2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs SB19-181, (Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations)

Wattenburg Field via The Denver Post

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

“Today, with the signing of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over, and the winner is all of us,” said Polis, a Democrat.

The state has struggled for years to balance the interests of the booming industry against growing concerns of people who live nearby drilling rigs, wells and tanks.

Colorado ranks fifth nationally in crude oil production and sixth in natural gas. The industry says it contributes $32 billion annually to the state economy, including taxes and 89,000 direct and indirect jobs.

But fast-growing communities north of Denver are spilling into the state’s most productive oil and gas area, the Wattenberg field, sparking complaints about noise and pollution and provoking fears about explosions…

Supporters said the law brings much needed protections for Colorado’s booming population, its environment and its growing recreation industry.

Opponents warned the law could stifle a major industry, kill jobs and shrink tax revenue.

The AWWA: Past, Present and Future with CEO David LaFrance — The Water Values

Click here to listen to the podcast:

American Water Works Association (AWWA) CEO David LaFrance joins The Water Values Podcast for a wide-ranging look at the AWWA. David recounts some history of the AWWA, discusses AWWA’s strategic initiatives (including a recap of how AWWA’s expansion to India is going) and important current issues, and identifies some key trends where he sees water issues heading in the future. David gives a great interview that’s chock full of interesting information.

In this session, you’ll learn about:

  • The origins of the AWWA
  • The AWWA’s mission
  • Why the AWWA chose to expand internationally to India
  • How North American members can learn from Indian water professionals
  • AWWA ACE19 in Denver, CO (June 9-12, 2019)
  • Recent federal legislation concerning water (WIFIA & the Farm Bill)
  • Why AWWA’s standards have been so important in bringing uniformity to water infrastructure
  • The key issues David sees being at the fore in the water sector in the future
  • Resources and links mentioned in or relevant to this session include:

  • AWWA’s website
  • David’s LinkedIn Profile and Twitter handle
  • AWWA handle on Twitter
  • AWWA India homepage
  • EPA webpage on WIFIA
  • Article on the conservation programs in the Farm Bill
  • TWV #136: Water Reuse with Pat Sinicropi (executive director of the Water Reuse Association)
  • TWV #078: Exploring the Work of the Water Research Foundation with Rob Renner
  • Report: Salinity Cycles in Lower #ColoradoRiver Caused by Precipitation Patterns in Upper Basin — @USGS

    Click here to read the release from the USGS (Jennifer LaVista):

    A new study shows that mysterious cycles in salinity in the lower Colorado River are a result of precipitation patterns in the headwaters of the upper basin more than a thousand river miles away. The salinity levels generally repeat about every 10 years.

    Beginning in the late 1970s, these decadal-scale salinity cycles were observed at monitoring locations on the lower Colorado River in the U.S., hampering the Bureau of Reclamation’s efforts to manage salinity in the river for delivery of water to Mexico to meet obligations under an international treaty.

    The Colorado River provides water for more than 35 million people in the U.S. and 3 million in Mexico. The river also sustains agricultural production of food for millions in both countries. Mexico uses nearly all of its Colorado River allotment for irrigation. High salinity in irrigation water can reduce agricultural productivity and may preclude growing crops such as tomatoes and lettuce.

    The new findings published in the Journal of Environmental Management were conducted by the USGS in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation.

    “It’s important for Reclamation to be able to understand and forecast changes in salinity in the lower Colorado River as management actions may be required,” said Fred Tillman, lead author of the study. “Understanding the causes of the salinity cycles will provide Reclamation with about 4 years of advance notice on future changing salinity cycles in the lower river.”

