Aspen scores $186,356 from @CWCB_DNR for alternative water rights transfer methods

A view of the Wheeler Ditch headgate, looking upriver on the Roaring Fork River. Smith / Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Alycin Bektesh):

On Monday, the city announced that it is the recipient of $186,356, which will go toward establishing “alternative transfer methods” with area farmers. ATMs allow water-right holders to share a portion of their claims without giving them up entirely. The state has a goal to assist in 50,000 acre feet of water transfers through the use of ATMs by 2030.

The program allows creative solutions to water sharing in a way that was not previously accessible, according to Margaret Medellin, city of Aspen’s utilities portfolio manager.

“Traditionally in Colorado water law, if you don’t use your water right you’ll eventually lose it,” Medellin said, “so before this ATM concept came about you would want to use your water rights as much as you can at all times.”

This tactic is counterintuitive to what the state needs from its water holders, though. Colorado’s population growth projections show that the demand for water will increasingly outmatch the supply. By 2050, the state’s population is estimated to reach 10 million — double 2008’s figure — creating a water shortage for about 2.5 million families.

In attempting to preserve its own water rights on Castle and Maroon Creeks, the city found itself headed to state water court with 10 separate opponents last year. It was during those pretrial negotiations that the city decided to partner with two plaintiffs to explore the ATM solution locally.

“This project is one of a few good things that came out of that effort,” Medellin said. “It really is just us as different advocates for different parts of the community coming together to try and get creative.”

Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates have assisted the city in seeking out partners who would be willing to forfeit claims on diversions at different times. Over the last year, the city has held stakeholder meetings and consulted with experts, but they realized they would need assistance in identifying good partnerships.

“The thing we realized is that there was no clear project up here,” Medellin said.

The state grant allows the city to hire outside consultants who can continue the work of finding water-rights holders who would be willing to temporarily divert their claims to the city in exchange for fees.

Todd Doherty is the president of Western Water Partnership, the consultant who helped the city with the grant application and will continue to work on securing ATM agreements. He has identified 2,800 irrigated acres that use water diverted at or above the city. His team will be reaching out to farmers to explain the program and gauge interest.

2019 #COleg: SB19-181 — Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Here’s an in-depth report Mark Jaffe that’s running in The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado is quickly becoming a patchwork of oil and gas rules after a major law change — The #Colorado Sun: Boulder County wants to enact tougher regulations. Weld County wants to make it easier to drill. And the state is scrambling to keep up.

[Senate Bill 19-181: Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations] requires a host of new rules at the state level for things such as air emissions and assessing cumulative impacts of oil and gas projects, and at the same time local governments are moving ahead with their own rules…

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on July 31 adopted the first of these new rules, putting limits on the use of “forced pooling,” the ability of drillers to consolidate mineral rights even if the owners object. It did not come, however, without noisy demands from protesters to halt all permitting until the new rules are made.

On the local level, Boulder and Weld counties may be at the extremes. Boulder is looking to tighten already tough regulations while Weld is setting up its own oil and gas department to expedite permitting. But other counties and municipalities in the middle are also wrestling with the issue.

“Home rule is defined in law and case law,” said Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League. “Local control is an amorphous thing and wildly inconsistent.”

Until passage of the new law, the state, through the COGCC, held primacy in all key areas of oil and gas regulation, including siting.

The new law emphasizes that local government has the land use authority to regulate and site oil and gas locations to minimize adverse impacts to public safety, health, welfare and the environment.

Local governments also gain the ability to regulate impacts, including the ability to inspect facilities, issue fines for leaks, spills and emissions and impose fees to fund oversight.

It remains to be seen how these powers will be used, but the fact that two counties and six municipalities have enacted moratoriums on oil and gas permits while they review local controls has spawned worst-case-scenario fears among critics and the industry…

The COGCC is, however, at the beginning of developing new rules that could impact local decisionmaking, including a cumulative impact assessment, which could account for environmental impacts, and alternative site analysis, calling for operators to consider sites away from urban areas, for any drilling application…

Jeff Robbins, the COGGC executive director, said that the state working with local governments is the way to resolve these issues as they emerge.

“I want to be partners with local government,” Robbins said. “There are a lot of jurisdictions; we are all trying to make rulemakings.”

Robbins said he has met with Weld County staff and with Boulder County, as well with Adams County and other local governments.

