Permanent Mt. Emmons mine solution in the works — The Crested Butte News

Mount Emmons
Mount Emmons

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

New owner, state, county and town all at the table

A giant step was taken this week toward finding a permanent solution to the idea of a molybdenum mining development on Mt. Emmons (also known as Red Lady), resolving environmental problems in that area, protecting the water treatment plant on the site, and possibly taking the idea of a mine off the table.

Further steps will be taken over the next couple of weeks, but state, local and federal officials describe the latest development as “exciting” and “optimistic,” with the potential to finally end the decades-old fight over a moly mine just west of Crested Butte.

U.S. Energy, the long-time owner and permit holder of the potential mine and water treatment plant on Red Lady, entered into an acquisition agreement with the Mt. Emmons Mining Company (MEMC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan Inc. last Friday.

Freeport is one of the world’s largest copper, molybdenum and gold mining companies and is based in Phoenix, Ariz. It owns the Henderson and Climax molybdenum mines in Colorado.

MEMC essentially acquired U.S. Energy’s mine site, located about three miles outside of Crested Butte. The acquisition includes the Keystone Mine, the water treatment plant and other related properties including buildings, land and mining claims. U.S. Energy made the acquisition announcement on February 12.

Here’s US Senator Bennet’s release:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet issued the following statement on the announcement that Freeport-McMoRan, through a subsidiary, has acquired the water treatment facility that treats the water that is released into Coal Creek and runs into Crested Butte. Freeport-McMoRan also has acquired the mining claims and mineral deposits on Mt. Emmons. The agreement was enshrined in a Memorandum of Understanding for Mt. Emmons, which has been signed by Crested Butte, Gunnison County, the State of Colorado, and Freeport-McMoRan.

“This agreement is a tremendous step forward for the community. It will help ensure the long-term stability of the water treatment facility and the future status of Mt. Emmons. The agreement would not have been possible without the diligent work of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, the state of Colorado, and Freeport-McMoRan.

“Freeport-McMoRan’s work ensures that water treatment of the acid mine drainage into Coal Creek will continue without interruption. The agreement also recognizes the community’s concerns about their future water supply and economy. Mt. Emmons is not an appropriate location for new mining activity, and this agreement moves us toward a final resolution of this issue.”

South Platte basin roundtable applauds a bill to study dams

A map putting the South Platte River basin into context, from the South Platte Basin Roundtable's basin implementation plan.
A map putting the South Platte River basin into context, from the South Platte Basin Roundtable's basin implementation plan.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

LONGMONT — The members of the South Platte basin roundtable gave a hearty round of applause recently to the idea of studying the feasibility of a new dam on the lower South Platte River.

The applause was given to state Rep. J. Paul Brown after he described a bill he has introduced in the legislature to spend $250,000 on a study to find out how much water has flowed down the South Platte River and into Nebraska over the last 20 years in excess of the amount required by the river compact.

“In 2015, more than two million acre feet of water that were delivered to Nebraska by the South Platte River could have been stored and used in Colorado,” Brown’s bill, HB 16-1256, states.

“I’m a sheepherder from the West Slope, southwestern Colorado,” Brown told the roundtable on Feb. 9. “But water storage is near and dear to my heart. And being up here and seeing that water going down into Nebraska on the South Platte last spring was just criminal as far as I’m concerned. And I think that we needed to figure out a way of harnessing that water and putting it to use.”

Brown is a Republican and represents House District 59, which includes Archuleta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, La Plata, Ouray and San Juan counties.

His proposed study would include a list of locations of possible dam sites along the mainstem and tributaries of the South Platte between Greeley and Julesburg, which is near the Nebraska border.

For each location, the study would describe the amount of water that could be stored there, an estimated cost of a reservoir on the site, and cost-benefit analysis of each potential project.

The Colorado Water Conservation board would be charged with developing the study, along with the state engineer’s office.

A graphic showing how water use in Colorado differs on either side of the Continental Divide.
A graphic showing how water use in Colorado differs on either side of the Continental Divide.

Less WS water?

Brown’s bill cites the numerous benefits that could come from a big dam on the South Platte, including helping to meet the state’s projected gap between water supply and demand, reducing the practice of “buy and dry,” and allowing for more groundwater pumping.

A new water storage facility could also be of potential interest to some on the Western Slope, as the bill claims a dam on the South Platte could “reduce the need to import water from one basin to another basin through a transbasin diversion.”

“It would take pressure off of the Western Slope water,” Brown told the roundtable, though he also conceded there is doubt about that on the Western Slope.

“I think there’s some concern on the Western Slope that if we built a dam down on the South Platte that we’d need to use West Slope water to fill it, and that’s not what we want to do,” Brown said. “What we want to do is capture water that falls over here and runs out of the state, store that water, and we can do that, we just need to roll up our sleeves and do it.”

The study is to be completed by Nov. 30, 2016, and a summary is to be submitted to the legislature.

The money for the study is to come from the severance tax funds received by the CWCB. Those funds are now expected to drop significantly this year due to a slump in the state’s oil and gas industry.

“Our predecessors had some plans for water storage,” Brown told the South Platte roundtable. “That fell through. We need to start thinking about it again and take care of that. I think it’s the most important issue facing Colorado today.”

One of the roundtable members then asked Brown, “Representative, what can we do to help you up here?”

Brown responded that South Platte roundtable members could talk to local elected officials and ask them to support his bill.

Rep. Bob Rankin, a Republican who represents House District 57, which includes Garfield County, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Brown filed a similar bill last year that died in the appropriations committee. It called for $150,000 from the general fund for a study of potential dams at the Narrows Project near Fort Morgan or the Tamarack Ranch State Wildlife area. It also originally called for a $790,000 study on the feasibility of a pipeline to bring water to Colorado from the Missouri River basin.