    USGS scientists tracked salinity cycles from the northern international boundary with Mexico, upstream through Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon, to Lees Ferry using extensive streamflow and water- chemistry datasets. Scientists first hypothesized that evaporation in Lake Powell may cause the cycles. However, evaluation of lake water levels, evaporation data and salinity results from Lake Powell eliminated the reservoir as the cause. Scientists continued their search even farther up the basin, finding that monitoring data from the Green, Colorado and San Juan Rivers in the upper basin all showed salinity cycles that were similar to those seen on the lower river. Cyclical patterns in precipitation in the upper basin were discovered to be causing the cyclical salinity patterns in the river that then travel downstream relatively unchanged.

    The Colorado River at the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge near Cabin Lake, Arizona. Photo credit: USGS

    Findings of a #Colorado data miner could be pivotal in #climatechange lawsuits — The Mountain Town News @MountainTownNew

    Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Startling climate change conclusions of Colorado researcher

    A startling fact has emerged from what the New York Times Magazine describes as a basement full of dusty reports in the mountains of Colorado.

    There, climate data researcher Rich Heede has concluded that if you include all the carbon extracted and supplied, just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of all the greenhouse gases emitted between 1751 and 2016.

    “Even more startling,” the story goes on to say, “more than half those emissions have occurred since 1988, the year that the climate scientist James Hansen, then at NASA, appeared before Congress to urge that ‘it is time to stop waffling’ and recognize the clear link between the emission of greenhouse gases and the warming of the planet.”

    Heede, who has a non-profit called Climate Accountability Institute, seems to work from a home overlooking Capitol Creek. This is a valley away from Snowmass, perhaps 25 minutes from Aspen. Nearby, in the early 1980s, Amory Lovins and his then-wife, Hunter Lovins, founded his now-famous Rocky Mountain Institute. Heede shows up at some of the same energy and climate conferences I attend. I’ve engaged him in conversation a time or two, even got him to buy a small advertisement in Mountain Town News.

    The Times explains that Heede has spent much of the last 16 years searching through archives to find reports about how much fossil-fuel companies extracted during their sometimes long histories. He then “estimates how much fossil fuel was used for a company’s own operations, how much diverted for things like asphalt or petrochemical production, how much volatilized into the atmosphere.” It is, says the NY Times Magazine writer, Brooke Jarvis, tedious work.

    But Heede’s work is also perhaps pivotal to a growing body of lawsuits being filed around the world against fossil fuel companies. They include a lawsuit filed last year by Colorado’s San Miguel County and two other local jurisdictions, the municipality of Boulder and Boulder County, linking the profits of Suncor and ExxonMobil with emerging impacts of increased wildfire, extreme weather, and so forth.

    That lawsuit on the face of it looks almost frivolous. How can you connect these dots of specific causality when even now the impacts to climate of rising temperatures have barely emerged from the noisy range of natural variability?

    The NY Times Magazine piece makes the same point: “The sheer vastness of the climate problem has been a boon to defendants.” One lawyer who has spent his career defending large companies in environmental litigation says he would broaden the case as much as possible. “I would basically create a historical tableau and put civilization on trial.”

    Just last year, a federal judge dismissed the claims filed by Oakland and San Francisco against five oil companies. “The dangers raised in the complaints are very real,” Judge William Alsup wrote. “But those dangers are worldwide. Their causes are worldwide. The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide. The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public-nuisance case.”

    But for plaintiffs in the new wave of cases—including, presumably, those involving the Colorado jurisdictions—such defenses “represent a fundamental misunderstanding not only of what the lawsuits are claiming but also of what the law is capable of handling.”

    Jarvis starts her story in a Peruvian village threatened by disintegrating glaciers. The loss of ice threatens the village in several ways, including the possibility of a calving glacier plunging into a lake above the town, causing flooding. She’s apparently bilingual and it served her well when she was doing her reporting there, connecting well with a villager—a farmer and guide—who is the face for a lawsuit filed against a German fossil fuel company. The lawsuit was not dismissed easily, as in the Oakland and San Francisco cases, but has moved to the evidentiary phrase.

