Will the @POTUS administration boost uranium? Energy industry lobbying could lead to more mining from #BearsEars to #Wyoming — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

In July 2017, lobbyists from Energy Fuels Resources, a Canadian uranium mining company with operations in the United States, urged the [Administration] to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in order to free up uranium deposits for future mining.

Some observers found it odd. After all, foreign competition and low prices had beaten the domestic uranium industry down to just about nothing, and lobbyists — including Andrew Wheeler, who has since been appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency— had already convinced the Obama administration to leave Energy Fuels’ Daneros Mine out of the new national monument. Why would they want to go after more deposits?

Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Now we know: Those same lobbyists are pushing the [Administration] to order utilities to purchase at least 25% of their uranium domestically. Such a quota would throw a lifeline to the handful of uranium mining companies still operating in the U.S. and likely spur more uranium mining in the West — including, perhaps, within Bears Ears’ former boundaries as well as near the Grand Canyon. And it would continue the federal government’s long history of propping up the uranium industry at the expense of the people and places of uranium country —and maybe, even, of the nuclear power industry.

When prospectors with Geiger counters started scouring the Colorado Plateau in the 1940s, the government supported them, building roads to potential deposits, giving federal land to anyone interested in staking a claim, and paying $10,000 bonuses to those who found uranium. When corporations arrived to develop the prospects, the government again stepped in, becoming the sole buyer of the yellowcake they produced, virtually eliminating any economic risk.

Hundreds of mines and mills popped in Wyoming and across the Colorado Plateau, many of them within or near the borders of the Wind River Reservation, the Navajo Nation and New Mexico’s Laguna and Acoma pueblos. Many, if not most, of the miners and millers — and the people who eventually suffered from radiation — belonged to those tribes.

Decades before the U.S. boom got going, researchers had firmly established that European uranium miners (before the bomb, uranium was used to make dye) got lung cancer at much higher rates than the general populace. And in 1952, U.S. scientists uncovered the mechanism by which radon — a radioactive “daughter” of uranium found in at dangerously high levels in mines and mills — caused lung cancer. And yet the miners were never informed of the risks, nor were protective measures taken. In fact, the federal Atomic Energy Commission actively withheld this information from the public in a cover-up that benefited the corporations.

The government ended its uranium-buying program in the 1970s, but by then nuclear power was catching on worldwide, and demand for reactor fuel kept U.S. mines afloat and spurred new mining in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. After the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, though, U.S. utilities stopped building new reactors. A global glut resulted in a uranium price crash, and with cheaper yellowcake flooding in from overseas, the industry withered. As of 2017, U.S. utilities were buying only 5% of their nuclear fuel from domestic producers, and mines and mills employed just 424 people, compared to 16,000 in 1979. While the industry’s future remains in question, its past legacy endures in the form of hundreds of sick miners and millers; abandoned, contaminated mines; and the ongoing, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up giant tailings piles near communities.

Now, the industry — led by Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy — is hoping the government will once again step up, meddle in the markets, and throw it a lifeline. The 25% quota would immediately and substantially up demand — and prices — for domestic uranium, potentially raising production to levels that haven’t been seen in decades. It could breathe new life into Energy Fuels’ Canyon Mine, which is near the Grand Canyon, along with its Daneros Mine and White Mesa Mill — the only conventional mill in the U.S — both located near Bears Ears National Monument. Ur-Energy, meanwhile, would see more demand for its products from the spill-prone Lost Creek in-situ facility in Wyoming near Jeffrey City, a community that bet everything on the uranium boom in the 1970s, only to see it all crash a few years later, leaving the town a husk.

If these existing, active mines can’t keep up with demand, uranium companies could revive long-dormant ones or seek new deposits. Both can be found in the White Canyon uranium district, which was part of the original Bears Ears National Monument but was cut out by the [Administration’s] shrinkage at Energy Fuels’ request.