Whether Brown’s latest bill receives the support it needs remains to be seen. James Eklund, director of the CWCB, is not in favor.

One, the request for $250,000 to pay for the study has come in after the completion of CWCB’s process to select projects for its annual “projects bill” in the legislature.

And two, Eklund said a dam on the mainstem of the lower South Platte is not a viable option given the parameters of the environmental management programs set up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the lower South Platte River in Nebraska.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of statewide water issues in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.

The latest seasonal forecasts from the Climate Prediction Center

Three month temperature outlook through May 31, 2016.
Three month temperature outlook through May 31, 2016.
Three month precipitation outlook through May 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Three month precipitation outlook through May 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal drought outlook through May 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal drought outlook through May 31, 2016 via the Climate Prediction Center.

#Drought news: Pockets of dryness in E. #Colorado and W. #Kansas

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


Unsettled, cold weather across the eastern half of the country contrasted with mostly dry, warm weather from the Great Plains to the Pacific Coast. Rain and northern snow fell from the central Gulf Coast into New England, though the heaviest precipitation fell outside of the driest areas. Meanwhile, unseasonably warm, locally hot conditions across Texas renewed concerns over dryness and rapidly-developing drought. Likewise, warm, dry weather returned to the West’s core drought areas following recent beneficial rain and mountain snow. However, locally heavy precipitation continued in parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies…

Central Plains

Sunny skies and above-normal temperatures prevailed across this drought-free region. However, pockets of short-term dryness are being monitored from southeastern Colorado into southern Kansas…

Northern Plains

Spring-like warmth was observed over the northern Plains. While precipitation was observed across much of the region, amounts were insufficient to offer relief from Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1)…

Southern Plains and Texas

Increasingly warm, locally hot weather coupled with a lack of rain resulted in rapidly increasing Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) over much of central and southern Texas. Temperatures averaged locally more than 10°F above normal, with daytime highs topping 80°F across much of the state; readings eclipsed 90°F in far southern Texas, establishing record high temperatures for the date in some locations. Over the past 60 days, precipitation has totaled less than 50 percent of normal (locally less than 25 percent) across the state’s new D1 areas, with the most widespread pronounced short-term deficits noted just north of Austin…

Western U.S.

Drier- and warmer-than-normal conditions overspread much of the West, with precipitation confined to the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies. Despite the mostly favorable Water Year precipitation to date, the warmth and dryness renewed concerns of early snowmelt in the mountains; however, rain and mountain snow were returning at the end of the weekly drought assessment period (which ends Tuesday morning, 7 a.m., EST).

In northern portions of the region, additional rain and mountain snow continued the favorable Water Year and resulted in further drought reductions in southwestern Oregon and western Montana. Mountain Snow Water Equivalents (SWE) continued to improve in western Montana; however, SWE values remain below average east of Flathead Lake, and the eastern slopes of the northern Rockies will need to be closely monitored over the coming weeks. Likewise, snowpack SWE remain unfavorably low in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains (50-70 percent of average) and River Range (60-75 percent of average, but locally less than 50 percent). These areas too will need to be followed closely throughout the second half of the Water Year.

Farther south, there were no changes to the drought depiction from the Great Basin into the Four Corners Region. In the areas of Moderate to Severe Drought (D1 and D2) around Great Salt Lake, precipitation since the beginning of the Water Year has been generally favorable, with mountain SWE currently near to above average. However, reservoir storage in these aforementioned areas hovered near or below 60 percent of average for the date, reflecting the lingering impacts of the region’s long-term drought.

In the core western drought areas of California and western Nevada, dry, warm weather during the period resulted in no change to this week’s drought depiction. While much of the region has experienced favorable precipitation during the 2015-16 Water Year — and subsequent removal of the “S” (short-term) drought Impact Type — considerable long-term (L) impacts remain. Furthermore, there are notable pockets of short-term dryness over central and southern California contributing to the long-term drought signal. While current SWE in the Sierra Nevada are near to above average, most reservoirs on either side of the mountains remain well below average. Adding to the drought are localized areas where it has been a drier-than-normal Water Year to date; counties near and west of Sacramento have averaged 60 to 75 percent of normal precipitation since October 1, while coastal locales from Los Angeles north to Santa Barbara have reported on average 35 to 50 percent of normal rainfall during the current Water Year…

Looking Ahead

Mild weather will expand to cover much of the nation, including the previously cold eastern U.S. Warm weather will continue to set high-temperature records across the nation’s mid-section, with warmth peaking in many areas on February 18. On that date, high temperatures could reach 90°F on the southern High Plains. At the height of the southern Plains’ warm spell, gusty winds and dry conditions will lead to an enhanced risk of wildfires. Dry weather will prevail during the next 5 days across the Deep South, as well as the central and southern Plains. In contrast, precipitation totaling 2 to 6 inches — much of which will fall on February 17-18 — can be expected in parts of northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Toward week’s end, snow can be expected from the upper Great Lakes into northern New England, while rain showers will develop from the mid-South into the Ohio Valley. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for February 23 – 27 calls for above-normal temperatures across much of the western and central U.S., with cooler-than-normal conditions largely confined to the Southeast. Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation is anticipated from southern California and the Great Basin eastward into the Corn Belt and Great Lakes, encompassing the Rockies and Plains. Wetter-than-normal conditions will be confined to coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest and from the eastern Gulf Coast States into New England.

#Snowpack news: #Colorado is drying out some, statewide = 105%