    If the Colorado lawsuit gets that far, it will still face a long list of difficult questions, among them those posed by Jarvis in her story:

    “Where on the chain of causality—from coal extraction to power generation, for example— does responsibility lie? How do we put a dollar amount on the degree of liability? How do we account for non-climate variables, such as whether a city magnified its exposure to damages from wildfire or rising seas by permitting development in risky places? How should other contributors to climate change, from deforestation to population growth, be considered?”

    But at one time lawsuits against tobacco companies looked like long-shots, too. She reports that proponents of lawsuits against fossil-fuel companies have studied the earlier lawsuits carefully. “The tide began to turn against the tobacco industry once subpoenaed documents showed a longstanding conspiracy to cover up the harms of smoking,” she says.

    In the case of fossil fuels, what might this look like? After all, we do have evidence of Exxon realizing the risks of fossil fuels decades ago. “Some observers imagine a future in which fossil-fuel companies support carbon regulation because it includes a provision shielding them from a morass of liability.” There are other ideas where all this may go.

    If you’ve made it this far, you probably have enough interest in reading the entire story.

    I also recommend the climate pricing story in the same issue: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/09/magazine/climate-change-politics-economics.html

    America’s MostEndangered Rivers®of 2019 — @AmericanRivers

    Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

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

    #1: GILA RIVER, NEW MEXICO
    Threat: Water Diversion, Climate Change

    Flowing out of the nation’s first wilderness area, the Gila River supports outstanding examples of southwestern riparian forest, cold-water fisheries and a remarkable abundance of wildlife. The Gila River provides significant economic value to the region, with superb opportunities for outdoor recreation, nature-based specialty travel and wilderness experiences. It is also important to indigenous peoples who have lived in southwestern New Mexico for thousands of years. Many cultural sites are found along the Gila River and throughout its watershed. Furthermore, the Hispanic community has a culture, heritage and way of life tied to the river and forest, where generations continue to hunt, fish, hike and enjoy family time together.

    After more than a decade of planning and more than $15 million spent, a substantial diversion project is in the last year of review under the National Environmental Policy Act. A draft environmental impact statement is expected in April 2019 with a record of decision by the end of 2019. Despite the projected high costs, severe delays in schedule and feasibility issues with multiple iterations of the diversion proposal, this project continues to move forward with likely support from the Trump administration.

    In this critical year, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham can eliminate the threat to the Gila River by withdrawing the project from the Arizona Water Settlements Act process and instead spend available AWSA funding on non-diversion projects to meet the water needs of communities throughout southwest New Mexico. Governor Lujan Grisham has pledged to end work on the diversion by using these funds more efficiently on other projects and to ensure that the Gila River is protected by federal law. We urge her to fulfill this promise, saving taxpayers and water users money, providing direct benefits for area farmers and businesses and protecting the Gila River for future generations.

    American Rivers appreciates the collaboration and efforts of our partners:

  • Gila Conservation Coalition
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Upper Gila Watershed Alliance
  • One threat down one to go

    From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    Last week, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the last of the bills from the 2019 legislative session, she line-item vetoed $1.698 million in New Mexico Unit funding for the Gila River diversion.

    Tripp Stelnicki, the governor’s director of communications, said Lujan Grisham has been clear about her views on the diversion project. He added that the administration’s opposition to it “does not come down to one veto or one source of funds but rather the policies that will be spearheaded by the OSE and ISC.” The Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission are the state’s two water agencies.

    Since January 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has deposited more than $60 million into New Mexico’s coffers for the project. Already, about $15 million of that money has already been spent (plus about another $2 million in state money), even though plans for the project have yet to be solidified and no one has yet identified buyers for the water, which would cost about $450 per acre foot. (And those contracts would need to be approved by both the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer and the U.S. Department of the Interior.)

    After the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission voted in 2014 to build the diversion, the state created the New Mexico Central Arizona Project. Made up of representatives of local irrigation districts, counties and towns, the entity oversees its construction, maintenance and operation. To receive the full federal subsidy for the project, the entity is supposed to have completed environmental studies and received approval from the secretary of the Interior Department by the end of 2019. But despite the millions of dollars spent, the project is about 18 months behind schedule.