Rain wreaks havoc on Lake Christine burn scar — The Aspen Daily News #stormwater

From The Aspen Daily News (Madeleine Osberger):

A storm that unleashed its power over the Lake Christine burn area beginning late Sunday afternoon triggered multiple debris flows and water on Frying Pan Road that temporarily trapped 20 different vehicles, but resulted in no known injuries, according to Scott Thompson, chief of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue…

A Pitkin Alert evacuation notice went out at 5:31 p.m. aimed at those who lived in the area of Pinon Road and Cedar Drive imploring them to “please take all necessary precautions,”which included seeking higher ground. “Do not enter flowing water or debris,” was among the initial warnings.

Frying Pan Road was closed intermittently Sunday from Riverside Drive to about 2 1/2 miles up the road, according to deputy chief Cleve Williams. The intersection of Cedar Drive and Two Rivers Road was reopened by 10 p.m. on Sunday…

According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, an inch of rain fell over the first hour, beginning at 5 p.m. There were reports of heavy rain after the first 30 minutes and flooding started on the south end of the Lake Christine burn scar. By 8:30 p.m. the rain had subsided and, according to Chief Thompson, was expected to let up before midnight.

From The Aspen Times (Rick Carroll) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Click through to view the photo gallery):

One of the trigger points for the floods was at Pinon Drive and Cedar Drive, an area above Basalt from where the initial 911 calls were placed at approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday…

All of the roads, including Frying Pan Road — where 10 vehicles had been stuck Sunday and later removed — had re-opened to traffic by Monday. Pinon and Cedar drives, as well as Two Rivers Road, also had been closed. Two Rivers Road opened late Sunday; Pinon and Cedar opened Monday morning.

Crews also on Monday determined the floods had not damaged the integrity of roads and bridges, said Birch Barron, Eagle County emergency manager.

Structural damage to the residences in the affected area appeared to be limited, according to Barron.

“We believe there were less than 10 private residences with debris in or around structures, and for the majority of those structures, the debris was in nonresidential spaces — garages and basement and property surrounding that,” he said.

The county had not received any reports of residences being uninhabitable, Barron noted.

The evacuation zone impacted about 30 residences; however, a number of individuals couldn’t evacuate because of dangerous road conditions, Barron said.

Sunday’s response was a collaborative effort among Eagle and Pitkin counties, the town of Basalt, area law enforcement and emergency response teams, as well as state and federal agencies, Barron said.

The flow out of Ruedi Reservoir was increased Monday by 50 cubic feet per second to help clear up the Fryingpan River, which had taken on a muddy hue from the flood’s debris and sediment.

“This should be a big help toward protecting fish and river health,” said Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s director of communications.

Screenshot from the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Photo credit: Anna Stonehouse via The Aspen times

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine update

From The Albuquerque Journal (Therasa Davis) via The Farmington Daily Times:

[After the August 5, 2015 spill]…The EPA paid state and tribal governments for emergency water tests, but initially denied 79 economic damage claims.

In August 2017, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – who resigned in July 2018 – visited the spill site and said the agency would reconsider the claims. The New Mexico Environment Department said Friday that it was unaware whether any of those payments have been made.

Animas River at the New Mexico/Colorado State line August, 2015.

NMED chief scientist Dennis McQuillan said there is ongoing monitoring to determine long-term effects of the spill.

“Dozens of mines are leaking acid mine water into the watershed,” McQuillan said. “Gold King was just one of those.”

Under new administrator Andrew Wheeler, the federal agency, its contractors and mining companies asked for dismissal of the lawsuits, arguing the EPA had immunity and was already working on cleanup.

Environment Department general counsel Jennifer Howard said a federal judge in Albuquerque rejected that argument in March, so the lawsuits “should definitely start proceeding at a faster pace.”

A November 2018 EPA report showed fish had elevated metal levels in the weeks after the spill, but returned to pre-spill levels by spring 2016.

Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

Research by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Game and Fish, Mountain Studies Institute, San Juan Basin Public Health and Colorado Parks and Wildlife echo that claim.

“The farming industry is still hurting,” McQuillan said. “I’ve talked to farmers who said their sales are down 25% from before the spill because people say they won’t buy food grown on the San Juan. But our agriculture products are safe. The fish are safe to eat. The river is safe for irrigation.”

McQuillan said the federal WIIN Act (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation) will provide money for the Navajo Nation to test fish in the spill area and start outreach to address the misconception that the river water is unsafe.

In 2016, the EPA designated the area around the spill site as the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which opens up money for cleanup and places the site on a priority action list. Howard and McQuillan agreed that was a positive development, but Superfund cleanup is a slow process.

“It was a significant issue four years ago and remains a significant issue,” Howard said. “The motivation for our lawsuit is to have EPA step up to the plate and address the economic impact this (spill) had on agriculture and tourism for our state.”

The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency