can help find the one(s) nearest your location.

Also the link “Monthly Summaries” provides users the option of selecting a year and a month for a specific station, plus setting options for calculating growing degree days (GDD). The link ‘Hourly Data Plots’ allows users to plot temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, soil temperature, and solar radiation for a single day or up to an entire year at a selected station.

CoAgMet also provides daily crop water use or evapotranspiration (ET) reports. Evapotranspiration reports from CoAgMet can be used to improve irrigation management and conserve limited water resources by fine-tuning irrigation timing and amount.

The weather stations have been also classified as partially irrigated, fully irrigated or dryland. These designations describe the predominant land use in the immediate vicinity of the weather station and/or the vegetation growing around the site.

For more information on CoAgMet, please visit: http://coagmet.com/. There is also a useful fact sheet ( http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/crops/04723.html) that gives more details on how to generate and use the Crop ET Reports.

#cwcac2016: 2016 Aspinall Water Leader of the Year

This year’s Aspinall Water Leader of the Year Award goes to: Harold Miskel. He had a long career with Colorado Springs Utilities. He currently is on the board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District but plans to retire from the board soon.

Greg Hobbs sent me his invocation from today’s Aspinall Award Luncheon via email:

May we please bow our heads as we pray for our dear friend,
Diane Hoppe, Aspinall Award winner who is in the hospital today,

As we gather today in each other’s good company
to share the abundance of all gifts we receive,
this food we eat, this water we drink, this conversation
we generate through the labor and fruit
of the commitment of others.

May the story of our lives continue to invigorate the Colorado
we inherit, love, and bequeath. In the open space of
opportunity, may we learn to practice grace and respect,
with self-correcting wit and humility in our slips and falls

Righting the wrongs we do unto others and celebrating
another chance to engage in what we may and what we will.

Lord, we thank you.

R.I.P. Paul Kantner (Can you tell me please, who won the war?)

Paul Kantner, of Jefferson Airplane/Starship poses for a portrait at Cafe Trieste -- via The San Francisco Chronicle
Paul Kantner, of Jefferson Airplane/Starship poses for a portrait at Cafe Trieste — via The San Francisco Chronicle

From the Associated Press (Hillel Italie) via The Denver Post:

Paul Kantner, a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane who stayed with the seminal San Francisco band through its transformation from 1960s hippies to 1970s hit makers as the eventual leader of successor group Jefferson Starship, has died at age 74.

Kantner, who drew upon his passion for politics and science fiction to help write such rock classics as “Wooden Ships” and “Volunteers,” died on Thursday of organ failure and septic shock. He had been admitted to a San Francisco hospital after falling ill earlier in the week, his former girlfriend and publicist Cynthia Bowman, the mother of one of his three children, told The Associated Press.

The guitarist and songwriter had survived close brushes with death as a younger man, including a motorcycle accident during the early 1960s and a 1980 cerebral hemorrhage, and he recovered from a heart attack last year.

Few bands were so identified with San Francisco or so well-embodied the idealism and hedonism of the late ’60s as Jefferson Airplane, its message boldly stated on buttons and bumper stickers that read “THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE LOVES YOU.”

The Airplane advocated sex, psychedelic drugs, rebellion and a communal lifestyle, operating out of an eccentric, Colonial Revival house near Haight-Ashbury. Its members supported various political and social causes, tossed out LSD at concerts and played at both the Monterey and Woodstock festivals.

#cwcac2016: Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention (Day 2)

delphcarpenters1922coloradoriverbasinmapwithmeadandpowell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell via Greg Hobbs

Well the first day of general sessions at the convention was a hoot. One of the highlights was the Patty Limerick led panel “Historians to the rescue” that explored the role of history in telling #Colorado’s water story. Conclusion? Historians tell a good story and historical context is important.

Follow along on Twitter, hash tag #cwcac2016 (@CoyoteGulch).

Note: I fat-fingered the hash tag on a few Tweets late in the day Thursday. I used #cwcac2015 in error. Sorry.

Crystal River via Aspen Journalism
Crystal River via Aspen Journalism

#Drought news: No change in drought depiction for #Colorado this past week

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

Summary

The big story last week and this is Winter Storm Jonas as the resultant recovery continues across a good portion of the Atlantic Seaboard. Another round of good precipitation fell across the west coast as well, keeping the El Niño moisture train rolling from northern California up to Washington. Resultant improvements are noted along both coasts on this week’s map. Once again, conditions continue to worsen across most of Hawaii this week, noted by the expansion of both D0 and D1 on several islands…

Great Plains and South

Short-term dryness has led to some minor growth of D0 in west Texas (western Big Bend area) and in extreme southern Texas north of Brownsville in the McAllen area. The rest of the region remains unchanged this week with very little in the way of dryness or drought being shown over most of the country’s interior…

West

Slow and steady recovery continues for parts of the West this week after another beneficial round of precipitation brought with it liquid equivalent totals running from 5 to 8 inches or more in some spots in the northern Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges. In eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle, D0-D1 has been reduced this week with improvement noted by an eastward push of the dryness and drought.

There are finally some signs that some modest dents in the armor of the multi-year drought in California are appearing. Now that Water-Year-to-date precipitation has eliminated most of California’s short-term (“S”) drought (now contained to just the west-central coast), continued recovery in soil moisture, long-term average streamflow, well above normal snow water content (150-180% of normal) and a trend up in reservoir levels has led to some slight improvement in the water supply situation and to the long-term (“L”) drought in northern California as well. There has been improvement and a push of D0-D3 eastward off the coast from San Francisco up to Eureka. In addition, an area in the northern Sierra Nevada range has moved from D4 to D3 given above-normal snowpack and snow water content on the Water Year.

In what must seem like a broken record (or perhaps a repeat track on Spotify if you fancy the digital realm) we must stress that this doesn’t mean the region is out of drought, as many of the larger reservoirs in northern California and southern Oregon are still below half of capacity. That is the reason for the long-term hydrological “L” label remaining well entrenched over the region at this time. Relative to last year, though, the trend is going in the right direction for now with a good chunk of the snow season still left to play out over the next two months. In fact, California’s Department of Water Resources just announced this week that state water project delivery allocations are being upped from 10 percent of requests to 15 percent for the calendar year. The full release can be found here: http://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2016/012616allocation.pdf

After a mixed bag of changes last week, status quo is noted this week in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days (valid through February 2), temperatures are expected to run well above normal (6-12 degrees or more) for virtually all locales east of the Rocky Mountains. Parts of the Pacific NW and Great Basin can expect slightly cooler-than-normal temperatures over the same period. As for precipitation, the recent favorable pattern remains as chances for good precipitation are expected across a good portion of the West, particularly the west coast along the coastal ranges, Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges. Central Florida is also looking likely to have good rains over this period. The country’s mid-section looks to be dry, all in all.

The 6-10 day outlooks (February 2-6, 2016) are calling for better chances of below-normal temperatures across the middle two-thirds of the country with above-normal readings likely along both coasts and in Alaska. Precipitation prospects look best in the Pacific NW, central Plains, Midwest, Great Lakes, Florida and the Northeast. Below-normal precipitation is more likely in southern California, the Desert Southwest, most of Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley and Delta. The interior of Alaska also looks to remain dry over this time frame while the southwestern and southern coasts will likely see above-normal precipitation.

#cwcac2016: Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention

Via Loretta Lohman. She writes: A Denise Rue-Pastin classic, appropriate for this week and others coming up.
Via Loretta Lohman. She writes: A Denise Rue-Pastin classic, appropriate for this week and others coming
up.

I’ll be at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention today. Follow along on Twitter, hash tag #cwcac2016 (@CoyoteGulch).

The convention is all about implementing the Colorado Water Plan.

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

Is Springs’ offer voter-proof? — 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):

History shows massive projects take willpower

Here’s a little-mentioned fact: 97 percent of Colorado Springs residents and businesses paid their stormwater bills in 2009. It generated about $15.8 million.

City Council decided Ballot Issue 300 — Doug Bruce’s “Rain Tax” — called for the elimination of the stormwater enterprise. Against legal opinion, council voted to end it twice: Once to phase it out over two years and again to end it immediately.

At the same time, council decided without a vote of the public to build an $825 million water delivery line that has the potential to increase already damaging flows on Fountain Creek — a project where the full potential will not be needed for years, according to statements recently made in Pueblo by Colorado Springs Utilities officials.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers came to Pueblo this week, shaking his head over the short-sightedness of past politicians, and assuring Pueblo City Council and county commissioners that this would not happen again.

“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told the Pueblo City Council. “This is a long-term, sustainable solution.”

Suthers and the Colorado Springs City Council are offering at least $19 million annually, including a $3 million contribution from Utilities. He said that could be cemented in place with a new agreement with Pueblo County. If the economy doesn’t tank again, it could be more.

“What’s different?”

Suthers said. “Let’s set up a program that cannot be ripped away by voters.”

Pledged against that figure are “excess revenues” paid by Colorado Springs Utilities to the city each year.

The type of payments labeled as “gifts and subsidies” in the actual wording of Ballot Issue 300 in 2009.
The stormwater enterprise established in 2005 was created like most, if not all, of the stormwater enterprises in Colorado, by a vote of the City Council. Pueblo’s had been created in 2003 in the same manner and was the first in the Arkansas River watershed.

Considered under state law to be a fee, not a tax, stormwater charges in Denver and Littleton had survived Supreme Court challenges.

“Council and I agreed we have to be better neighbors than in the past,” Suthers told Pueblo County commissioners.

As proof, he offered that a new police substation and fire station were delayed so that $8 million could be added to another $8 million in retiring bond payments to fund stormwater.

Suthers indicated it would not be possible to raise the $50 million demanded in a Pueblo City Council resolution.

However, by contrast, Colorado Springs Utilities raised $825 million in five years through selling bonds to build the Southern Delivery System water pipeline.

The recently revised figure represents a savings of $156 million over the initial cost projections in 2010. Water customers pay off the bill through monthly fees.

Colorado Springs Councilman Andy Pico, who chairs the Utilities board, told commissioners the savings can’t be used to pay for stormwater because the money was never actually collected.

As Pueblo Board of Water Works President Nick Gradisar pointed out last week, SDS was not put up to a vote of the people, but approved by the same City Council that rejected stormwater. When it was first considered, it would have meant 12 percent rate increases for five years. Later, those were reduced by managing gas and electric rates as well as lower costs.

Additionally, SDS Project Director John Fredell assured Pueblo County commissioners the full impact of SDS would not be felt for years, as only about 5 million gallons per day would run through it after it is first turned on, compared with 50 million gallons per day at full capacity.

COGA statement on new COGCC rules

Here’s the release from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (Dan Haley):

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners – my name is Dan Haley, President and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA). Thank you for allowing me a few minutes to speak to you regarding the important and complex rules that are before you today.