    To see all our past coverage of the issue, visit: http://nmpoliticalreport.com/tag/gila-river/

    West Slope attorney hailed for bringing consensus to ‘chaos’ – News on TAP

    John McClow was presented with the Aspinall Award for his calming influence on Denver, statewide water politics.

    Source: West Slope attorney hailed for bringing consensus to ‘chaos’ – News on TAP

    Saguache: Folks in the San Luis Valley express opposition to out of basin export plan

    The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Center Post Dispatch (Teresa L. Benns):

    Renewable Water Resources (RWR) managing partner Sean Tonner made his water export presentation to an overflow crowd at the Saguache Road and Bridge Building [April 9, 2019] evening, but nearly all those attending made it clear they were not receptive to the plan.

    Tonner opened the discussion by telling county residents the plan is “still in the formation stages and has years to go.” He said he has already held 150 meetings to explain the project.

    A former chief of staff for Gov. Bill Owen, who supported the plan, Tonner also worked with former State Senator Greg Brophy and other government officials on the project. Currently Tonner owns the 11,500-acre Gary Boyce ranch, purchased from Boyce’s wife following his death. He also leases grazing land in the same area.

    Tonner claims less than two percent of the annual confined aquifer recharge — 500,000 acre-feet — is needed by the Front Range. Farmers could sell all or a portion of their water rights to RWR for twice the going amount. A total of $60 million has been set aside to procure water rights.

    Already enough Saguache County farmers and ranchers have agreed to sell their water rights to satisfy the proposed 22,000 acre-feet project, Tonner reported. The plan is said to be able to retire more than 30,000 acre-feet, reducing the overall usage from the basin. This would presumably lessen the pressure on existing rivers and streams now providing water to the Front Range.

    A pipeline along Highway 285, restricted to a 22,000-acre-foot capacity, would carry the water up over Poncha Pass into Chaffee County and from there it would eventually make its way into the Platte River. There would be no adverse impact on wildlife, Tonner claims.

    The project would create a $50 million community fund for the county that could be used for a variety of purposes including education, law enforcement, tourism, economic development, conservation and other worthy cause. The county would manage the fund. Just the interest would generate $3-4 million annually which is twice the amount of the county’s sales tax grants, he pointed out.

    Commissioners question Tonner

    Citizens were asked to listen only during the meeting, although there was one uninvited comment by longtime water consultant Chris Canaly. Commissioners then offered their responses to Tonner’s plan, beginning with Jason Anderson.

    Anderson asked Tonner if he had researched the plan to see if any communities in either Colorado or nationwide had ever benefited from water exportation. Tonner could not answer the question, although he told Anderson he is familiar with the history of similar projects.

    J. Anderson also challenged Tonner’s statement that there is one to two billion acre-feet of water in the aquifer beneath the Valley, some of it below sea level. “We have a guess about what’s down there, but no one really knows,” Anderson told Tonner, echoing the opinions of several water exports who have advised the county. “And they estimate that all this water is connected, so where are the benefits, say, for Alamosa and Costilla counties?”

    RWR replied that the benefit would lie in a lessening of the burden of water replacement. Commissioner Ken Anderson challenged Tonner on his definition of Front Range, reminding him that the San Juans are the higher front range. K. Anderson said he also had questions about the model RWR is using.

    Commissioner Jason Anderson then asked Tonner what the county would do about the promised money for the community fund if there is another recession. RWR replied there would likely be another economic downturn, but said he thought it “is pretty bad when we have the ability to solve problems with renewable resources we are not going to use” and fail to do so.

    This brought a united protest from the crowd, who denied the county’s water resources are “renewable.” Anderson reminded attendees that Tonner had a right as a Saguache County resident to voice his opinion whether they agreed with his ideas or not.