@USBR Releases an Environmental Assessment on Repairs to the Paonia Dam Intake Structure

Paonia Reservoir

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Lesley McWhirter, Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment evaluating if Reclamation will provide partial funding to the North Fork Water Conservancy District to make repairs to the Paonia Dam intake structure and bulkhead, part of the Paonia Project located near Paonia, Colo.

Repairs will include dismantling the damaged upper concrete bulkhead of the intake structure and replacing the bulkhead with a modified aluminum trash rack and support members. Prior to repairing the intake structure, increased turbidity downstream of the dam will be noticeable due to normal reservoir operations and drawdown. Repairs on Paonia Dam will ensure continuation of normal dam operations and water delivery to downstream users.

The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/progact/paonia/documents.html or a copy can be received by contacting Jenny Ward at 970-248-0651 or jward@usbr.gov. Reclamation will consider all comments received by September 20, 2016. Written comments can be submitted by email to jward@usbr.gov or mailed to: Ed Warner, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave., Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

To learn more about the Paonia Project, the upcoming repair work, or sedimentation issues in the reservoir, visit our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wca/progact/paonia/index.html. You can also be added to our email list for project updates by clicking the “Contact Us” link.

#AnimasRiver: Remediation of mine sites around Silverton become a priority — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday its will add the district of mines around Silverton to its National Priorities List as a Superfund site this week.

In a press release, the EPA said it would add the “Bonita Peak Mining District” – a group of about 50 mine waste sites in San Juan County – to the NPL on Friday.

“Listing the Bonita Peak Mining District on the National Priorities List is an important step that enables EPA to secure the necessary resources to investigate and address contamination concerns of San Juan and La Plata counties, as well as other downstream communities in New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation,” Shaun McGrath, EPA’s regional administrator, said in a prepared statement.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

EPA officials said they’ll announce the prioritization of these sites along Animas River headwaters above Silverton – “the Bonita Peak Mining District” – in the federal register on Friday. These are among 10 new sites nationwide targeted for cleanups — dependent on Congress providing funds. The federal Superfund program involves investigating and cleaning up the nation’s worst environmental disasters to protect human health and the environment.

“Listing the Bonita Peak Mining District on the National Priorities List is an important step that enables EPA to secure the necessary resources to investigate and address contamination concerns of San Juan and La Plata Counties, as well as other downstream communities in New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation,” EPA regional administrator Shaun McGrath said in a prepared statement.

“We look forward to continuing our efforts with the state of Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S Forest Service, tribal governments and our community partners to address the impacts of acid mine drainage on the Animas River.”

The district consists of 35 dormant mines, seven tunnels, four heaps of tailings and two study areas — sites located along Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and the Upper Animas. These waterways flow into the Animas River just below Silverton…

EPA data on 32 sources in the area, discharging contaminants at a combined rate of 5.4 million gallons per day, identify contaminants including cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc.

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

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

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

#ClimateChange: Boulder’s clean energy pledge was driven by a lack of state and national leadership — The Colorado Independent

From The Colorado Independent (Kelsey Ray):

Boulder aims derive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. By the Sierra Club’s measure, that makes Boulder the 17th city nationwide to commit to the ambitious climate goal.

Mayor Suzanne Jones announced the plan last week during a clean energy event in Denver put on by environmental groups. She said the commitment is good news in the fight against climate change, but that Boulder’s motivation stems largely from an unfortunate lack of action at the state and national levels.

“The story here is that cities are having to lead because there isn’t national leadership, and frankly there’s limited state leadership,” she told The Independent.

The need for state and local government action has been a focus of environmentalists since the Paris climate conference. As Jones tells it, Boulder aims in the future “to push for better state policies and programs through the legislature, and (to) work with the administration to try to move the ball forward.”

Boulder’s clean energy goal has been in the works since May, when council members agreed in theory to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity. The goal for 2030 will become official, in the form of a finalized citywide climate commitment, this December. In the meantime, the city’s staff has been directed to develop a roadmap to make the commitment possible.

One such staff member is Jonathan Koehn, Boulder’s regional sustainability coordinator. Koehn said the commitment to 100 percent renewables is a sub-strategy for meeting the city’s larger goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The same goal was set statewide in 2008 via an executive order by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, but Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2015 climate plan made no mention of it — or any other measurable, quantifiable goals.

Koehn is quick to point out that Boulder’s latest commitment is only to clean electricity, and thus doesn’t mean the city will suddenly stop using oil and gas. Boulderites will still use natural gas to heat their homes, and the city’s public transportation system will still run on fossil fuels. But powering the electric grid with renewables will better prepare Boulder for the inevitable uptick in electricity use that future changes — like a shift to electric cars and buses — will undoubtedly bring.

“If we want to move people off of fossil fuels, we want to do it when the electricity supply is as clean as it can be,” said Koehn.

The plan also doesn’t mean that Boulder will stop using carbon-powered electricity. It will stay connected to the state’s larger grid, which, like the city does now, uses a mix of renewable and fossil fuels to smooth out the supply during peak demand times. But by 2030, Boulder will produce enough renewable energy for its own use, leading to the same net impact as if it used only its own, separate grid.