COGA is not new to rulemakings and engaging in our state’s ever-changing regulatory process. Over the last several years, COGA has stepped up to work with the administration, local governments, citizens and, other stakeholders to achieve constructive, meaningful, and practical solutions to tough issues faced in setback, groundwater, enforcement, citizen complaint, spill reporting, and floodplain rulemakings by this Commission. The outcome of these rulemakings resulted in the oil and gas industry operating under one of the most stringent regulatory environments in the nation.

Again, we find ourselves working in coordination with numerous stakeholders in yet another significant rulemaking – this one geared to the implementation of two of the unanimously approved recommendations by the members of the Governor’s Task Force, many of which are parties you will hear from today.

COGA fully supported the 9 recommendations submitted by the Governor’s Task Force in March 2015. In fact, our members said yes when the Governor asked industry to serve on the Task Force to help find ways for state and local governments to better collaborate and coordinate efforts for oil and gas operations. It was in the interest of all parties on the Governor’s Task Force to have a meaningful dialogue and work hard to seek ways in which the concerns of local jurisdictions, operators, and the state could be addressed and to provide constructive recommendations for policy on how best to achieve these goals.

In the end, all 21 task force members voted to adopt the language in Task Force Recommendations 17 and 20. Those recommendations were thoughtful and meaningful in approach and, by their unanimous support, addressed many of the issues before you today. These recommendations would bring a big change in the way oil and gas locations are permitted in Colorado. The changes proposed in Recommendation #17 are significant because for the first time:

  • The State would have a process and a standard for reviewing whether operators have worked in good faith to achieve agreement with local government on issues of concern about large facilities in urbanized areas.
  • There would be a record of negotiation to help the State decide what site specific mitigations may be necessary to respond to local concerns.
  • There would be established expectations that provide all parties with an understanding of when and with what conditions state permits will be considered.
  • These are meaningful changes.

    And with regard to Recommendation #20, for the first time, the State would identify parameters for industry to share longer-term planning information with local governments.

    COGA supports this rulemaking, however, maintains that the COGCC proposed rules must be modified to uphold the intent, meaning, and integrity of the task force recommendations.

    If Recommendations 17 and 20 were written the same as the draft rules before you, the industry representatives and maybe even a few non-industry members would NOT have voted in favor of the recommendations, and as such would not have passed out of the Task Force. In fact, as you will hear during the Industry presentation, there are certain elements of the rules that were outright rejected by the task force.

    That is why today, COGA, along with CPA and CPC, will be presenting an alternative rule that is based on the COGCC’s proposed rules, but reflects needed modifications in order to respect the intent, meaning and integrity of the actual recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force. The industry’s alternate proposed rule is based on the 3 C’s of Clarity, Consistency, and Certainty – you have heard this in prior rulemakings and we will explain in later testimony how our alternate rule follows the 3 C’s. Industry’s proposed rule maintains the intent and purpose of the unanimous recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force, while providing language that allows for the practicable and realistic application of an early evaluation process.

    Please keep in your mind that, in addition to the two recommendations before you today, industry task force members voted to support the other 7 recommendations, and COGA communicated and supported those recommendations to the legislature, as necessary. A lot is getting done, and today we are talking about two additional important recommendations to be implemented for further improvements in the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas resources.

    COGA recognizes that this is a very important hearing and that you have heard and will hear a lot of testimony, from many perspectives. We appreciate your patience and consideration and also want to say thank you to the staff for their very hard work on these tough issues. COGA asks that you strongly consider our alternative rule as presented later today by Ms. Jost as we do believe our proposal provides clarity, consistency, and certainty for all stakeholders, not just Industry.”

    Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau
    Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

    #ColoradoRiver: Cloud-seeding supporters are hopeful efforts will fill aquifers and reservoirs — The Durango Herald

    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    To seed a cloud in Southwest Colorado, employees with Western Weather Consultants light generators that send vaporized silver iodide up to the base of clouds. The silver iodide forms an artificial ice nuclei and attracts supercooled water to form snowflakes.

    In an ideal situation, the cloud would release excess water that would otherwise pass over the region, said Eric Hjermstad, co-owner and director of field operations for the company.

    “It’s meant to add just a little bit more per storm,” Busto said.

    A study in Wyoming conducted from 2005 to 2014 found cloud seeding can add 5 to 15 percent more precipitation.

    During a dry storm or a dry year it’s harder to make a difference, he said.

    Seeding during El Niño can help build snowpack to replenish aquifers and help fill reservoirs such as Lake Powell, Hjermstad said.

    It’s an investment that is supported by regional water agencies and ski resorts that paid $237,900 this season, according to the Southwestern Water Conservation District. In this area, Western Weather operates about 36 generators from Pagosa Springs to Telluride, Hjermstad said.

    This winter, the cloud-seeding supporters are looking to upgrade their efforts through better generators and potentially a radiometer that helps gauge the water and temperature of clouds before seeding, said Ken Curtis, engineer for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

    While he said there’s always skepticism around cloud seeding, the Wyoming study showed that cloud seeding can work if the silver iodide is delivered in the right place under the right conditions.

    “We know it works, but you need to do best practices,” Curtis said.

    Last week, the Southwest Basin Roundtable granted the group about $55,600 to hire a consultant to help select equipment and the right areas to place it.

    The state will review and finalize the grant in the coming months, he said.

    The strategic plan to upgrade equipment will likely take two years because there are 12 agencies and companies involved in funding.

    EPA blamed for delay on Superfund in Silverton — The Durango Herald

    Cement Creek aerial photo -- Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo)

    Frustration for failing to meet a Jan. 31 deadline to be considered for a Superfund listing this spring was evident Tuesday night in Silverton, but the town’s hired attorneys assured elected officials negotiations have not derailed.

    Meetings early this week were supposed to lead up to a Thursday decision on whether Silverton Town trustees and San Juan County commissioners would direct Gov. John Hickenlooper to request Superfund status for the mining network north of town responsible for degraded water quality in the Animas River.

    Instead, that vote was canceled Monday, and a Town Hall hearing on Tuesday saw much of the same rhetoric in meetings past: the need for more information.

    Jeff Robbins and Paul Sunderland, attorneys representing the town of Silverton in Superfund negotiations, chalked up the delay to the Environmental Protection Agency’s slow-moving bureaucracy.

    “We’ve given them our position,” Sunderland said. “The ball is now in the EPA’s court.”

    Three points of contention stand between federal intervention on the mines loading heavy metals into the Animas watershed: the actual boundaries of the Superfund, a reimbursement for costs associated with the Gold King Mine blowout, and an assurance local entities will have a say in future decision-making.

    Robbins said the chance of making the EPA’s March review of Superfund sites is “very much still in play,” but the process is solely contingent on hearing back from the federal agency on the unsettled terms.

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

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through January 24, 2016.
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through January 24, 2016.

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

    #ColoradoRiver: Navajo Nation Could Settle Years-Long Water Rights Issue — KJZZ

    Navajo Nation map via NavajoApparel.com
    Navajo Nation map via NavajoApparel.com

    From KJZZ (Stina Sieg):

    An agreement to settle water rights claims by the Navajo Nation is going before tribal lawmakers this week, and it’s been a long time coming.

    The Navajo Nation’s proposed settlement for claims to water from the upper Colorado River Basin in Utah has been in the works since 2003. The plan would give the tribe more than 80,000 acre-feet of water per year that could be drawn from aquifers, Lake Powell and the San Juan River. It would also mean the Navajo Nation would waive any future claims to water from the basin.

    The settlement calls for the federal government to set aside $200 million to develop water infrastructure. Utah has agreed to chip in $8 million. The Navajo Nation’s water would come from Utah’s unused share of the Colorado River under a multi-state compact that left tribes out.

    From the Associated Press via the Scottsbluff Star-Herald:

    The bill passed 13-7 Tuesday without any debate and with few people in attendance at the Navajo Nation Council chambers in Window Rock. Lawmakers debated the settlement in executive session Monday and held a work session last week.

    The settlement would give the tribe 81,500 acre-feet annually of Utah’s unused share of water. The Navajo Nation could draw the water from aquifers, and the San Juan River and its tributaries. It also could divert water from Lake Powell, although it has no plans to do so.

    The Navajo communities in Utah currently use only a fraction of the water allocated in the settlement. But the agreement will allow for economic development and leasing of water to entities off the reservation, and the tribe wouldn’t lose any water it did not put to use, according to the settlement.

    The bill now goes to tribal President Russell Begaye. It also needs approval from the Utah Legislature, which has passed a resolution in favor of the settlement, and the U.S. Interior Department. It would not take effect until Congress appropriates about $200 million for water infrastructure projects, including wells, pipelines, and water treatment plants.

    “If the amount of water allocated is finalized, then we would support the general idea,” Begaye said earlier Tuesday. “We do not intend to only utilize the water for drinking or housing purposes. We would also like to see it benefit business startups, tribal offices, schools and other programs on the Navajo Nation.”

    American Indian water rights settlements nationwide have cost the federal government $4.3 billion, the Interior Department said. Congress enacted most of the 31 settlements, while the others came about through federal agencies or court order. Four are pending in Congress for tribes in Montana, Oregon and California, the Interior Department said.

    The Navajo Nation settlement would resolve one of the largest outstanding water rights claims in Utah, officials said.

    Navajos living on the Utah portion of the reservation are served by a mix of groundwater and surface water. But tribal officials say it’s not good quality. Much of the groundwater is contaminated with arsenic, and it’s costly to treat water from the San Juan River, said Jason John, principal hydrologist with the tribe’s Department of Water Resources.

    For Utah, the settlement provides certainty in planning for future water uses, said Boyd Clayton, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Rights. The settlement’s share for the Navajo Nation is not being used by the state and is flowing down the river, he said.

    “We feel like we gave up a fair share of water,” Clayton said. “We’re putting some money in the settlement to actually develop projects so they can physically get drinking water.”

    Utah agreed to chip in $8 million, some of which already has been set aside.

    The pact faced little opposition publicly, a stark difference between water rights negotiations in Arizona and New Mexico. Navajo efforts to secure water from the lower Colorado River basin in Arizona and the Little Colorado River through settlements have failed. Navajo lawmakers who represent communities in the lower Colorado River basin in Arizona were among those who voted against the Utah settlement Tuesday.

    A massive pipeline project in New Mexico that would draw from the San Juan River is moving forward under a settlement, although non-Indian water users have an appeal pending in the state Court of Appeals.

    The Navajo Nation’s alternative to settling in Utah would have been to take its case to court.
    “People will say, ‘Let’s wait, things will get better,'” said John, the tribal hydrologist. “That’s one opinion, but the facts right now show there will be more demand on these water supplies in the future.”

    SDS: Water treatment plant nearly finished — the Colorado Springs Independent

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

    It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…

    …a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.

    SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”

    […]

    There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.

    But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.

    The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”

    While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”

    He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.

    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
    Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

    #Colorado Farm Show recap

    From The Greeley Tribune (Kelly Ragan):

    Water seeped into several presentations Tuesday at the annual Colorado Farm Show at Island Grove Regional Park for Colorado Produce day.

    Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for Western Growers braved east coast storms, trudged through the snow and caught a plane to tell attendees how congressional action could affect them this year.

    “Trying to do something around water is a big thing,” Nuxoll said. “Every producer can benefit.”

    Robert Sakata, president of the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and owner of Sakata Farms in Brighton, moderated the presentations. Here’s some of what they discussed:

    WHAT’S WORKING?

    Sakata said he believes protecting the current system of water rights is instrumental to maintaining inter-industry order and cooperation.

    “The key is to protect the prior appropriation system because we have a long history of that, and it would send the whole thing into turmoil if we got rid of that,” Sakata said.

    WHAT’S NEXT?

    “Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet have been working to identify and push for ideas to benefit Colorado,” Nuxoll said.

    The senators are working to facilitate a multi-state water package to bring to the floor in 2016. Any water legislation will be finished within the first three months of the year, Nuxoll said.

    The problem is that people forget drought quickly when snowpack is decent, Nuxoll said.

    A combination of short-term memory and a presidential election year will create a tumultuous climate for water legislation. Once presidential candidates are chosen, Nuxoll fears issues that don’t draw a crowd will fall by the wayside.

    “You talk to farmers, and they remember the difficulties of recent drought,” Nuxoll said. “We’ve got to make our politicians remember. It won’t be on TV.”

    Colorado is a focal point for water discussion as all aspects of heavy water users — urban, agriculture, energy and recreation — coexist.

    “Colorado is a good spot because it has good advocates and a well-vetted water plan,” Nuxoll said.

    WHAT’S POSSIBLE?

    Mike Bartolo, director of Colorado State University Arkansas Valley Research Station in Rocky Ford spoke on water research.

    Bartolo expects research in efficient drip irrigation and high-selenium water usage to be explored in 2016.

    Integrating quality water with crop production links the more abstract concepts of water to the consumer.

    “The quality aspect is something new and exciting,” Bartolo said. “We’ve got a health-conscious population in Colorado. We’ve got consumers becoming more engaged in how their food is produced. They want to understand, and they’re asking about farmers.”

    Westwide SNOTEL map January 26, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL map January 26, 2016 via the NRCS.

    Expand Rio Grande del Norte, National Monument?

    Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management
    Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    President Barack Obama created the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in 2013.

    The 242,000-acre monument takes in the Rio Grande Gorge and spreads out across the sagebrush and grasslands of the Taos Plateau before stopping at the Colorado state line.

    Now, a Conejos County group is saying he didn’t go far enough.

    Conejos County Clean Water has begun a push to expand the monument into Colorado on the rolling hills and mesas that line the west bank of the Rio Grande.

    Although the group faces concerns from the San Luis Valley’s water managers and outright opposition from a local commissioner, it believes the expansion would protect many of the land’s current uses and boost tourism.

    “More people are inclined to see it and more inclined to visit,” said Michael Armenta, a project coordinator for the group.

    Armenta said neighboring Taos County, N.M., did see an uptick in its lodging tax since the creation of the monument.

    The monument, as it does in New Mexico, would exist only on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

    “All private lands would remain private,” Armenta said.

    But the group hopes to see the monument take in the Punche Valley, the Pinon Hills and Flat Top Mesa.

    And they hope to see similar allowances on this side of the state line that allow for hunting, grazing and the harvest of firewood and pinyon nuts.

    If the same prohibitions on the monument are extended to the expansion, oil and gas development and mining would be barred from taking place.

    Jim O’Donnell, a Pueblo native, lives in Taos and worked on the establishment of the monument in New Mexico.

    He now works for the Friends of the Rio Grande del Norte and has explored much of the monument gathering information for the monument’s management plan.

    He’s also banged around some of the areas targeted for expansion in Conejos County.

    “The landscape is just an extension,” he said. “It’s so similar.”

    Those similarities include large expanses of grasslands with pinyon and juniper forests on high points.

    Likewise, both sides of the state line include important corridors for wildlife heading between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains.

    And both sides of the state line include evidence of prehistoric use in the form of rock art, as well as use by the Hispanic land grant communities that nearly surround the monument.
    But Conejos County Clean Water and its allies will have work to do to reach a designation.
    Armenta said the group has gathered 350 letters of support, including the backing of three towns in the county.

    It has yet to reach out to the state’s congressional delegation.

    Moreover, the idea faces staunch opposition from at least one Conejos County commissioner.

    “I am 100 percent against it,” Commissioner John Sandoval said.

    Sandoval believes there are enough restrictions already on the county’s 501,000 acres of federal land.

    He also is uneasy with the process leading to monument designation, noting that during the original push to create the monument, o™fficials at the Department of Interior failed to reach out to Conejos County even though it bordered the monument.

    Water managers in the San Luis Valley have also taken notice of the push to expand the monument.
    Although the presidential proclamation that established the monument in New Mexico specifically ruled out any reservation of water, valley o™cials are not taking for granted that it will be included in any expansion.

    “If you declare a national monument, you carry with it the implication of a reservation of water sufficient to fulfill the monument,” David Robbins, an attorney with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said.

    He addressed the district’s board Tuesday about a draft letter to the area’s congressional delegation regarding the proposed expansion.

    Both Robbins and the district have played a significant role in preserving the primacy of local control over water in the establishment of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the creation of national park status for the Great Sand Dunes.

    The district also pushed Congress to create the Rio Grande Natural Area, which lines a 33-mile stretch of the river that includes the area targeted for monument expansion.

    Robbins suggested the district might be able to cooperate if any potential monument designation would pull back from the Rio Grande and the Conejos rivers, both of which carry requirements to deliver water downstream under the Rio Grande Compact.

    But for the time being, the district will keep its concerns clear.

    “I think we need to step up and say there are these problems if the monument is proposed to intersect or intertwine with either the Rio Grande or the Conejos, then the water interests in the valley should certainly be willing to oppose the monument in that form,” Robbins said.

    The latest newsletter from The City of Greeley’s Water Conservation Program is hot off the presses

    waterfromtap
    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    If you notice an unexplained large spike in water use or want to find a way to lower your water bill, it may be time for a free water audit. It’s a personalized consultation on your water use. Our auditors will also install new showerheads and faucet aerators. Sign up today!

    CWCB: January 2016 #Drought Update

    From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):

    Snowpack through the first quarter of the water year (October- September) was above normal for nearly the entire state and well above normal in the San Juan Mountains. A cool and wet December helped to alleviate abnormally dry conditions over the majority of the state. Long-term forecast favor the state for continued above average snow accumulation over the coming months; and with 45% of the snow accumulation season still remaining, water providers have no immediate concerns:

    • The 2015 calendar year was the warmest on record globally, the second warmest on record nationally and the 3rd warmest on record in Colorado. Colorado ended the year 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 100 year average for temperature. January to-date has been below average for temperature statewide.
    • Statewide SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is 104% of normal. Both November and December saw above average precipitation statewide, with nearly all basins receiving above average precipitation in both November and December. The Yampa/ White basin is the exception to this, but as of January 19th was at 98% of normal snowpack.
    • Reservoir Storage statewide is at above normal at 110%. The Arkansas basin has the highest storage levels in the state; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels, just slightly below normal. However, the Rio Grande levels are the highest they have been since 2009.
    • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is near or above average across the majority of the state, with the southern half of the state faring better than the northern. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts. January 1st forecasts were normal to above normal in all basins, except the Yampa/White. Still, forecasts within the Yampa/ White ranged from a maximum of 103% on the Laramie River near Woods, to a minimum of 80% on the Little Snake River near Dixon.
    • El Niño conditions remain strong and should continue through spring. A recent large westerly wind anomaly may help keep the El Nino going and even cause a second peak. Assuming conditions persist as expected precipitation chances will be increased in March and April.
    • Long term projections indicate a transition to La Nina conditions later this year. While La Nina conditions typically result in lower precipitation especially across the southern portion of the state; the first year following large El Nino events, like we are currently experiencing, is more often associated with good snow accumulation totals than not.

    CMU: Tamarisk beetle (Diorhabda spp.) in the #ColoradoRiver basin — synthesis of an expert panel forum

    tamariskbeetlestudyreport

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

    In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the release of a biological control agent, the tamarisk beetle (Diorhabda spp.), to naturally control tamarisk populations and provide a less costly, and potentially more effective, means of removal compared with mechanical and chemical methods. The invasive plant tamarisk (Tamarix spp.; saltcedar) occupies hundreds of thousands of acres of river floodplains and terraces across the western half of the North American continent. Its abundance varies, but can include dense monocultures, and can alter some physical and ecological processes associated with riparian ecosystems.

    The tamarisk beetle now occupies hundreds of miles of rivers throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) and is spreading into the Lower Basin. The efficacy of the beetle is evident, with many areas repeatedly experiencing tamarisk defoliation.

    While many welcome the beetle as a management tool, others are concerned by the ecosystem implications of widespread defoliation of a dominant woody species. As an example, defoliation may possibly affect the nesting success of the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus).

    In January 2015, the Tamarisk Coalition convened a panel of experts to discuss and present information on probable ecological trajectories in the face of widespread beetle presence and to consider opportunities for restoration and management of riparian systems in the Colorado River Basin (CRB). An in-depth description of the panel discussion follows.

    panelfindingtamariskbeetlecmurepor012016

    The panel concluded that as the tamarisk beetle moves into the Lower Colorado River Basin (LCRB), the selection of management actions to support a transition to a healthy riparian system will depend on the unique suite of characteristics of each sub-basin and the goals of basin managers.
    The panel emphasized the importance of basin-specific planning, the necessity of monitoring and inventorying to inform management, and that adaptive management practices will be essential for success relative to varying goals. The panel developed a framework to assist managers in selecting appropriate management strategies and identified future research needed to further inform restoration approaches and management decisions.

    2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition
    2014 Tamarisk leaf beetle distribution map via the Tamarisk Coalition

    #AnimasRiver: Silverton’s vote on Superfund letter won’t happen this week as planned — The Denver Post

    From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

    Silverton’s elected leaders will not decide this week on whether to approve a draft letter to Colorado’s governor supporting Superfund cleanup for the area’s leaching, abandoned mines…

    Lawyers representing the two groups have been working to finalize language in the letter in the best interest of the community. Specifically, leaders want to clarify boundaries of any federal cleanup sites, reimbursement for costs incurred by the town and assurances any impacts will be mitigated.

    “The talks are proceeding slower than we had hoped and while we have made good progress, the team is not ready to present a package to the county commissioners and town board this week,” said Mark Eddy, spokesman for the town and county. “There are still important details to be worked out.”

    On Tuesday night, the group working on the letter will present to the town council members and county commissioners and the public will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment…

    “The team is continuing its discussions with the state and EPA and everyone is working hard to try make the timeline so if there is a decision to move forward the site can be considered for listing by the EPA in March,” Eddy said.