Late last year, U.S. Department of Commerce officials visited the White Mesa Mill, the Energy Fuels mines near the La Sal Mountains outside Moab, Utah, and other uranium facilities. This spring, they submitted their report on the quota proposal to the [Administration], which has 90 days to act. Indigenous and environmental activists, including citizens from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe near White Mesa, Utah, are protesting the proposal. And this time, they have an unexpected ally: The nuclear power industry. That’s because the proposed quotas will drive up fuel prices for nuclear reactor operators, which are already having a hard time competing against cheap natural gas-generated power.

That puts the President…who hasn’t hesitated to interfere in the free market in order to boost the coal and nuclear power industry — between a rock and reactors.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster.

@WaterEdCo videos: “Jennifer Pitt, 2019 Diane Hoppe Leadership Award” and “Celene Hawkins, 2019 Emerging Leader Award”

Jennifer Pitt:

In May 2019, Water Education Colorado recognized Jennifer Pitt with the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award.

Jennifer Pitt joined Audubon in December 2015 to advise the organization’s strategies to protect and restore rivers throughout the Colorado River Basin. At Audubon she leads the United States–Mexico collaboration to restore the Colorado River Delta. She serves as the U.S. co-chair of the bi-national work group whose partners will, through 2026, implement existing treaty commitments providing environmental flows and habitat creation.

Prior to joining Audubon, Jennifer spent 17 years working to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems in the Colorado River Basin at the Environmental Defense Fund. With partners, she led efforts to prioritize and implement restoration of the Colorado River Delta, including work coordinating the Pulse Flow of 2014 that brought water into dried-up stretches of Colorado River Delta across the border. She also worked with Colorado River stakeholders to produce the unprecedented Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, the first federal assessment of climate change impacts in the basin and the first basin-wide evaluation of the impacts on water supply reliability and river health.

Celene Hawkins:

In May 2019, Water Education Colorado recognized Celene Hawkins with its Emerging Leader Award.

Celene Hawkins serves as the Western Colorado Water Project Director for the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. She coordinates and implements projects with agricultural partners, federal, state, tribal, and local governments, and local conservation organizations to help optimize the use of water in western and southwestern Colorado, and she fosters project work that supports water transactions that benefit environmental values while also supporting agriculture and other traditional water uses. In 2017, Celene was appointed to serve on the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Rivers and she is currently vice-chairman of that board.

#Drought news: Small area of abnormal dryness developed in southwest #NE, far northwest #KS, and a small part of northeast #Colorado because of short-term precipitation deficits

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

A large portion of the lower 48 states remains free of drought or abnormal dryness this week, including the entire Northeast and Midwest regions. Moderate drought coverage shifted in Georgia in response to precipitation patterns over the past week. Areas of short-term moderate drought were removed in Texas, where widespread moderate to heavy precipitation fell. Severe drought in northwest New Mexico was reduced in coverage because of improved short-term conditions, though some long-term precipitation deficits remain in the area. Moderate drought was added in western Washington because of worsening short- and long-term precipitation deficits and low streamflow. Widespread improvements to the drought depiction were made in Hawaii. The northern part of the drought area in southeast Alaska improved some, while severe drought expanded slightly to the south of its position last week in southeast Alaska. No changes were made this week in Puerto Rico…

High Plains

A small area of abnormal dryness developed in southwest Nebraska, far northwest Kansas, and a small part of northeast Colorado because of short-term precipitation deficits and low streamflow in the area. Abnormal dryness also has developed as a result of short-term precipitation deficits in the Laramie Range in Wyoming. In North Dakota, abnormal dryness was extended slightly eastward in response to short-term precipitation deficits. Meanwhile, abnormal dryness in western North Dakota was removed in areas where long-term drought conditions had improved. Very wet conditions have continued in Kansas, and flooding is taking place in south-central Kansas…

West

Long-range drought conditions continued to improve in northwest New Mexico where vegetation is beginning to recover. Thus, severe drought coverage was reduced here, and it remains the only area of severe drought in the lower 48 states. Moderate drought developed in western Washington, and abnormal dryness also expanded here, in response to worsening short- and long-term precipitation deficits, low streamflow, and low soil moisture in some areas. Abnormal dryness developed in the Wind River Range in Wyoming and in the Jackson area in Wyoming. Abnormal dryness was removed in northeast Montana, where long-term precipitation deficits had improved…

