Colorado’s Superfund Sites Stretch From Silverton to East Colfax Avenue — Westword

From Westword (Ana Campbell):

Superfund sites dot Colorado; arguably the most well known is the long-dormant Rocky Mountain Arsenal, the chemical weapons and pesticide manufacturing plant once dubbed the most contaminated square mile on earth and now home to a wildlife refuge.

Many other past and present Superfund sites are tougher to spot, including the Denver radium sites.

Radium, once thought to be a miracle cure for cancer, was big business in Denver before the industry went belly up in the 1920s. Years later, all that remained of the industry were the 65 properties around Denver contaminated with radioactive material, which an EPA official discovered in the late ’70s. Soil at the sites was contaminated with radium, thorium and uranium, the radioactive decay of which produces radon gas, according to a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment report.

In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, which set up an EPA-managed fund dedicated to paying for the cleanup of hazardous sites around the country. That included the Denver radium sites, which in 2010 were finally released from the EPA’s National Priorities List, “the list of national priorities among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories,” according to the EPA’s website.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials still test groundwater at the former Shattuck Chemical Co. site in south Denver, which falls under Denver radium’s Superfund, and they will continue to test water every five years until it meets department standards.

The radium sites have all been cleaned up, the contaminated asphalt and soil scraped off and hauled away.

But there are other active Superfund sites in Colorado…The EPA has a full list of proposed, final and deleted sites in Colorado.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal June 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal June 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

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

#COWaterPlan: “There’s real time and then there’s water time” — Joe Frank


From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Members and staffers of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors have questioned figures published last weekend that put the cost of the Colorado Water Plan at nearly $6 million…

Joe Frank, LSPWCD executive director, said he questions the accuracy of the figures because of a conversation he’s had with Brent Newman, a program director with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which produced the CWP. According to Hartman’s figures the roundtable groups for the Denver metro area and the South Platte Basin, which collaborated on a joint Basin Implementation Plan, spent $2.2 million on that plan. But Frank said his conversation with Newman put the number at $1.3 million, or a little more than half of the amount estimated by Hartman.

Several board members said this morning that even if the $6 million figure is accurate, it’s not out of line for the work that was done, and the results have been well worth the money.

“I don’t know if you can put a value on the relationships that have grown out of this,” said Brad Stromberger, a board member from Iliff. “The amazing thing was that people who might’ve never talked to each other before, and certainly never talked to this extent, actually sat down and worked out a plan they all can agree on. I just don’t think you can put a value on that.”

The board members also answered criticism that little has happened since the plan was unveiled in November, and that there aren’t specific project recommendations in the plan. They pointed out that the Colorado Water Plan wasn’t meant to promote specific water storage projects or conservation strategies, and that some movement is being seen.

“It’s meant to be a blueprint,” said Gene Manuello of Sterling. “But you can’t make recommendations for a specific project in a statewide plan. A water storage project is going to affect someone upstream or downstream, and you have to work those things out.”

Frank said the plan does, in fact, specify how much water will have to be found over the next 30 to 50 years, and it lays out a process for identifying and developing projects. The board members pointed to House Bill 16-1256, which is aimed at better identifying and recommending water storage possibilities in the South Platte Basin, as one of the results of the CWP. In fact, Section 1 of the bill even mentions the CWP as a reason for the South Platte study to be done.

Frank said even that legislation, which Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, helped sponsor, addresses two competing needs in the search for adequate water. The bill was introduced by Sen. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, with the intent of finding ways to make more trans-mountain water diversion projects unnecessary. Frank pointed out that a study that identifies water storage opportunities in the South Platte Basin helps water users on both sides of the Continental Divide.

As for the apparent time lag between the plan’s introduction last year and work actually being done, Frank said, “There’s real time and then there’s water time. Sometimes a lot of talking has to be done to make sure everybody’s on board with a project.”

Supreme Court to consider report on #RioGrande case (#TX #NM) — The #Colorado Springs Gazette


From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The nation’s highest court will likely have to settle a dispute between Texas and New Mexico over management of water from the Rio Grande.

Officials in both states have been waiting for nearly a year for a recommendation on the handling of the case that could dramatically curb groundwater pumping in some of New Mexico’s most fertile valleys and force the state to pay as much as $1 billion in damages.

Now, a special master assigned by the U.S. Supreme Court is recommending the rejection of a motion by New Mexico to dismiss the case, meaning it can move forward as long as the high court agrees…

New Mexico state Sen. Joe Cervantes, whose district includes the border region, said the special master’s recommendation was not a surprise, and that he and a small group of lawmakers have been warning about potentially dire outcomes if Texas gains the upper hand in the legal battle.

Cervantes said the recommendation to let the case proceed seems to support demands by Texas for more water from the Rio Grande.