    The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo via www.terraprojectdiaries.com)
    The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esm Cadiente http://www.terraprojectdiaries.com)

    Fort Lyon Canal dry-up meeting postponed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Shareholders overflowing with questions; date moved to Feb. 11-12

    The Fort Lyon Canal has delayed its meeting on issues surrounding a plan by Arkansas River Farms to dry up 6,700 acres of irrigated farms.

    “We were getting too many letters that said people didn’t have enough time to prepare,” said Dale Mauch, a Fort Lyon board member.

    The meeting was scheduled for Thursday and Friday, but now has been moved to Feb. 11-12, beginning at 9 a.m. each day at St. Mary’s School in Las Animas.

    So far, about 29 Fort Lyon shareholders have indicated they want more information and intend to ask questions about the project, which was unveiled at the canal company’s annual meeting in December. Their issues center around revegetation plans, the use of seep ditches to return water to the Arkansas River and how much water would be left in shared laterals, Mauch said.

    Karl Nyquist, Bill Grasmick and other Arkansas River Farms officials met with Fort Lyon shareholders in December to work through those issues before filing a change of use application in water court.

    Arkansas River Farms, an affiliate of C&A Companies and Resource Land Holdings, bought 14,600 acres of Fort Lyon farms from Pure Cycle Corp. for $53 million in August. Its plan is to install sprinklers on 5,700 acres of Fort Lyon ground, flood irrigate 2,700 acres and dry up the remainder. The water from the dryup would be used to augment wells further downstream.

    C&A is the parent company of GP Resources, which announced a plan in 2011 to pipe treated water from the Lamar Canal to the Front Range.

    That plan has been put on hold in favor of new plans for a large dairy in Prowers County continue. Right now, the company is growing feed for a dairy in Kansas.

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    COGCC approves new rules to enhance local government participation in locating and planning for oil and gas operations

    From email from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (Todd Hartman):

    The nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) today approved new rules that amplify the role of local governments in siting large oil and gas facilities near communities and further bridge the regulatory roles between state regulators and local jurisdictions.

    The regulations address two recommendations from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force. Specifically, the rules will:

    Provide earlier notice to local governments and opportunity for local officials to work with operators on the location of large oil and gas facilities adjacent to communities.
    Require additional mitigation measures and best management practices at these locations to address the potential impacts of oil and gas development activities.
    Require operators to share information with municipalities about future oil and gas development plans to encourage discussion and improve planning for both parties.
    Monday’s decision followed extensive public involvement, including three and a half days of testimony on the proposed rules dating to late last year, three stakeholder meetings in October and 11 statewide outreach meetings over the summer that included 39 local governments as well as several citizen and industry groups.

    “I appreciate the hard work of the COGCC staff and Commission to develop rules that implement the intent of the Task Force recommendations,” said Bernie Buescher, a Task Force member who supported the recommendations that led to the new rules. “The consultation and information sharing provisions reflect the desires of the Task Force to create more collaboration and communication between local governments and operators on large facilities near communities.”

    “The new rules provide meaningful opportunity for operators and local governments to negotiate siting issues early in the permitting process,” said Kirby Wynn, Oil and Gas liaison for Garfield County and representative for a coalition of Western Slope local governments at the rulemaking. “This was an extremely challenging rulemaking with diverse, entrenched, opinions. COGCC is to be commended for finding balance between the needs of local governments to consult with industry on well pad locations while providing sensible time limits for that consultation to occur.”

    “Going into this rulemaking, there were many expectations about its purpose, but the discussions among local and state governments, industry, and citizens have increased understanding on all sides of how local and state authority can be exercised in a complementary fashion to protect the public from oil and gas-related impacts,” said Barbara Green, an attorney specializing in local government issues and a participant in the rulemaking.

    The new rules are tied to recommendations (Nos. 17 and 20) of the Governor’s Oil and Task Force. On February 24, 2015 a two-thirds majority of the Task Force approved nine recommendations. Two of those required action by other agencies and two required action of the General Assembly. Five others required action by the COGCC, but only two of those five required a rulemaking process by the Commission.

    All documents, party statements, meeting audio and many other materials related to this rulemaking are housed on the COGCC website here: http://cogcc.state.co.us/reg.html#/rules/gtfrulemaking

    The rules approved Monday are the latest activity in a years-long effort at COGCC to strengthen its oversight of oil and gas development in Colorado. Since 2011, the COGCC and the administration of Governor John Hickenlooper has crafted rules to lengthen distances between drilling and neighborhoods, reduce the effects of light, noise and odors, protect groundwater, cut emissions, disclose hydraulic fracturing chemicals, increase spill reporting, significantly elevate penalties for operators violating Commission rules and toughen requirements for operating in floodplains.

    The Commission has also significantly expanded oversight staff, increased ease of access and volume of data available to the public, intensified collaboration with local governments, sponsored ongoing studies to increase understanding of impacts to air and water and adopted several formal policies to address health and safety issues brought about by new technologies and increased energy development in Colorado.

    From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission left several sides of the debate – including environmental and industry interests – dissatisfied with certain results, suggesting that the process struck a compromise…

    Under the rule-making that concluded Monday, operators are required to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities.

    Perhaps the biggest issue was defining a large-scale facility. The definition for large facilities was connected to “urban mitigation areas,” which include areas within 1,000 feet of at least 22 homes, a school or a hospital.

    Commissioners set the trigger for operators to consult with local governments in urban mitigation areas at eight new wells, or 4,000 new or existing storage barrels, not including water storage. The motion passed on a 5-4 vote.

    No operations in La Plata County would fall under the definition, according to the La Plata County Energy Council. The county has only two urban mitigation areas, which were built after natural gas wells were drilled.

    Some counties, including La Plata, pushed for counties to be included in the mandate to register with local governments, as opposed to just requiring registration with towns and cities. The COGCC ultimately included counties in the registration process.

    But La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a Democrat, who co-chaired the governor’s task force, said counties are left with a limited voice.

    “It doesn’t require companies to provide counties with the same information they will be required to provide municipalities,” Lachelt said. “This is an erosion of local control.”

    Having dedicated six months to the task force, Lachelt was disappointed with the end result. She said the commission fell short of providing better protections for communities.

    “This process did not achieve those goals,” Lachelt said. “We have much work to do in Colorado to protect communities and local control.”

    Not all of La Plata’s three county commissioners, however, are concerned. Republican Brad Blake believes counties have had and continue to have a strong voice.

    “I’m not thrilled with the outcome, or sad with the outcome, because I think we still have the authority to look into these issues,” Blake said.

    He and the La Plata County Energy Council were disappointed that the county joined an alliance of several Front Range governments – led by Boulder – in calling for stricter rules. They wanted La Plata to represent its own interests.

    “La Plata entered into rule making with counties that they have absolutely nothing in common with,” said Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council.

    She also pointed out that there are existing memorandums of understanding with operators and a quarterly notification process in La Plata County.

    “La Plata County operators have been the leaders in sharing information and participating in local land-use codes and complying with COGCC regulations for decades,” Zeller said.

    Meanwhile, anti-fracking interests have proposed a slew of ballot proposals for this year, including banning fracking altogether and mandating larger setbacks of wells.

    “It’s not just the wells or the drilling, or the noise and lights and traffic 24 hours a day,” said Shawndra Barry, with the newly-formed League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans. “It is being disenfranchised with no due process.”

    From The Denver Post (Emilie Rusch):

    A contentious state rule-making process intended to give local governments more say in the siting of large oil and gas facilities in their communities ended Monday as divided as it began almost a year and a half ago…

    But on the heart of the matter — how big a proposed oil and gas facility must be to trigger local government involvement — commissioners were split, just like the many industry representatives, environmental groups, local government officials and members of the public who testified during the marathon, day-long hearing.

    Commissioners voted 5-4 in favor of defining “large scale” as eight new wells or 4,000 barrels of new or existing storage, not including water.

    Tripping either threshold gives local governments a say on where the well pads can be sited and provides nearby residents with more stringent protections regarding noise, emissions, fire control, etc. — but only when the proposed facility falls within an urban mitigation area.

    Urban mitigation areas, as defined by state law, are areas where oil and gas operations are within 1,000 feet of 22 or more homes or a large facility such as a school or hospital.

    Whether the new rules, which will go into effect 20 days after publication by the secretary of state, are enough to head off future conflict remains to be seen.

    Industry representatives and advocates of local control expressed disappointment immediately after the commission’s vote.

    “We’re disappointed that the COGCC chose to go beyond the original task force recommendations, especially in these economic times with oil prices the way that they are and jobs suffering,” Colorado Petroleum Council executive director Tracee Bentley said.

    “But we do very much appreciate the process that COGCC staff ran. It was a very thorough and very well-vetted process,” she said. “We’ll continue like we always have, to work with local governments and stakeholders.”

    Oil and gas companies had advocated for a much higher 12-well or 9,600-barrel storage threshold.

    Allied Local Governments — a pro-local control consortium representing Brighton, Broomfield, Erie, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, and Boulder and La Plata counties — hoped the commission would err on the side of requiring more communication, triggering local input at 2,000 barrels of on-site storage including water, and 45,000 feet of well-bore length.

    At the beginning of Monday’s hearing, the COGCC staff proposed 90,000 feet of well-bore length and 2,000 barrels of storage, not including water.

    Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said she would not be surprised if a citizen-initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.

    “The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.

    Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org
    Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

    SDS: Mayor Suthers tries to calm Pueblo councilor/commissioner complaints

    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
    Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

    From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

    A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.

    Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…

    So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.

    Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”

    Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”

    “These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”

    The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

    Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.

    The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.

    Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.

    On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.

    “We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”

    Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.

    But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.

    He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.

    Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.

    Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.

    Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.

    On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.

    Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.

    And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…

    Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.

    While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.

    Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.

    Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.

    At stake is the city’s own water permit.

    The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.

    When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.

    “It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”

    Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.

    “I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”

    The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.

    “We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”

    The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.

    Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.

    Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.

    Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.

    Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.

    Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.

    “We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.

    As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”

    Boulder: Water, Today into the Future, February 17 — Brad Udall

    Colorado Chautagua dining hall via Wikipedia.
    Colorado Chautagua dining hall via Wikipedia.

    Click here to buy tickets. Here’s an excerpt:

    Globally, freshwater water availability is one of the defining issues of our time. Today, humans extract and use the majority of readily available freshwater supplies. Overuse is causing scarcity problems that are now regularly appearing worldwide, even in water abundant areas. To compound the situation, add climate change and population growth to our water quantity and quality issues that will significantly affect the next 80 years. What is the real nature of our water problem? What solutions are available?

    Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist and scholar at Colorado State University, will discuss these exact issues. He has studied water in the Western U.S. for over 30 years with an emphasis on the linkage between water and climate change. Udall will share his findings to define water, today into the future.

    #Snowpack news: Greens and blues across #Colorado, San Juans = 113%

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    It’s improbable, but not impossible, that a dead elk lying on a snow pillow could throw the state’s snow moisture forecast off course.