South

Widespread improvements were made in Texas this week in areas that received moderate to heavy precipitation, such that no areas of moderate drought remain. With the heavy precipitation, the Brazos River is running high in north-central Texas, and minor to moderate flooding is a concern in parts of Texas. A small area of abnormal dryness expanded from northeast New Mexico into the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, where soil moisture has lessened in response to lower short-term precipitation and frequent hot and windy conditions…

Looking Ahead

Widespread moderate to heavy rain is forecast to continue over the next several days over parts of the south-central United States. The highest rainfall amounts are forecast to occur in southeast Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Precipitation is also forecast in parts of New Mexico that are still experiencing drought. Moderate precipitation amounts are predicted to fall across much of the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. Dry weather is forecast in the Pacific Northwest. Primarily warm weather is forecast in the Northwest, while much of the Plains is expected to be cooler than normal, with moderating temperatures expected early next week.

And, just for grins, take a walk back in drought history with this slideshow of early May US Drought Monitor maps from 2019 back to 2011.

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Finally, #California and Imperial Irrigation District reach agreement on #SaltonSea access and liability — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The New River, a contaminated waterway that flows north from Mexico, spills into the Salton Sea in southwestern California’s Imperial Valley. Transborder pollution is among Jayne Harkins’ priorities as U.S. IBWC Commissioner. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

The Imperial Irrigation District board of directors voted Tuesday to allow access across its lands for critically needed state wetlands projects at the Salton Sea, designed to tamp down dangerous dust storms and give threatened wildlife a boost. In exchange, California will shoulder the maintenance and operations of the projects, and the state’s taxpayers will cover the costs of any lawsuits or regulatory penalties if the work goes awry.

Tuesday’s vote clears a key hurdle to constructing 3,700 acres around the heavily polluted New River at the south end of the lake, implementing what’s known as the Species Conservation Habitat plan. It’s one of the larger pieces of a stalled ten year pilot Salton Sea Management Plan to address increasing public health concerns and massive wildlife losses at California’s largest inland water body.

“I feel a lot more optimistic now that we finally got this step done, which has been bedeviling us for some time,” said Bruce Wilcox, Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources overseeing Salton Sea efforts. “It feels good. Now we just need to move on to the next step.”

[…]

Tuesday’s agreement clears a particularly thorny issue that stopped the larger wetlands projects in their tracks: Who’s responsible if something goes wrong? Neither IID nor previous state officials were willing to budge, but new California water board chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel in March gave state natural resources staff and IID until May 1 to strike an agreement, and told them to report back to him by June…

The threat of lawsuits is not an idle one. Farmers along the edge of the 350 square mile sea — twice as large as Lake Tahoe — have sued before and say they could sue again if state work harms their crops, or, conversely, if nothing is done to stop increasing air quality problems.

“If the government doesn’t do anything about it and all the dust comes into our crops and kills them, well then, we have a pretty good case,” said Juan DeLara, risk manager for Federated Mutual Insurance, which leases 1,000 acres of farmland on the north end of the sea to a grower. DeLara is also head of the Salton Sea Action Committee and would-be developer of a 4,900 acre housing, commercial and recreational project at the sea’s north end.

It’s unclear on what specific legal grounds farmers could sue. Past runoff from their fields included pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer discharge into the shimmering blue water body, which began life as an agricultural sump. But it’s also agricultural runoff, mixed with naturally salty Colorado River irrigation water, that is keeping the sea afloat, so to speak. Without the runoff, it would dry even faster…

Martinez, IID’s general manager, said he was not familiar with case law on the issue, but said, “any time someone’s business suffers as a result of some action, they’re going to look for the biggest pockets out there to help meet their costs.”