“A great deal more water delivered to Texas to make up for historic shortfalls seems to be a clear direction he’s going,” Cervantes said of the special master. “And since water won’t make up for all of the shortfalls, we’re looking at the risk of large financial damages.”

The parties have a chance to respond to the special master before the Supreme Court weighs in on what is the latest legal battle over water to pit states against one another. Connecticut and Massachusetts, Nebraska and Wyoming, and New York and New Jersey all have been embroiled in water disputes over the decades.

The federal government has weighed in on the New Mexico-Texas case, arguing that pumping north of the border is tapping a shallow aquifer that would otherwise drain back into the Rio Grande and flow to Texas and eventually to Mexico.

Officials in Texas made similar claims about water shortages under the compact more than a decade ago. Irrigation districts that serve farmers on both sides of the border reached an operating agreement with the federal government in 2008 that shared the burdens of drought while ensuring everyone received water allotments.

Local water managers say the agreement worked even during the driest of times, but former New Mexico Attorney General Gary King insisted that it was more beneficial to Texas and sued over his concerns, setting the stage for Texas to take its complaints to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Current Attorney General Hector Balderas said New Mexico will continue to work diligently to protect state residents and their water supply.

New Mexico argues that its only duty under the compact is to deliver water to Elephant Butte Reservoir for storage for downstream users. It also argues that state law, not the compact, governs the distributions of water released from Elephant Butte within state boundaries.

Officials with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District — responsible for funneling Rio Grande Project water to farmers and other users — say the special master’s report implies that the water is protected by the compact and federal law.

In his report, the special master suggested New Mexico has a “stunted interpretation” of the compact and that the state may not divert or intercept water it’s required to deliver downstream.

The Rio Grande stretches from southern Colorado, through New Mexico and Texas and into Mexico. In recent years, parts of the river have gone dry in New Mexico and flows often don’t reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort Lyon Ditch: Large-scale changes requested by Arkansas River Farms

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In sometimes heated exchanges, Fort Lyon Canal shareholders questioned the impact of large-scale changes of how water moves on the Arkansas Valley’s largest ditch.

Arkansas River Farms is asking the Fort Lyon board of directors to consider changes that would dry up about 6,400 acres and add sprinklers to 6,200 acres, all part of the more than 14,000 acres the partnership purchased for $50 million last year.

For the directors, it means walking a tightrope. While some shareholders are worried, Arkansas River Farms is the largest shareholder on the ditch. All must be treated fairly, the board believes.

In addition, as official representatives of the canal company, the Fort Lyon board will be a party in the eventual water court case to change how the water rights can be used.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve done this,” said Dale Mauch, a Fort Lyon board member who chaired the board in 2003, after High Plains LLC bought the same farms now in question. “High Plains and Colorado Beef also required a ruling from the board, so we have precedents on setting requirements.”

During a hearing this week, shareholders questioned how some of the water could be measured down to tenths of an inch, what would happen to several laterals that ARF will abandon, how drains that carry water back to the Arkansas River would be affected, water quality changes from increased groundwater use and paying for unforeseen future effects.

The chance for any shareholder to ask questions is important. The High Plains hearing, which lasted four days in November 2003, was similar in structure to this week’s hearings. In that case, however, High Plains already had filed an application to change water rights. The board eventually voted to allow High Plains to take water in rotation, a first step in a plan to move it to other destinations around the state.

High Plains’ plan was struck down in water court in 2004 and in state Supreme Court in 2005. The farms it had purchased were sold to Pure Cycle, which sold most of them to ARF last year.
Arkansas River Farms insists it is only interested in improving the farms it owns, and no longer plans to move water to other parts of the state, although some are skeptical.

Another difference with this week’s hearings is that they are being held in the middle of summer, when farmers are busiest out in the field.

“If the weather’s good, they’ll be putting up hay,” one farmer said.

Still, about 75 people, mostly farmers, showed up for the first day of hearings.

The hearings originally were set for January, but postponed to allow the board to hire an outside attorney and engineer in response to conflict-of-interest charges.

The board isn’t likely to make a decision soon on eight requests of approval in changes of ditch operations and 10 terms or conditions suggested by ARF. Also under consideration are the revegetation plan for acres that would be dried up and the method by which the farming partnership’s shares would be managed by the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association.
Board members each have a thick notebook of information about the proposal to read through as well as two days of testimony — so far.

“We’ll rely heavily on counsel,” said Josh Weimer, president of the Fort Lyon board. He added that the board’s outside attorney, David Hallford of Glenwood Springs, has years of experience in cases involving Arkansas Valley water changes. “I think what this really does is set precedence for the water court case, and will give the judge our opener.”