    “We inspect all the Snotel sites at least once a year during the summer. Some strange things happen,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, answering a query about the deceased critter in question — which may or may not be an urban (arboreal?) legend.

    Wetlaufer outlined the NRCS snow survey and water supply forecast programs for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

    “I know I don’t have to tell you that snow is the major supply of water in the West and in Colorado,” he said.

    The NRCS maintains 114 Snotel sites and 95 snow courses in Colorado. About 20 total are in the Arkansas River basin.

    Snow courses are measured the old-fashioned way by trekking in on snowshoes. Many have been measured since the 1930s.

    Snotel, short for snow telemetry, uses snow pillows to weigh and project the depth of snow at certain points, which are usually placed at traditional snow course locales. Temperature and precipitation readings are also taken.

    The readings can be taken constantly and are beamed to scientists by bouncing electronic signals off ionized meteor trails.

    Yes, seriously.

    The data are compared to historical means and used to compute the snow water equivalent, or the amount of water contained in the snow. The NRCS translates the information into various reports, maps, graphs and tables which are available online at state and federal websites.

    The products include interactive maps that show trends over a wide area, water forecasts for river basins or can be customized to zero in on just two or three stations, Wetlaufer said.

    Colorado is in good shape so far this year, about 112 percent of normal, thanks to storms in the past two weeks, he added.

    Westwide SNOTEL January 25, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Westwide SNOTEL January 25, 2016 via the NRCS.

    Stormwater control ‘lumped in’ with SDS — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek
    Fountain Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    John Fredell, project director for Southern Delivery System, last week tried to build a case that the EPA’s enforcement action on the failure of Colorado Springs to maintain stormwater control is unrelated to SDS.

    He told the Pueblo Board of Water Works that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS only applies to ensuring new development won’t increase Fountain Creek flows.

    “It’s not all lumped into SDS,” Fredell said, trying to convince the water board of his position.

    But a review of the history leading up to the county’s 1041 permit shows he is wrong.

    The first sentence of condition No. 23 in the 1041 permit indeed mimics the incremental approach taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, holding Colorado Springs liable for new development as a result of SDS. That’s exactly the point Fredell made.

    Further on in the condition, however, it states:

    “Regulations shall comprehensively address peak flow conditions, runoff volumes, and flood hazards, incorporating at a minimum all relevant components of existing regulations of Colorado Springs.”

    It also calls for maintaining all structures and complying with stormwater permits, things the EPA says Colorado Springs has not done.

    Presumably, those regulations would not apply only to new growth, but to the entire city of 186 square miles that already exists — 20 percent of the Fountain Creek watershed.

    Beyond that, Fountain Creek was always a big part of SDS.

    Stormwater permits and the need to control flows into Fountain Creek are mentioned in the 2004 intergovernmental agreement that was used to get support for SDS from the city of Pueblo and the Pueblo Board of Water Works. On its face, Colorado Springs’ lapsed performance appears to put it in violation of the IGA.

    When the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force began meeting in 2006, many conversations mentioned the increased flows that would occur when SDS was in operation. Planning for more flows was added to an ongoing effort to deal with flows that already had increased as Colorado Springs grew from the 1970s on.

    The demise of Colorado Springs’ stormwater enterprise was foreseen by Pueblo County’s attorney in comments in 2008 as the environmental impact statement for SDS was being prepared by Reclamation.

    Reclamation did not consider the possibility, saying comments about stormwater were unrelated to the federal permit in its responses. The record of decision that approved SDS made the assumption the stormwater enterprise would stay in place before and after the project was built.

    So Pueblo County put additional assurances that Colorado Springs would be responsible for controlling water going into Fountain Creek. It also required the city to pay $50 million to a district that had not yet been created.

    The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District was formed by the state Legislature in 2009 to improve Fountain Creek and administer those funds, and has taken Utilities to task over the timing of payments.

    The county’s 1041 regulations also were written and adopted when a stormwater enterprise that generated $15.8 million in revenue annually already was in place.

    More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Who said this?

    “The City of Colorado Springs is moving forward to address long-term stormwater management.”

    No, it wasn’t Colorado Springs City Council President Merv Bennett talking to the Pueblo Board of Water Works last week. The above quote came from Mayor Lionel Rivera during a presentation by Colorado Springs Utilities officials to the Pueblo City Council on July 11, 2005.

    They were there to assure Pueblo that Colorado Springs was dead serious when it came to living up to the conditions of an Intergovernmental Agreement signed a year earlier. An agreement that would eventually pave the way for the construction of the Southern Delivery System.

    More than a decade later, Colorado Springs Utilities and political leaders are back in town trying to head off a rising tide of outrage in Pueblo County that has been bubbling up the last two months. In November, Colorado Springs learned it faces Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action for failing to meet the minimum requirements of its state stormwater discharge permit.

    “They come down here and tell us what they think we want to hear, and then they do nothing,” said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner. “How many times are we going to let that happen?”

    Last week, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District heard what Colorado Springs had to say for itself. This week, Pueblo County commissioners and Pueblo City Council will get more of the same.

    On Monday, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and others is scheduled to meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. and with City Council at 7 p.m.

    What Colorado Springs is offering involves more than lip service. There are real dollars on the table.

    The city will double the size of its stormwater staff by the end of 2017, and a new stormwater director will be on board within a month. About $12 million a year will be spent on capital projects to begin to address a $535 million backlog, and $7 million for maintenance. There is another $1.5 million from other city departments directed toward maintenance.

    There will be 70 actions to meet the deficiencies outlined in the EPA audit, Utilities reported.

    Several slides in the Colorado Springs presentation show before and after photos of neglected drainage ditches that were highlighted in the EPA audit.

    Not everyone’s convinced this is a step forward.

    “Those trees in the drainage ditches must have been growing for two years to reach that size,” Winner said. “When you look at the numbers they’re throwing around, you have to wonder what happened during the seven years they didn’t have a stormwater enterprise. Are they just playing catch-up, or is this a real improvement?”

    That’s been a common pattern, a review of documents about stormwater collected over the past 11 years reveals.

    For instance, the progress report of stormwater improvements given to Pueblo City Council in 2007 are identical to a list of unfinished business presented to Colorado Springs City Council in 2009 as it was demolishing the stormwater enterprise after it had been operating for two years on a $15.8 million annual budget. The list of most critical projects then totaled about $40 million and none of them had been touched.

    The total backlog was about $500 million.

    Although the Lower Ark district, then-Rep. Sal Pace, county commissioners and other local officials pressured Colorado Springs on stormwater, there was little action for two years. The city adopted a new strong-mayor form of government and its council membership completely turned over in a four-year period. At one point, the city failed to send an elected representative to meetings of Fountain Creek district for six months in 2011.

    Finally, in 2012, the city’s attorney advised then-Mayor Steve Bach that, in his legal opinion, Colorado Springs ought to be spending at least $13 million annually to control stormwater. Colorado Springs City Council and El Paso County commissioners answered by forming a regional stormwater task force, which Bach opposed on the grounds that Colorado Springs should manage its own storm systems, ultimately dooming regional stormwater control.

    By 2014, the $500 million project list was scrapped after a stormwater task force decided it was old and outdated — largely because of new damage from the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and to a smaller degree, the Black Forest Fire in 2013.

    In a new study, CH2MHill came up with 239 projects totaling almost $535 million in Colorado Springs, carefully weeding out obsolete and duplicated projects. Of those, 44 totaling $160 million were called high priority, which indicated there are public health or safety issues evident, according to the engineers’ report.

    The regional cost, which included all needed work on Fountain Creek and its tributaries in El Paso County, was $723 million.

    Later in 2014, El Paso County voters rejected a proposal by the task force to raise $40 million annually with a regional drainage district to address all those issues.

    The huge backlog was mentioned at both the water board and Lower Ark meetings, with some trying to do the math at how long it would take to address the problems if the $12 million annual capital expenditure stays in place — say 40 or 50 years.

    But Colorado Springs backs away from saying those lists will ever be completed or that they even mean anything.

    At the Lower Ark meeting last week, Colorado Springs Utilities consultant Mark Pifher called the $534 million figure a “wish list,” insisting that projects with the highest priority would be tackled first. Utilities board Chairman Andy Pico told the water board that work will start soon on the highest priority projects.

    Meanwhile, Colorado Springs has found the $841 million needed to build SDS, a project that will supply the city with the water it needs for the next 40 years, completing all major construction in just five years.

    “They’ve done what they wanted to do, while doing the minimum to comply with their obligations to Pueblo,” Winner said. “How much longer are we going to put up with that?”

    Silverton officials hold Superfund hearing Tuesday ahead of Thursday vote — The Durango Herald

    Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best
    Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    It’s going to be a busy and potentially landmark week for the town of Silverton as officials look to stamp a letter addressed to Gov. John Hickenlooper requesting Superfund status by Thursday.

    All this week, Silverton Town Trustees along with San Juan County Commissioners will enter final negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency over its hazardous cleanup program with the hopes of a final vote on Thursday. The town will also hold a public hearing Tuesday.

    “We’re negotiating the next 20 to 30 years of our county,” said Silverton Town Trustee Pete Maisel. “So it’s weighing pretty heavy on our shoulders.”

    […]

    Despite local efforts, the long-inactive mining district has degraded water quality in the Animas River to the point that the presence of trout has all but disappeared in the 25-mile stretch downstream from Silverton, with 3 out of 4 species now gone.

    But when the EPA accidentally triggered the Gold King Mine blowout in August, the sight of a disturbing bright-orange river cast a normally unseen problem into the spotlight of public attention. For Silverton officials under pressure from downstream communities, few options were left aside from a Superfund status.

    “There’s really no other program out there with the financial resources to take care of the necessary remediation for this area,” San Juan County Manager Willie Tookie said in November. “Superfund is pretty much it.”

    The EPA considers polluting sites for its National Priorities List twice a year: once in March and again in September. To be considered this spring, Silverton officials must send a letter to Hickenlooper, directing the governor to request Superfund status.

    Throughout negotiations, three main points of contention have emerged: the boundaries of the Superfund designation; the promise of federal funding; and the name of the Superfund project.

    “This is not going to be a fast solution, but we’re also not dragging our feet,” Maisel said. “Negotiations are going well, we’re working hard on it.”

    #ColoradoRiver: Cloud-seeding impact to SW #Colorado

    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    A researcher with the Colorado Water Conservation Board says cloud seeding in southwestern Colorado is helping to squeeze more water out of passing snowstorms, using heaters that vaporize silver iodide to form artificial ice.

    In southwest Colorado, workers light generators that look like large propane tanks, shooting flames into pans that send vaporized silver iodide up to the base of clouds. There, the silver iodide forms an artificial ice crystal that draws in more water, forming larger snowflakes. Then they fall to the ground.

    “When there’s lots of liquid water coming through, then you have a storm to work. The seeding response is better. You get more bang for your buck,” said Joe Busto, a researcher with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “It’s meant to add just a little bit more per storm.”

