@americanrivers: A New Year’s Resolution Challenge to Protect the #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.
Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

From American Rivers (Fay Augustyn):

Here in Colorado, rivers and streams are the lifeblood of our livelihood and economy, and this past year we celebrated the first anniversary of the signing of the Colorado Water Plan, a first of its kind plan to protect and conserve water in Colorado.

Like many other Coloradans, each January 1st, I like to set resolutions to restart in the New Year. Probably like you, my resolutions are usually focused on self-improvement – like eating healthier or making time for the gym – other times its adding simple acts of kindness to my daily routine. The holidays have a way of reminding us to do and be better, not just for ourselves or those close to us, but also for each other and the planet we depend on.

Clearly, water plays a critical role in our lives. Not only do we all need clean drinking water, but it also fuels agriculture, manufacturing, and recreation that support our way of life. Like many of you, I love my local rivers and streams and look forward to every chance I get to enjoy them.

Here in the Colorado River Basin, rivers and streams are the lifeblood of our livelihood and economy, with Colorado River and its tributaries contributing to a $26 billion economy. This past November, we celebrated the first anniversary of the signing of the Colorado Water Plan, a first of its kind plan to protect and conserve water in Colorado. While this milestone is something to celebrate, implementation thus far has been slower than anticipated. But new opportunities lie ahead in 2017 as the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) pledged to secure $55 million in funds for implementation. These funds include money dedicated towards creating stream management plans on rivers statewide, which will develop methods to manage rivers and streams in Colorado – keeping them healthy for both nature and people.

How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it's caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Implementing larger conservation initiatives like the Colorado Water Plan are critical for not only the rivers of Colorado, but for the entire Colorado River Basin. However, large initiatives aren’t the only thing that will make a difference in conserving our rivers. As an individual, it may be challenging to determine how you can make a difference in your water use. There are a number of “resolutions” you can add to your list that will not only conserve water and protect local rivers, but reduce your impact on the local environment as well.

This year, I’m determined to do a better job of conserving water in my house and reducing my impact on our rivers. In addition to my usual resolutions, I’m adding a few to protect the rivers I love and depend on – join me! Here are a few of the resolutions I’m adding to my list this year:

WATERING THE GARDEN AND LANDSCAPE EARLY IN THE MORNING.
Here in Colorado, the sun is hot! I recently moved into a new house and this summer I’m planning to plant native species that require less water and can survive sunny conditions. In order to reduce evaporation and help water reach their roots, I will water my plants and vegetables early in the cool mornings to reduce waste. Another added benefit – watering early in the day can help reduce unwanted garden pests like slugs!

EATING LOCAL AND SHOP AT YOUR LOCAL FARMERS MARKET.
Sustainable farms and ranches help protect open space and clean water supply. This year, I’m going to make an effort to eat more locally and visit my neighborhood farmers market. In Colorado, many local farmers and ranchers have worked with local land trusts and open space programs to protect water rights and important riverside lands, keeping more water in the river. Eating locally also helps reduce energy used for transporting those goods to market, which in turn, reduces the amount of water needed to create fuel. Shopping at the farmers market is fun too – especially when I bring my friends and family to enjoy it with me!

water tap

COMMITTING TO SHORTER SHOWERS AND CHECKING FOR LEAKY PIPES AND FAUCETS.
I will cut down on my shower time by washing my hair every other day to reduce time, and remind my husband to turn off the water while he shaves. A four-minute shower uses approximately 20 to 40 gallons of water (depending on your shower head). Not to mention, a small drip from an old, leaky faucet can waste up to 20 gallons of water per day. In addition to conserving water, you could see some significant water savings right away on your monthly bill.

USING MY DISH AND CLOTHES WASHER ONLY WHEN THEY ARE FULL.
While it can be more convenient to run your washer when you need it, I will only run my dish and clothes washers when they are full. Not only is this more energy efficient, but running a full dishwasher instead of handwashing dishes can save more than 10 gallons per load. And before I do a load of laundry, I’ll be sure to check its size before pressing start to make sure the dial is adjusted to match the amount of clothes in the machine. And, I think about whether I could wash this load in a cooler temperature – hot water accounts for a dramatic increase in my energy bill, and turning the dial down from hot saves energy. Every drop counts!

CALLING MY STATE AND FEDERAL REPRESENTATIVES AND ADVOCATE FOR WATER CONSERVATION.
We can make a difference. By calling my representative I am letting them know that the water and rivers in Colorado are important to me and I want to see them protected. Stay up to date on water conservation initiatives by signing up for local e-Newsletter where information is included about water conservation. Check out Denver Water’s Conservation Newsletter or the Denver Botanic Gardens newsletter to learn more. Additionally, take time to learn more about important initiatives like the Colorado Water Plan and what it means for local rivers. This innovative plan is critical for the protection of rivers in Colorado. In order to see our rivers protected, we need to continue implementation of the conservation strategies set forth in the plan. First and foremost, I plan to call my representatives and let them know that I want them to approve the budget for the Colorado Water Plan set forth by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Join me and let your representatives know that the Colorado River is important to you and you want it protected.

These are a few things I’m committed to doing in 2017 – leave a comment below about what resolutions you are making to protect the Colorado River!

Big snow for Fort Collins

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

It never looked like a blizzard outside, but three straight days of snow landed Fort Collins with upwards of 9 inches in the city’s northern reaches and at least 7 inches everywhere else by the end of Thursday. That makes it the biggest snow storm Fort Collins has seen this season and pushed the city above its average for this time of year.

EPA delays in-situ uranium rule

uraniuminsitu

From the Associated Press (Mead Gruver) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Federal officials withdrew a proposed requirement for companies to clean up groundwater at uranium mines across the U.S. and will reconsider a rule that congressional Republicans criticized as too harsh on industry.

The plan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put on hold Wednesday involves in-situ mining, in which water containing chemicals is used to dissolve uranium out of underground sandstone deposits. Water laden with uranium, a toxic element used for nuclear power and weapons, is then pumped to the surface. No digging or tunneling takes place.

The metal occurs in the rock naturally but the process contaminates groundwater with uranium in concentrations much higher than natural levels. Mining companies take several measures to prevent tainted water from seeping out of the immediate mining area.

Even so, underground leaks sometimes occur, though most of the mines are not near population centers. No in-situ uranium mine has contaminated a source of drinking water, the industry and its supporters assert.

Along with setting new cleanup standards, the rule would have required companies to monitor their former mines potentially for decades. The requirement was set for implementation but now will be opened up for a six-month public comment period, with several changes.

Those include allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or states to determine certain cleanup standards on a site-specific basis. The EPA decided to resubmit the rule and seek additional public input after reviewing earlier comments, agency spokeswoman Monica Lee said.

Wyoming’s Republican U.S. senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, praised the EPA’s decision to reconsider, saying the rule was unnecessarily burdensome for the uranium industry.

Wyoming has five active in-situ uranium mines and is the top uranium-producing state. Other mines are active in Nebraska and Texas.

“In-situ uranium recovery has been used in the United States for decades, providing valuable jobs to Wyoming and clean energy to the nation,” Enzi said in a news release. “I rarely say this about the EPA, but the agency made the right decision.”

Environmentalists and others say uranium-mining companies have yet to show they can fully clean up groundwater at a former in-situ mine. Clean groundwater should not be taken for granted, they say, especially in the arid and increasingly populated U.S. West.

“We are, of course, disappointed that this final rule didn’t make it to a final stage,” said Shannon Anderson with the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “It was designed to address a very real and pressing problem regarding water protection at uranium mines.”

The EPA rule is scheduled for further consideration in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

In-situ uranium mining surged on record prices that preceded the 2011 Japanese tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Prices lately have sunk to decade lows, prompting layoffs.

BLM, Park County monitor water quality at former Fairplay landfill

aspenssouthpark0909

From the Bureau of Land Management via the The Chaffee County Times:

The Bureau of Land Management and Park County have discovered the presence of dioxane, an industrial chemical, within a closed municipal landfill and on surrounding public lands approximately one mile south of Fairplay.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, the chemical exceeds regulatory limits but would not cause harmful health effects based on detected levels of exposure.

Currently, the dioxane has been detected only on public lands. The BLM and Park County will conduct additional monitoring efforts to determine the nature and extent of contamination.

The BLM leased 20 acres of public land to Park County in 1974 for use as a landfill under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. Park County operated the landfill from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.

The BLM Royal Gorge Field Office has been working with Park County and CDPHE to bring the landfill into compliance.

As part of this effort, the BLM installed two groundwater monitoring wells earlier this year to evaluate water quality.

If you are concerned about your health, you can drink and cook with bottled water to limit your exposure. BLM is notifying adjacent landowners directly.

Local landowners can contact Sheila Cross, Park County, at 719-839-4272 or scross@parkco.us to arrange groundwater testing or for more information on monitoring efforts.