This commitment to generating enough electricity to cover total use differs from that of Aspen, which is currently known as one of three U.S. cities to already run only on renewables. Aspen actually still gets about half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants and simply offsets the difference by purchasing renewable energy credits from out-of-state utilities, like a wind farm in Nebraska. Boulder is committed to actually creating renewable energy, not just paying for it.

Boulder’s energy staff will spend the next several months hammering out the details of its climate commitment plan. Then, according to a memo released from the May 10 meeting, a finalized “comprehensive energy transition strategy” will be expected in 2017, when the city has a better sense of whether it will municipalize its utility or renew a contract with Xcel Energy.

Both Jones and Koehn admit that transitioning to a 100 percent renewable electricity supply won’t be easy, but say it’s both necessary and economically sound. [ed. emphasis mine]

Said Koehn, “People can continue to shake their heads at this, but we know that this is where our society needs to go in terms of stabilizing our climate.”

Jones added, “The wonderful thing about this is that moving to 100 percent renewable energy is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the right business choice.”

#ColoradoRiver: Remote-operated cloud seeder being installed above Dolores — KOAA.com #COriver

instumentationcloudseedingresearchcolorado

From the Associated Press via KOAA.com:

A remote-operated cloud-seeding generator is being installed in the mountains above Dolores in an attempt to improve snowpack and runoff into McPhee Reservoir.

Cloud seeders emit plumes of silver iodide into winter storm clouds to coax additional precipitation from clouds.

There are about 30 cloud-seeding generators stretching in an arc from Telluride to Mancos to Pagosa Springs. Most of the units are 40-year-old designs and require an operator to turn them on and off when conditions warrant.

The Cortez Journal reports that the Dolores Water Conservancy District has partnered with the Idaho Power Co. and Colorado Water Conservation Board on the project. Idaho Power has developed a more efficient remote-controlled generator that can be placed in locations higher in the mountains and closer to the clouds they seed.

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

#ColoradoRiver: “Shortages are going to be a way of life” — Bill Hasencamp #COriver

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From The Los Angeles Times (William Yardley):

reckoning arrives every August for the Colorado River and the 40 million people across the West who depend on it.

After water managers measure annual inflows and outflows and do their best to estimate future precipitation in places as far-flung as northwestern Wyoming and southwestern New Mexico, they make a pronouncement that once was arcane but has become increasingly prominent — and ominous.

Technically, what they announce is the projected elevation of Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, on Jan. 1 for each of the next two years.

Psychologically, in a region already parched by years of drought and staring into a hotter, drier, climate-changed future, they are forecasting anxiety.

Under current policy, if the projected elevation falls below 1,075 feet on Jan. 1, states in the southern part of the basin face a “shortage.” That would prompt mandatory cuts in water use that could force farmers to fallow fields and require cities and tribes to reduce use.

In the eight decades since the Hoover Dam was completed and Lake Mead was first filled, that has never happened.

Then, last month, it did.

For a while. Sort of. Maybe.

On Aug. 16, the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the basin, projected that Lake Mead would fall below the 1,075 threshhold — not next year, but in 2018. It released a report predicting it would reach the 2018 shortage by a narrow margin — the lake would fall to 1.074.31 feet on Dec. 31, 2017 — but it would be a shortage nonetheless.

Yet the following week, another bureau report came out that shed more light on that forecast. Instead of just projecting an elevation level, it stated the specific probability that the lake would hit that level. The chance, the agency said, was 48%.

Or, as Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the Lower Colorado region of the bureau, put it: “It’s kind of a flip of the coin.”

So, by that math, maybe there will be a shortage in 2018 and maybe there will not be. Maybe the Southwest will finally confront the very real limits of its water supply. Or maybe it will not.

Except the story does not end there.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s projection does not take into account some major conservation measures that states in the lower part of the river basin are undertaking — measures that water managers say have already helped avoid a shortage in 2017.

In Arizona alone, water officials say that, by next summer, their conservation work could be effective enough to lift the projected elevation of Lake Mead for 2018 by more than 2 feet, enough to fend off a shortage for another year.

And then there is the “drought contingency plan,” which is being developed by Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and the Bureau of Reclamation to voluntarily reduce water use even further — before a shortage could be declared for 2018, but also in the event one is declared after that. The plan, which would need legislative approval in Arizona and the support of water managers in other states, could be in place by early 2017.

State and local water managers say they are working together so that, well, they can keep working together. If they do not, they fear, the federal government will intervene and they will lose control…

While forecasting the level of Lake Mead might seem like fuzzy math, the general arc of things is not in dispute. The same report that showed a 48% chance of a shortage in 2018 shows the chance of shortage at 60% in 2019, 60% in 2020 and 56% in 2021.

Few water managers hold out great hope that the snowpack, the single most important source of precipitation for the basin, will suddenly rise dramatically, year over year. Experts have established that there is a structural deficit on the river — more demand than supply. Most people close to the process think the region will slowly, sometimes painfully, shift water resources away from certain kinds of agriculture, which uses the vast majority of the supply, and toward urban populations.

So when you look at it that way, the fuzzy math at Lake Mead is not really fuzzy at all.

“Basically, what the models say is that, in the future, most years will be shortage years,” said Bill Hasencamp, the manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “Shortages are going to be a way of life.”