    Researchers say a study in Wyoming conducted from 2005 to 2014 found cloud seeding can add 5 to 15 percent more precipitation.

    Eric Hjermstad, co-owner and director of field operations for Western Weather Consultants, which does cloud seeding, said every bit of water helps the parched Southwest.

    Hjermstad said seeding helps build snowpack to replenish aquifers and helps fill reservoirs such as Lake Powell for other Western states struggling to find water.

    Regional water agencies and ski resorts paid $237,900 this season to help with the seeding, according to the Southwestern Water Conservation District. Western Weather operates about 36 generators from Pagosa Springs to Telluride.

    The Southwest Basin Roundtable is providing $55,600 to hire a consultant to help select equipment and find the right areas to place it.

    Farmers agree to tax those who deplete groundwater — The High Country News

    Sunrise over the Sangre de Cristos, overlooking the San Luis Valley, April 11, 2015
    Sunrise over the Sangre de Cristos, overlooking the San Luis Valley, April 11, 2015

    From The High Country News (Cally Carswell):

    Instead of denying or ignoring the problem, [San Luis Valley] farmers are facing the fact that agriculture has outgrown its water supply. They admit they must live within new limits, or perish. Determined to avoid state intervention, they’ve created an innovative irrigation market, charging themselves to pump and using that money to pay others to fallow their land. Thousands of acres have come out of production, and their sights are set on fallowing tens of thousands more.

    Brian Brownell is among those cutting back. When I visited last September, the valley’s potato harvest was in full swing, and dust clouds over fields where farmers were exhuming spuds were visible from miles away. Dust also levitated above a field on Brownell’s farm, but nothing was being harvested. Instead, the Sudan grass he’d planted was being hacked to pieces and tilled into the soil. He’d received $96,000 for putting 480 of his 1,680 acres into this “green manure” instead of a more water-hungry and profitable commercial crop.

    “Everybody’s pumping too much water,” he said. His gray sideburns bristled on tanned skin, and his lips curved down in thought. “People have to start to buy in to the community thing, instead of ‘me,’ ‘my farm,’ ‘my deal.’ ”

    This time, farmers are scrambling to save local agricultural not from outsiders who covet their water, but from themselves.

    “It’s only going to work,” said Brownell, “if everybody does something to save the water.”

    The San Luis Valley’s 8,000 square miles are flat as plywood, hemmed in by the San Juan Mountains to the west, and to the east by the Sangre de Cristos, a dramatic wall of serrated peaks edged by sand dunes that seem plucked from a North African desert. The valley’s 46,000 residents live in scattered small towns, beneath lonely willows and cottonwoods, and around highway outposts where a few stores merit a mark on a map. It’s a tough place to live, and attracts some unconventional folks: The valley is home to hot springs (and a communal kitchen) frequented by nudists, an alligator farm, a community of 1,500 with 23 spiritual centers, and a UFO watchtower unimpaired by light pollution, where camping costs $10 a night.

    But mostly, there are farms — big ones. The center-pivot sprinklers here are among the most tightly packed in the world, and their hulking aluminum spines give the valley floor the illusion of topography. The annual harvest — largely potato, barley and alfalfa — is worth some $300 million, and without it, a number of the towns probably wouldn’t exist. There are no mines, no ski resorts, no gas wells. Alamosa, the biggest town at 8,937 residents, boasts a small college and a hospital. Almost everything else — the fertilizer and tractor dealers, the Safeway, the county governments and K-12 schools — is supported primarily by money from the fields.

    At a more basic level, everything runs on irrigation water. From the 1850s, when Hispanic settlers dug the first ditches, until the 1950s, most of that water was diverted from the Rio Grande and its tributaries and flooded onto fields. Then, drought and technological innovation spurred a well-drilling boom. Groundwater nursed crops through dry years and the late season, when rivers shrank. Soon, center-pivot sprinklers were hooked up to wells, watering crops evenly and efficiently all season long, and many farmers started irrigating exclusively with wells, using river water merely to recharge the aquifer. Marginal land became profitable, crop yields — and water consumption — grew, and large-scale commercial agriculture came into its own.

    For decades, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, also called the State Engineer’s Office, granted well permits as generously as dentists dispense toothbrushes, ignoring basic hydrology. The water in the ground and the rivers was connected, and voracious well-pumping could lower streamflows — a serious problem, since the river water was already claimed. Following the logic of prior appropriation — the Westwide system that gives priority to those with the oldest water rights — wells that were connected to streams should only pump after older river irrigators are sated. But the opposite happened. In the late ’60s, the state clamped down on river irrigators to comply with the Rio Grande Compact, which requires Colorado to leave water in the river for Texas and New Mexico. Well owners, meanwhile, pumped happily away.

    In 1975, the State Engineer tried to phase out a slew of wells, but a court encouraged a softer approach. Wells were drilled in the valley’s “closed basin,” where streams don’t drain to the Rio Grande. They sipped gingerly from a high water table, “salvaging” what would otherwise evaporate and piping it to the river. The Closed Basin Project seemed like a win-win: Wells kept pumping, river irrigators got water, and regulators backed off. It produced less water than expected, but the ’80s and ’90s were so wet that few people cared. Mother Nature bought rounds for everyone.

    Cortez: Solids from county jail causing back ups

    Wastewater lift station
    Wastewater lift station

    From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker) via The Durango Herald:

    Montezuma County inmates are under suspicion, but not for unlawful activity.

    Cortez Sanitation District officials suspect that inmates at the 104-bed Montezuma County Jail are flushing items in their jail cells, plugging a pumping station or contaminating the wastewater-treatment facility.

    “We get a ton of Ramen noodle packages,” CSD manager Tim Krebs told board members at a monthly meeting last week.

    Krebs initially relayed his concerns to CSD board members in December, reporting that plastics and other debris from the detention center had been an ongoing problem.

    Vici Pierce, detention captain at the Montezuma County jail, confirmed that inmates were allowed to purchase Ramon noodles from the commissary, but said she was unaware of any sanitation district complaints until notified by The Journal.

    “Garbage bags are provided in each unit, and inmates are instructed to use them for the disposal of their trash items,” Pierce said.

    Several years ago, a garbage grinder was installed in the jail’s sewer system to help alleviate improper trash disposal.

    According to Krebs, that grinder pump on Driscoll Street failed, and after it was repaired recently, sanitation officials started to observe bits of plastic in the district’s treatment facility on South Broadway about four miles south.

    Krebs said the grinder pump was recently taken offline at the district’s request to help staff determine whether the inflow of debris could be minimalized.

    “The smaller plastics have disappeared in parts of the plant, but now larger plastics are filling up the bar screen at the lift station,” Krebs said.

    Krebs said sanitation crews now make two trips per day to the district’s north pumping station to manually clear a screen that captures the plastics. Officials indicated the screen was routinely plugged when crews responded.

    #WOTUS: Federal court stay still in effect, President Obama’s veto this week adds to the uncertainty

    From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

    After both houses of Congress passed a joint resolution to nullify the controversial Clean Water Rule, commonly known as Waters of the U.S., President Barack Obama vetoed the bill Tuesday. The Senate tried to keep the resolution alive in a cloture vote Thursday, but majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was unable to secure the necessary three-fifths majority needed to overturn the veto.

    Waters of the U.S., a rule which went into effect in August of this past year, clarifies the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army under the Clean Water Act in cases of smaller bodies of flowing water.

    The rule has come under fire by many industries, including agriculture, oil and gas, construction and more, for its vague terminology and ambiguity. Critics of the rule call it overreaching and say it may give the government too much control over small waterways like irrigation ditches, augmentation ponds and even waterways that sit empty for parts of the year.

    On Aug. 28, 2015, the day the rule went into effect, so did an injunction protecting 13 states, including Colorado, from its reach. In October, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals approved an injunction, staying the rule’s power until further review. In that ruling, the court decided “the sheer breadth of the ripple effects caused by the Rule’s definitional changes” was reason enough to stay implementation of Waters of the U.S.

    Even though the injunction is keeping the Waters of the U.S. at bay right now, it’s the uncertainty of how long it will stay that way that’s worrying farmers…

    Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., voted against S.J. 22 initially and voted against cloture. In a statement from the Senator’s office, spokesman Philip Clelland said Bennet plans to continue to work with Coloradans to balance the need for regulation and the desire for regulations to not be burdensome.

    Since this bill is off the table, the next steps for Congress to address Waters of the U.S. lie in other legislation. Gardner said he supports a bill in the works to send the Clean Water Rule back to the EPA for rewrites.

    streamflowaspenjournalism
    Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    San Luis Valley unconfined aquifer storage up 119,000 acre-feet

    San Luis Valley Groundwater
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    For the second year in a row, water o–cials have seen a recovery in one of the aquifers that farmers lean on heavily in the San Luis Valley.

    The unconfined aquifer, which is the shallower of the valley’s two major groundwater bodies, saw its volume increase by 119,000 acre-feet.

    That bump follows an increase of 71,000 acre-feet from the year before.

    “If these last couple of years could just continue, it would be wonderful,” said Allen Davey, an engineer for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. “We’ve seen significant recovery.”

    The district maintains a network of monitoring wells in the north-central part of the valley and has kept track of the shallow aquifer’s levels since 1976.

    The last two years have marked a reversal from a 13-year run that saw the shallow aquifer drop by more than a million acre-feet due to drought and over-pumping…

    Davey credited the improvements of the last two years to e€orts by Subdistrict No. 1 to reduce pumping.

    The subdistrict, which lies in the north-central part of the valley, levies a fee on its members for pumping to raise money for land fallowing and also to pay for damages pumping causes to surface water supplies.

    Davey cited pumping records from 2000 that showed well pumping withdrew 391,000 acrefeet from the shallow aquifer. He expects that figure to come in at around 230,000 acre-feet this year.

    Some subdistrict members also enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which pays farmers to fallow their land.

    So far, 5,854 acres of land had been fallowed under the program. There were 109 wells associated with that acreage that pumped roughly 10,000 acre-feet annually.

    The volume of the shallow aquifer would have to improve by roughly another 700,000 acre-feet to meet the management objectives laid out by the subdistrict.

    #ColoradoRiver: Greeley Water & Sewer Board authorizes Chimney Hollow (Windy Gap Firming) expenditure

    Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call
    Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

    From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

    Officials are working to make one of Greeley’s supplemental water suppliers more reliable, and the city may sign off on another million dollars to do it soon.

    The Windy Gap Firming Project has been ongoing for decades. The goal: add to an existing water system by building the Chimney Hollow reservoir near Loveland to store more water from the Colorado River.

    The current phase of the project includes finalizing some permitting and finding a designer. Greeley is splitting the project cost with 12 other agencies, and its share of this phase is about $1.1 million.

    The Greeley Water and Sewer Board authorized the expense during its meeting Wednesday, but it has to get permission from the city council. That should happen next month.

    The money will come out of the water and sewer board’s budget, which is funded and handled separately from the rest of the city departments.

    Each user foots the bill for the project, and it’s pro-rated based on who will get the most water from it. Greeley is slated to get the third most. Platte River Power Authority is first.

    The Windy Gap water system has been giving water to Greeley and a dozen other providers for decades. It gets water out of the Colorado River, where water access is competitive. Different agencies and projects have water rights, which prioritize them above one another and dictate how much water they are allowed.

    During dry spells, some water rights aren’t good enough.

    “There are some years where Windy Gap can’t give a drop of water,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Chimney Hollow guarantees they will have a yield.”

    In the good years, when Windy Gap’s water rights allow it to take water, that water will travel through a pipeline into the reservoir. Windy Gap users can then use reservoir water during dry years.

    In addition to coordinating the agencies participating in the project, Northern Water oversees the pipeline infrastructure used to move water from the Western Slope to the eastern half of the state.

    The organization tends to head up multi-jurisdictional water projects, which can be grueling. Both Windy Gap and the region’s other predominant water storage effort, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, have been in permitting for more than a decade. But Windy Gap is making progress.

    “We certainly see a light at the end of the tunnel for this project,” Werner said.

    At the end of 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that oversees natural resources such as water, signed off on the project. Now, they only need two more permits — one from Colorado that certifies water quality and one from the Army Corps of Engineers that guarantees wetland mitigation.

    That brings the organizers into the next phase of planning: finding a firm to design the project. They’ll take the original plans from 12 years ago and refine them, Werner said.

    Once that design is finished, the agencies will find a contractor to build the reservoir. Werner said, fingers crossed, that will happen in late 2018 or in 2019.

    The Chimney Hollow reservoir will hold about 90,000 acre-feet of water.

    Pueblo West official tells Pueblo County to renegotiate the SDS 1041 permit

    Pueblo West
    Pueblo West

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member wants Pueblo County commissioners to renegotiate the 1041 agreement for the Southern Delivery System.

    “There are numerous, fatal flaws in the present 1041 agreement; too many to mention,” Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel told the Pueblo Board of Water Works this week. “I respectfully suggest that the 1041 permit must be renegotiated to create a true agreement.”

    It’s a significant development because Pueblo West is a partner in the SDS water pipeline project, and has already benefited from an emergency use of SDS last summer.

    The metro board took a position on Jan. 12 that its water should not be held hostage during the current SDS discussions, but Carmel made it clear that he was speaking as an individual at Tuesday’s water board meeting. The metro board will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to address Carmel’s concerns.

    Both the water board and Pueblo City Council are pondering resolutions requiring more action on stormwater in relation to SDS. Pueblo County commissioners are in the process of determining 1041 compliance on stormwater and other issues in the permit.

    The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has requested action by the Bureau of Reclamation under the federal SDS contract and by the Pueblo County commissioners under the 1041 permit to delay SDS until a stable source of stormwater funding is found.

    Carmel, a former Pueblo County engineer, said he has seen firsthand the damage Fountain Creek causes in Pueblo. He wants to make sure Colorado Springs has adequate stormwater control measures in place.

    “As Colorado Springs’ partner in the SDS project, I believe perhaps Pueblo West bears the most local responsibility to ensure SDS is implemented in such a way that the city of Pueblo does not get wiped out by floodwaters, in our name, if we stand by and do nothing,” Carmel said.

    He said politicians’ current assurance of $19 million in annual funding for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs is not adequate because future councils could easily reverse the action.

    “A 10-year intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it is written on under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because it may be canceled at any budget cycle,” he said.

    Carmel said the 1041 agreement should be renegotiated to avoid future misunderstandings.

    “Now is the time to ask Colorado Springs to cooperatively renegotiate the terms of the SDS 1041 permit to ensure that it is a win-win deal for both communities,” Carmel said. “Any deal that fails to prevent flooding in Pueblo — through a permanent funding mechanism that cannot change with each election — is not a win for Pueblo.”

    NOAA: Jason-3 reaches orbit, will monitor global sea-level rise, hurricane intensity

    Jason 3 photo via NOAA
    Jason 3 photo via NOAA

    Here’s the release from NOAA:

    Jason-3, a U.S.-European satellite mission, lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California today at 10:42 a.m. PST aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, to become the latest spacecraft to track the rate of global sea-level rise. Jason-3 will also help NOAA’s National Weather Service more accurately forecast the strength of tropical cyclones that threaten America’s coasts.

    Jason-3 will undergo a six-month phase to test the satellite’s instruments in orbit. Once complete, it will officially begin operations, joining Jason-2, which was launched in 2008.

    While flying in a low orbit, 830 miles above the Earth, Jason-3 will use a radar altimeter instrument to monitor 95 percent of the world’s ice-free oceans every 10 days. Since the Topex/Poseidon, and Jason satellite missions started in 1992, researchers have observed global sea-level rise occurring at a rate of 3 mm a year, resulting in a total change of 70 mm — or 2.8 inches — in 23 years.

    “Jason-3 will continue the legacy of the Topex/Poseidon and earlier Jason satellites by gathering environmental intelligence from the world’s oceans,” said Stephen Volz, Ph.D., assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, which is leading the international mission. “Jason-3 will tell us about the heat of the ocean, vital data if a tropical storm or hurricane is tracking into that location. Having up-to-date sea surface temperatures will help NOAA forecasters better determine if a storm may intensify.”

    Jason-3 is an international mission, in which NOAA is partnering with NASA, the Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES, the French Space Agency) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

    “Jason-3 is a prime example of how our nation leverages NASA expertise in space and scientific exploration to help address critical global challenges in collaboration with NOAA and our international partners,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “The measurements from Jason-3 will advance our efforts to understand the Earth as a system and the causes of sea level rise.”

    Data from Jason-3 will be used for other scientific, commercial, and operational applications, including: deep-ocean and wave modeling, surface wave forecasting for offshore operators; forecasting tides and currents for commercial shipping and ship routing; coastal forecasting for response to environmental challenges, including oil spills and harmful algal blooms; coastal modeling, which is crucial for marine mammal and coral reef research and El Niño and La Niña forecasting.

    For more information about the Jason-3 mission, please visit: http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/jason-3. This site includes videos, images, fact sheets, and frequently asked questions.

    USDA report: #ClimateChange and the US Food System

    climatechangeglobalfoodsecurityandtheusfoodsystem

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the brief:

    Report in Brief

    Food security—the ability to obtain and use sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food—is a fundamental human need. Climate change is very likely to affect global, regional, and local food security by disrupting food availability, decreasing access to food, and making food utilization more difficult.

    Food security exists “when all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” and affects people through both under- and overconsumption. Food security requires that food be simultaneously (1) available—that it exist in a particular place at a particular time, (2) that people can access that food through economic or other means, (3) that people can utilize the food that is available and accessible to them, and (4) that each of these components be stable over time. Constrictions within any of these components can result in food insecurity.

    Food is provisioned through a food system that manifests in diverse ways across the globe. The food system includes all activities related to producing, transporting, trading, storing, processing, packaging, wholesaling, retailing, consuming, and disposing of food. Whether an individual food system includes few, many, or all of these elements, each is susceptible to risks from a changing climate.

    Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, have increased global greenhouse gas concentrations; atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen from 280 parts per million (ppm) in the late 1700s to today’s level of about 400 ppm. Concentrations continue to rise, though future levels depend on choices and development pathways yet to be determined. Additionally, the future condition of the food system depends upon socioeconomic trajectories that are external to the food system itself. For these reasons, a range of possible emissions futures and socioeconomic pathways have been considered by this assessment.

    The Climate Change, Global Food Security, and U.S. Food System assessment represents a consensus of authors and includes contributors from 19 Federal, academic, nongovernmental, and intergovernmental organizations in four countries, identifying climate-change effects on global food security through 2100, and analyzing the United States’ likely connections with that world.

    The assessment finds that climate change is likely to diminish continued progress on global food security through production disruptions leading to local availability limitations and price increases, interrupted transport conduits, and diminished food safety, among other causes. The risks are greatest for the global poor and in tropical regions. In the near term, some high-latitude production export regions may benefit from changes in climate.

    As part of a highly integrated global food system, consumers and producers in the United States are likely to be affected by these changes. The type and price of food imports from other regions are likely to change, as are export demands placed upon U.S. producers and the transportation, processing, and storage systems that enable global trade. Demand for food and other types of assistance may increase, as may demand for advanced technologies to manage changing conditions.

    Adaptation across the food system has great potential to manage climate-change effects on food security, and the complexity of the food system offers multiple potential points of intervention for decision makers at every level, from households to nations and international governance structures. However, effective adaptation is subject to highly localized conditions and socioeconomic factors, and the technical feasibility of an adaptive intervention is not necessarily a guarantee of its application if it is unaffordable or does not provide benefits within a relatively short time frame, particularly for smaller operations around the world with limited capacity for long-term investments. The accurate identification of needs and vulnerabilities, and the effective targeting of adaptive practices and technologies across the full scope of the food system, are central to improving global food security in a changing climate.

    #AnimasRiver: Silverton drafting Superfund-seeking letter to Colorado’s governor — The Denver Post

    From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

    Attorneys for Silverton and San Juan County are in the process of drafting a letter to the governor in support of Superfund cleanup for its leaching, abandoned mines.

    While the request still must be approved by the town’s elected officials next week, the action represents the most significant move since the Gold King Mine spill in August prompted cries for a large-scale federal intervention.

    “It’s a giant step,” said Bill Gardner, Silverton’s town administrator…

    Next week, Silverton and San Juan County’s elected leaders will meet to discuss the letter and Superfund with each other and the town’s roughly 500 year-round residents. On Jan. 28, the leaders will take a final vote.

    “It’s democracy in action,” Gardner said. “We are trying to ensure there’s absolute transparency.”

    Ernie Kuhlman, chairman of the County Commission, says he doesn’t see any obstacles to the letter being approved.

    The town’s leaders have been in talks with the EPA and Colorado health officials over the past several months about the extent of a hazard listing. Some locals have pushed back, questioning what Superfund could mean for their community.

    Mark Esper, editor of The Silverton Standard and The Miner, the town’s newspaper, estimated that about 80 percent of the community now supports Superfund.

    He said acceptance of the program really grew after Silverton leaders and county commissioners went on a three-day fact-finding mission in November to four of Colorado’s largest Superfund mine sites.

    “I thought it was going to be a much tougher fight than it was,” Esper said of embracing a national priority listing. “That field trip was like the road to Damascus.”

    While final details of what the cleanup would look like haven’t been made public, Silverton has stipulated that a Superfund designation not include the confines of their town or be named after their community.

    Kuhlman said he still worried about stigma about a Superfund listing.

    “I think everybody should be, to some degree,” he said. “We don’t want Silverton to be known as the Superfund site, necessarily. But we’ve got a problem that we’ve got to take care of.”

    Meanwhile, heavy metals leach into the Animas River watershed from the mines that dot Silverton’s surroundings. A temporary water treatment plant erected by the EPA is treating the contaminants flowing from the Gold King at a cost of about $16,000 a week.

    After the EPA-caused Gold King spill in August, and under immense pressure from its downstream neighbors, Silverton’s leaders have said it appears Superfund is their only option.

    On Tuesday night, Durango’s City Council passed a resolution supporting Superfund for their upstream neighbors in Silverton.

    Lower Ark board meeting recap

    From The Fowler Tribune (Bette McFarren):

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board of directors determined to send letters to the Board of Reclamation and the Pueblo County Commissioners at their Monday meeting. They also heard informative reports, backed a youth program for the Colorado State Fair, and gave Mark Pifher a dubious reception on the latest Colorado Springs stormwater control program.

    Attorneys Melissa Esquibel and Peter Nichols prepared letters to the Bureau of Reclamation and to the Pueblo County Commissioners concerning the stormwater issue with Colorado Springs. Mark Pifher was present to represent Colorado Springs and presented their new plan, which sounded suspiciously like their old plan to the LAVWCD. “We’re sketchy,” said Nichols. Nichols asked for a copy of the plan.

    The letter written by Attorney Melissa Esquibel and board member Anthony Nunez of Pueblo asked the Board of Reclamation to review the contract for the Southern Delivery System and suspend it until Colorado Springs can prove it has a stormwater system. At the meeting, Manager Jay Winner and Chairman Lynden Gill established the plan as presented by Pifher has no oversight, other than the city itself.

    The letter drafted by Peter Nichols at Winner’s request, is to Pueblo County commissioners. It cites provisions in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws.

    Reeves Brown asked for a contribution from the Board of $1,872 initially and $400 a year, for as long as they wanted to be members, for the 1872 Club, a part of a foundation for the support of State Fair activities. This club supports the young exhibitors, the FFA and 4-H members who participate in the fair competitions each year. The board agreed with and passed his request.

    Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer, United States Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service, explained the Snotel program for reporting snowpack and its effect on stream flow and water supply in Colorado. Snotel stands for SNOwpack TELemetry system. It is a data collection system that works through radio transmission to the ionosphere, where the information is bounced back to centers which collate and put the data on the Internet. There are 183 Snotel sites, 114 in Colorado, 20 in Wyoming, 27 in New Mexico and 22 in Arizona. In addition, there are 95 snow courses in Colorado. The shelter with instrumentation weighs the snow and the precipitation gauge checks the moisture content. There is one problem: animals tend to wander in; a dead elk once made the report look as though there was a large snowfall in one isolated area.

    At present, the Arkansas River Basin is 112 percent of normal and 102 percent of yearly accumulation. Working with figures from the snowpack, engineers can predict water supply available in the state.

    Judy Lopez, program director, Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, made a presentation for Environthon, an educational competition for students in grades 9 through 12. Environthon focuses on five areas: 1. aquatics and water usage and laws, 2. soil and land usage and agriculture, 3. forestry, 4. wildlife, bugs to large animals, 5. weeds and other non-native critters which shouldn’t be here. They hope to encourage future hydrologists, foresters, and others who serve the environment. She asked the LAVWCD Board to become a banner sponsor, at the $1,000, $1,500, $2,000, $2,500 or up level. They took the matter under advisement.

    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph January 20, 2016 via the NRCS.

    President Obama vetoes Republican attempt to overturn EPA #wotus rule

    From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

    After both houses of Congress passed a joint resolution to nullify the controversial Clean Water Rule, commonly known as Waters of the U.S., President Barack Obama vetoed the bill Wednesday. The Senate tried to keep the resolution alive in a cloture vote Thursday, but majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was unable to secure the necessary three-fifths majority needed to overturn the veto.

    Waters of the U.S., a rule which went into effect in August of this past year, clarifies the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army under the Clean Water Act in cases of smaller bodies of flowing water.

    The rule has come under fire by many industries, including agriculture, oil and gas, construction and more, for its vague terminology and ambiguity. Critics of the rule call it overreaching and say it may give the government too much control over small waterways like irrigation ditches, augmentation ponds and even waterways that sit empty for parts of the year.

    On Aug. 28, 2015, the day the rule went into effect, so did an injunction protecting 13 states, including Colorado, from its reach. In October, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals approved an injunction, staying the rule’s power until further review. In that ruling, the court decided “the sheer breadth of the ripple effects caused by the Rule’s definitional changes” was reason enough to stay implementation of Waters of the U.S.

    […]

    Even though the injunction is keeping the Waters of the U.S. at bay right now, it’s the uncertainty of how long it will stay that way that’s worrying farmers.

    […]

    Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., voted against S.J. 22 initially and voted against cloture. In a statement from the Senator’s office, spokesman Philip Clelland said Bennet plans to continue to work with Coloradans to balance the need for regulation and the desire for regulations to not be burdensome.

    Since this bill is off the table, the next steps for Congress to address Waters of the U.S. lie in other legislation. Gardner said he supports a bill in the works to send the Clean Water Rule back to the EPA for rewrites.

    From The Durango Herald (Edward Graham):

    Opponents of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Waters of the United States rule failed to garner enough votes in the Senate on Thursday to override President Barack Obama’s veto of their resolution of disapproval regarding the rule.

    “The responsibility for managing Colorado’s water should be left to state and local governments along with our water districts, not with the federal government through overreaching regulations like WOTUS,” Gardner said in a statement soon after casting his vote. “I will continue to forcefully oppose WOTUS and take any steps possible to block its implementation.”

    The 52-40 vote came short of the 60 votes needed to override the president’s veto. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., voted against overriding the veto.

    The anti-WOTUS resolution, of which Gardner was a co-sponsor, passed the U.S. Senate in November on a 53-44 vote. Last week, the House of Representatives voted 253-166 in favor of the resolution, sending it to the president.

    “Clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act helps to protect these resources and safeguard public health,” President Obama said in his veto message on Tuesday. “Because this resolution seeks to block the progress represented by this rule and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty and clarity needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water, I cannot support it.”

    Opponents of the rule change view it as a federal takeover of water rights on private lands that would expose impacted landowners to higher compliance costs.

    The EPA says the rule does not protect any new types of water, regulate ditches or groundwater, or create new requirements that would impact private property rights…

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the WOTUS rule’s implementation in October while it determines jurisdiction over challenges to the rule.

    rifflesaspenjournalismbrentgardnersmith

    #AnimasRiver: Colorado delegation poised to introduce good Samaritan mine cleanup bill — The Durango Herald

    A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
    A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

    From The Durango Herald (Edward Graham):

    Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, are preparing to introduce good Samaritan legislation along with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. The bill would allow groups to apply for permits to assist with environmental cleanup efforts at abandoned mines. The draft legislation, called the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act, will be discussed Tuesday at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

    “While there are willing and able good Samaritans who wish to address safety and environmental concerns and improve water quality at orphan mines, the EPA has done little to incentivize them, and the fear of liability for meeting all federal standards during cleanup is too great,” Gardner said of the draft legislation.

    Although good Samaritan legislation has previously been failed in Congress, the latest effort is a renewed attempt by Colorado’s delegation to address leaking mines in response to the Gold King Mine spill last August. The spill, caused by contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency, released more than 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater, eventually reaching the Animas and San Juan rivers.

    “The Gold King Mine spill was a sharp reminder of the imperative to clean up the thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado and throughout the West,” Bennet said. “Part of that solution is to craft a good Samaritan policy with the help of the state, local communities and their partners.”

    […]

    The legislation is specifically tailored to address abandoned mine sites “used for the production of a mineral other than coal.”

    […]

    One of the benefits of allowing willing groups to undertake mine cleanups is the scope, as well as the cost, of remediating the problem in Colorado and across the United States. The cost of cleaning the estimated 33,000 leaking U.S. mines would be tens of billions of dollars.

    Tipton, who strongly supports good Samaritan legislation and introduced similar legislation in the previous Congress, said the newest bill would “remove regulatory hurdles that currently discourage and prevent these groups from cleaning up contamination in abandoned mines, empowering them to take action.”

    Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting recap

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    With the cooperation of “Mother Nature” and San Luis Valley irrigators, aquifer levels in the Rio Grande Basin are improving.

    Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Rob Phillips , who oversees the water district’s first sub-district , reported to the board on Tuesday that the unconfined aquifer generally in the area encompassed by the subdistrict had recovered by 119,469 acre feet between September 2014 and September 2015. That is the largest recovery in the unconfined aquifer storage in that area since 2007.

    RGWCD District Engineer Allen Davey added, “We have seen significant recovery.”

    He said the aquifer has had a couple of good years, which hopefully will continue.

    The recovery is encouraging , given that this area of the aquifer has declined by more than one million acre feet since a long-term monitoring study began in 1976.

    “We have just seen great recovery this last couple of years,” Davey said. “The runoffs haven’t been really above average, but it’s just been great recovery.”

    At least some of that recovery can be attributed to farmers and ranchers in Subdistrict #1 who are reducing the amount of water they pump or paying for water to make up for their depletions.

    Davey said irrigators in the area encompassed by Subdistrict #1 were pumping an estimated 391,000 acre feet of water in 2000. Estimated pumping this year in that same area is 230,000 acre feet, he said.

    One of the methods the sub-district has used to motivate irrigators to cut down on their pumping is to promote the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and add sub-district incentives on top of the normal CREP payments to encourage farmers to enroll in CREP.

    Phillips said 16 new CREP contracts are in place for the 2016 fiscal year, with 10 of those involving permanent groundwater retirement. These new contracts involve 36 wells that would otherwise be pumping 2,900 acre feet a year, Phillips explained.

    Davey said he attributed the aquifer recovery to two reasons: reduced pumping; and “some cooperation from Mother Nature.”

    Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said the weather service’s forecast for the next few months and even longer calls for above average precipitation for this area.

    “Hopefully that will come true and we will have a good year,” he said.

    Cotten said the basin snowpack as of January 14 was 112 percent of normal, including both the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains . (Fred Bunch, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, said the Medano snowpack was 157 percent of average on Tuesday.)

    “If we can keep that up through the end of the snowpack season, we should have a really good year,” Cotten said.

    Two years in a row the annual flows on the Rio Grande were close to the long-term average, Cotten added, with 2015 ending up with 665,000 acre feet annual index flow, which is the first time in quite a few years the river has had an above average flow . The long-term average is 650,000 acre feet. The Rio Grande more than met its Rio Grande Compact obligations and actually over delivered water to downstream states in 2015, Cotten said. The Rio Grande wound up the year with 8,700 acre feet credit. The Conejos River system, which is also included in the compact with New Mexico and Texas, had a slight deficit in what it owed, under-delivering about 1,400 acre feet. However, the compact incorporates the two river systems so in total the state of Colorado ended 2015 with a Rio Grande Compact credit.

    LAWCD board meeting recap: Shut down SDS

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

    “Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.

    The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.

    The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.

    The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.

    That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.

    Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.

    Winner wasn’t buying it.

    “We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”

    Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.

    Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.

    Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.

    “We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.

    Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
    Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.