He said that concern is part of what motivated IID to dig in its heels and formally nail down that the state would bear responsibility for Salton Sea restoration before allowing access. Another big factor, he said, was that California officials agreed to be responsible for restoring the sea in a 2003 multi-party agreement between them, federal officials, IID and other water districts…

The next steps for the plan include finalizing the easement documents and seeking bids.

The Republican River Water Conservation District Purchases Several Surface Water Rights: Irrigated acres associated with 27.5 CFS subject to dry-up

From the Republican River Water Conservation District via The Julesberg Advoacate:

In an effort to increase the surface water flows in the Republican River system, the Republican River Water Conservation District has recently purchased and leased multiple surface water rights on both the North Fork and South Fork Republican Rivers. By keeping the surface water in the river, the RRWCD is greatly enhancing the ability of the State of Colorado to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact. Due to the extensive efforts of the RRWCD and the Colorado State Engineer’s office, Colorado will be in compliance with the Compact in 2019.

This will be the first year since the Final Settlement Stipulation was signed in 2002, that Colorado will be in compact compliance.

In the Annual Compact accounting 60% of all surface diversions are treated as depletions to the flows of the rivers and those depletions must be replaced through the Compact Compliance Pipeline. This requires considerably more water than off-setting comparable groundwater pumping. Last week, the RRWCD purchased the Hayes Creek Ditch and the Hayes Creek Ditch #3 surfacewater rights on a tributary of the North Fork Republican River. Some of these water rights were diverted each year, and the RRWCD was required to off-set those diversions with additional pumping from the compact compliance pipeline.

The RRWCD also purchased and leased a total of 27.5 cubic feet per second of surface water rights formerly owned by the Hutton Foundation Trust. Significant diversions on the South Fork have impacted Colorado’s efforts to come in to compliance with the Compact. As part of the Compact accounting there are tests for State Wide compliance and tests for each sub-basin. When calculating the sub-basin non-impairment test, additional diversions on the South Fork can contribute to a failure to meet the Compact non-compliance. By purchasing the surface water rights, the RRWCD can insure that the water will stay in the stream and will be measured at the state-line gage and again at the compact gage near Benkelman, NE.

After years of legal conflict, all entities can stop litigation because by purchasing these surface water rights, all legal actions by the Hutton Foundation Trust or by CPW, Inc. will be terminated. By purchasing the South Fork surface water rights, the RRWCD will not have to operate the Compact Compliance pipeline an additional 17 days that would be required to off-set the amount of water these rights would otherwise be entitled to divert.

The Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) has approved the operation and accounting for the Compact Compliance Pipeline. As part of getting this approval, Colorado agreed to voluntarily retire up to 25,000 acres in the South Fork Focus Zone (SFFZ) by 2029. Colorado is pursuing 10,000 retired irrigated acres in the SFFZ by 2024 and an additional 15,000 retired irrigated acres by 2029.

Drying up the acres formerly irrigated by these surface water rights will contribute to the total of retired irrigated acres in the SFFZ, but Colorado is still far from the 10,000 acres to be retired by 2024.

The RRWCD continues to offer supplemental contracts for CREP and for EQIP conservation programs. The District offers increased annual payments for acres retired in the South Fork Focus Zone.

Currently the FSA, NRCS, the State of Colorado and the RRWCD are waiting for the USDA to publish the Rules and Regulations for the 2018 Farm Bill. As soon as the rules and regulations are published, producers can start applying for these conservation programs.

The consensus of the RRWCD Board is that by completing these purchases, it improves the ability to secure compact compliance now and into the future.

The RRWCD also approved a Water Use Fee Policy during the quarterly Board meeting on April 25th in Yuma. The Water Use Fee Policy includes a fee for junior surface water right diversions, and it modifies the annual fee for municipal and commercial wells. A copy of the fee policy is available on the RRWCD website at http://www.republicanriver.com.

If you have any questions please contact Rod Lenz, RRWCD President, 970-630-3265, Deb Daniel, RRWCD General Manager, 970-332-3552 or contact any RRWCD Board member.