With children and families out floating the Las Colonias River Park behind them, community leaders gathered to celebrate the opening of the park amenity and recognize the work it took, over more than 30 years, to clean up the area and turn it into the park it is today.
The River Park has been open since May of 2020, but the celebration had to be delayed, as most things were, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a year later leaders from the city of Grand Junction, Colorado Mesa University, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and others came together Thursday afternoon to speak about the impact of the park.
Parks and Recreation Director Ken Sherbenou spoke about the history of the Las Colonias Park, which had previously been the site of a junkyard that was contaminated with uranium mill tailings. In the late 1980s, a group of citizens got together to clean the area up…
Throughout this project the community had support from GOCO, which helped with the original Watson Island cleanup with a grant in 1995 to the River Park itself, which used a $350,000 GOCO grant, as well as funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Fund, for its construction…
There were many partners that made Las Colonias and the River Park possible, Sherbenou said, which included a number of federal and state agencies, as well as local partners. He said going forward it will lead to more people becoming stewards of the Colorado River.
FromThe Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and Joshua Partlow):
The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, targeting one of President Donald Trump’s most significant environmental acts during his last days in office.
The move by the Interior Department, which could spark a major legal battle, dims the prospect of oil drilling in a pristine and politically charged expanse of Alaskan wilderness that Republicans and Democrats have fought over for four decades. The Trump administration auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge’s coastal plain — home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as the southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears — just two weeks before President Biden was inaugurated.
Now the Biden administration is taking steps to block those leases, citing problems with the environmental review process. In Tuesday’s Interior Department order, Secretary Deb Haaland said that a review of the Trump administration’s leasing program in the wildlife refuge found “multiple legal deficiencies” including “insufficient analysis” required by environmental laws and a failure to assess other alternatives. Haaland’s order calls for a temporary moratorium on all activities related to those leases in order to conduct “a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.”
The step, coming just days after the Justice Department defended another drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, underscores the balancing act the new administration aims to strike as it slows fossil fuel development on public lands. While Biden has paused new federal oil and gas leasing and pledged to drastically cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, he has taken a much more cautious approach toward most oil and gas operations approved under his predecessor.
Last week, Justice Department attorneys filed a brief defending ConocoPhillips’s Willow project, an oil reservoir on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that could hold up to 300 million barrels of oil. The administration also has defended the Trump administration’s decision to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming and declined to press for the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, a project Haaland protested while serving in Congress.
But Tuesday’s move signaled that the new administration was willing to take aggressive action in an area that has been a rallying cry for environmentalists for decades.
Small subsets of the electrical grid, or microgrids, that can stand alone in an emergency and keep critical services or businesses going, could be integrated into the Colorado Springs Utilities system in the coming years.
Utilities is working with Quanta Technology to identify the best locations for microgrids that could keep community services such as fire stations or wastewater treatment plants operational in a larger power outage, said Gabriel Caunt, principal engineer for the demand side management and distributed energy group within Utilities. The microgrids could also serve businesses with data centers that suffer major financial ramifications in a power outage, he said. Microgrids have been employed by military bases like Fort Carson for years to ensure power is available even when the larger grid goes down.
Fort Carson, which is home to several solar power projects, has a battery bank on the post that can supply power for several hours if electricity goes out.
The Utilities study will help determine “where the community can gain true resiliency value” from such grids, he said.
The microgrids include stand-alone generation, such as a solar array and battery, to provide power when the other parts of the grid are down.
The systems’ can also ensure excess electricity from renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, don’t have to be cut back because it is not meeting an immediate demand, Caunt said. Instead the electricity generation could be stored in batteries, he said.
Storing renewable electricity for peak demand times, such as when everyone is running their air conditioners, can help limit the need to build new power plants, said Keith Hay, director of policy and the Colorado Energy Office. As electric cars become more common, their batteries could help store electricity generated from renewable sources until it’s needed, he said.
Utilities granted Quanta a $398,000 contract to develop the Community Microgrid and Distributed Generation Plan by October and as part of that work the company will identify five candidate sites for a microgrid and design one, Caunt said. The work will be partially paid for by a $150,000 grant, said Natalie Watts, a spokeswoman for Utilities.
The city-owned utility has set an ambitious goal to cut its carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and that could be reached without new microgrids, Caunt said. But the smaller grids will help Utilities make the most of solar panels that private companies are installing to meet their own sustainability goals.
The lowered section of I-70 opened May 24, taking traffic off the remaining portion of the viaduct near the Purina plant.
Before the roadway was built, pipes were laid down. Some are 20 feet by 6 feet and can be driven through. Others are 6 feet by 6 feet and big enough to walk through.
The water from Central 70 flows to one of eight detention ponds. According to CDOT, the largest can hold 26 football fields worth of water: 8.5 million gallons. The smallest can hold 6,400 bathtubs full of water: 320,000 gallons.
The water from the tunnel portion of Central 70 gets some help getting back to the surface.
“We pump it to a very large holding tank,” said Inzeo…
A pump station near York Street brings the water to one of the detention ponds. From there, the water goes through a micro-pool, to get the solids and sediments taken out before the water ends up in the South Platte River behind the Denver Coliseum.
Half of the pump station is for taking water out, the other half is to support the fire suppression system inside the tunnel.
The brewing battle over the century-old Klamath Project is an early window into the water shortfalls that are likely to spread across the West as a widespread drought, associated with a warming climate, parches watersheds throughout the region…
In Nevada, water levels have dropped so drastically in Lake Mead that officials are preparing for a serious shortage that could prompt major reductions in Colorado River water deliveries next year. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has placed 41 counties under a state of emergency.
While drought consumed much of the West last year, setting the stage for an extensive wildfire season, the conditions this spring are far worse than a year ago. More than half of the West faces “extreme” drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, including wide areas of California and Oregon. Scientists have said the region may be going through the worst drought period in centuries.
Here in Oregon, conservationists, Native American tribes, government agencies and irrigators are squaring off, and local leaders fear that generations of tensions could escalate in volatile new ways.
“There are folks on both sides that would really like to throw down and take things in an ugly direction,” said Clayton Dumont, a member of the Klamath Tribal Council. “I hope it doesn’t happen, but it’s a possibility.”
Some landowners have openly talked about breaching the fence surrounding the dam property and forcing open the irrigation gates. Already, they have purchased property adjacent to the head gates and staged protests there. Ammon Bundy, who led an armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016, said he was ready to bring in allies to help keep the gates open, saying that people need to be prepared to use force to protect their rights even if law enforcement arrives to stop them.
“Who cares if there is violence? At least something will be worked out,” Mr. Bundy said in an interview, ridiculing those not prepared to fight for the nation’s food supply. “‘Oh, we don’t want violence, we’ll just starve to death.’ Heaven forbid we talk about violence.”
The region has a deep history rooted in violence and racial division. In 1846, U.S. War Department surveyors, led by John C. Frémont and Kit Carson, slaughtered more than a dozen Native Americans on the shores of Klamath Lake. The Klamath Tribes eventually signed a treaty surrendering some 20 million acres of their historic lands in exchange for a reservation along Upper Klamath Lake and the perpetual right to hunt and fish.
For the United States, the Klamath Project became a keystone for settling and developing the region. Homestead opportunities for veterans after the two world wars helped to stimulate the economy and to build a new kind of community.
In 1954, Congress moved to terminate recognition of the Klamath Tribes, which held lucrative timberlands, and authorized the sale of tribal lands.
And the government’s guarantee to the Klamath Tribes that they would at least be able to continue fishing ran into trouble decades ago, when populations of native sucker fish — known to the tribes as C’waam and Koptu — along with coho salmon farther downriver slipped into a perilous decline, prompting mandatory protections under the Endangered Species Act.
During a drought in 2001, the federal Bureau of Reclamation initially planned for the first time to fully cut off water for farmers over the summer. That order spurred an uprising of farmers and ranchers who used saws, torches and crowbars to breach the facilities and open the canal head gates.
U.S. Marshals eventually stepped in to protect the gates, and the Bureau of Reclamation later released some water to help farmers…
Now some in the basin are worried that the unresolved divisions are poised to erupt again…
This year shows how critical the shortage is already: Even with farmers cut out of the water supply, fish are suffering…
Lake levels fell below the minimum thresholds set by federal scientists, prompting litigation and spurring fears that algae blooms this summer could devastate the imperiled fish populations above the dam; tribal researchers say insufficient flushing downstream from the dam has allowed parasites to flourish.
Already this year, juvenile salmon are turning up dead with parasitic infections. Michael Belchik, a senior water policy analyst at the Yurok Tribe, said the die-off could end up being the worst on record…
Also cut off from water supplies this year are several wildlife refuges that are home to 25 at-risk species of birds and fish…
But on Thursday night, about 100 people gathered under a large tent next to the head gates on property bought recently by two farmers, Dan Nielsen and Grant Knoll, who say they have a legal entitlement to the water behind the gates in Upper Klamath Lake under state water law. They contend that the federal government’s shut-off is a violation of state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
Tribes and irrigators have each notched victories in court over water rights, and the legal cases are continuing.
At the event, organized by local activists in Mr. Bundy’s network, speakers talked about the need to take back their rights. Some floated unfounded conspiracy theories, linking the water crisis to George Soros, Bill Gates or the United Nations. A Betsy Ross flag flew above the tent while a poster inside featured a quote about freedom attributed to LaVoy Finicum, who was killed by federal agents during the standoff that Mr. Bundy led in 2016. Mr. Bundy faced federal charges for his role in the standoff but was acquitted by a jury…
Facing a similar standoff two decades ago, in 2001, the federal government relented with a limited delivery of water to farmers, but there was no sign that agencies, facing an already depleted lake, would budge this time. An initial plan to provide a small water allocation to farmers was canceled when conditions worsened.
Water levels at Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country, fell to 3,559.95 feet above sea level on Monday, down from an average of 3,604.09 at this time (May 26) last year, according to the Lake Powell Water Database.
Lake Powell is at 34.2% of full pool (24,322,000 acre-feet) and 140.8 feet below full pool (3,700) as of Wednesday morning.
The primary factors influencing Lake Powell – as well as Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country – are inflows into Lake Powell, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Upper Basin hydrology accounts for about 92% of the total streamflow in the basin. Inflow into Lake Powell is also affected by Upper Basin water use and the operation of reservoirs above Lake Powell…
The Colorado River, Tooh Bikooh Dinék’ehjígo, originates on the Colorado western slope. Over 25 significant tributaries join it. The Green River in Utah is the largest by both length and discharge.
Tooh Bikooh flows to the Gulf of California. It provides water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of land, and is the lifeblood for at least 22 federally recognized tribes, seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and 11 national parks, according to Reclamation.
In August 2020, a 24-month study projected the Jan. 1, 2021, Lake Powell elevation below the 2021 Equalization Elevation of 3,659 feet and above 3,575 feet. The lake level was 3,582.06 feet that day, according to the Lake Powell Water Database.
With an 8.23-million-acre-foot release from Lake Powell in the water year 2021, an April 2021 24-month study projects the end-of-water-year elevation here below 3,575 feet. Lake Powell will continue to release 8.23 million acre-feet through the remainder of the water year.
The Bureau of Reclamation will release its subsequent major study in August…
The current water level at Mead is 1,074.84, which is 154.16 feet below the full pool of 1,229 feet, as of Wednesday morning.
Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico are making contributions to Mead in a collaborative effort to maintain water levels and avoid severe shortage conditions at least through 2022.
But a first-ever official shortage declaration from the Department of the Interior is almost certain later this year…
Because Tooh Bikooh is over-allocated – and because drought and climate change are likely to worsen as the region gets hotter and drier — the seven Colorado River Basin states in 2019 agreed on a plan to manage the river by voluntarily cutting their water use to prevent the federal government from imposing mandatory water restrictions on the supply.
As part of the Lower Basin’s drought contingency plan, the CAP would see its water supply cut by about one-third in 2022 because of its junior water rights in the river’s water. And farms in central Arizona would experience those water cuts.
Reclamation’s projections continue to show a very high likelihood of Tier 1 reductions in 2022 and in 2023, as well as an increased risk of Tier 2 conditions in the future, according to the CAP.
The three biggest wildfires in Colorado history all occurred last year. The biggest fire in 2020 — that is, the state’s biggest fire ever — was more than 50% bigger than the biggest fire in any other year in the state’s history. The 20 biggest fires in state history have all occurred in the past 20 years.
And it’s no secret why: climate change.
Fire officials say a decades-long regional drought and forests plagued by bark beetles were largely to blame for the ferocious fire season, and those conditions, according to scientists, in turn are attributable to rising average temperatures. Many parts of Colorado have gotten hotter by almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.
Climate change has battered the state in other ways. Warming can cause river flows to decrease, and nowhere is this phenomenon a greater emergency than in the Colorado River, the headwaters of which are near Grand Lake. The river supplies water for more than 5 million acres of farmland and about 40 million people in seven states, including Colorado. But it’s drying up. It could lose a quarter of its flow by 2050, scientists say. So little water is expected to run down through the Southwest states this year that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation could declare the first official shortage for the river.
Wildlife populations throughout the country are suffering from drought and other climate change impacts. In Colorado, climate change threatens deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, birds and other familiar creatures. Birds are especially vulnerable. Half of the birds in Colorado are said to be in decline because of changing climate conditions.
This is all due to human activity, mostly related to oil and gas extraction and consumption, which releases greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Colorado is one of the country’s top five oil-producing states and among the top natural gas producing states. The scale of fossil fuel production that occurs in Colorado gives the state a colossal carbon footprint.
That’s why Colorado has an administrative and moral duty to rigorously regulate oil and gas extraction. Available to Coloradans are at least three avenues by which to better resist this toxic industry — local fracking bans, robust severance taxes, and more money for environmental clean-up…
If oil and gas companies are going to rip natural resources from the Earth and pollute public spaces, it’s only fair for the public to ask those companies for just compensation. “What we are talking about is the oil and gas industry’s social license to operate — if they are using public resources and polluting a public good, our environment, our communities, they need to be paying into the system,” said Jessica Goad, the deputy director of Conservation Colorado, according to The Colorado Sun.
But these companies don’t pay a fair amount. Not in Colorado.
The minimal sums Colorado collects from oil and gas companies in the form of severance taxes was detailed in stark terms early last year when the Colorado Office of the State Auditor released a report on severance taxes. For years extraction companies have received hundreds of millions of dollars in savings due both to government leniency and systemic problems. The audit found that Colorado offers enormous gifts to fossil fuel interests in the form of exemptions, credits and deductions.
When a company takes something of nonrenewable value from the Earth, such as oil and gas, coal and metals, that value is lost to the public and accrues to private interests in the form of profits. Governments apply severance taxes to capture some of that lost wealth.
Colorado’s severance tax system imposes rates between 2% and 5%, depending on gross income, against oil and gas sales. These rates roughly align with those found in other comparable states. However, the state’s severance tax system is objectionable in ways that go beyond the base rates. The auditor’s office found that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission failed to collect from extraction operators tens of thousands of required monthly well production reports, and some submitted reports were incomplete. The reports are a key component in the severance tax calculation system.
Furthermore, state rules call for a fine of $200 a day per well for missing reports, but for the years reviewed — 2016 to 2018 — the commission demanded no fines. The auditor’s office estimated that the failure to fine companies for delinquent reports alone amounted to a loss of more than $300 million.
A bigger giveaway to oil and gas companies comes in the form of an ad valorem tax credit, which allows company owners to claim a credit against their severance tax bill at a rate of 87.5% of the ad valorem property taxes they paid to local governments. Only two other oil and gas-producing states allow for this type of credit against the severance tax. And Colorado’s method of calculating the credit is extremely complex, which itself leads to problems. The auditors wrote that “the application of the ad valorem tax credit is the most problematic aspect of severance tax returns and frequently contributes to taxpayer noncompliance.”
Colorado allows a severance-tax exemption for low-producing wells, also known as “stripper” wells. This equates to a massive gift to the industry. The auditor’s report found that 70% of the wells in Colorado in 2016 met state law’s definition of a stripper well. Exempting all these producing wells cost the state up to $55 million that year. This isn’t some industry norm — few states offer such special treatment of polluters, according to the report.
All together, the exemptions, credits and deductions that Colorado grants to industry meant the state’s effective severance tax rate was estimated in the report at only 0.54%. That was the lowest effective severance tax rate among nine oil and gas-producing states analyzed by the auditor.
Some lawmakers have long understood the untenable state of severance taxes in Colorado, but a combination of ineffective leadership, complications foisted by the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the deep-pocketed industry lobby so far has put reform out of reach. Early last year members of the General Assembly had planned to convene a study committee to examine oil and gas taxes. But such committees were canceled due to COVID-19, and none are planned for this year, according to a spokesperson for Colorado Senate Democrats.
Following the audit, the oil and gas commission implemented an automated system that sends an email to operators when a well production report is overdue. But the commission has yet to issue any fines for delinquent reports. In the current state legislative session, House Bill 21-1312 and Senate Bill 21-281 propose improvements to the way the severance tax is applied. But even if they become law they’re tweaks, not reform. The stupendously generous ad valorem tax credit remains Colorado law, as does the freebie on stripper wells.
It is intolerable for the state to behave with such generosity and permissiveness toward a whole industry, but it is also self-destructive when that industry is responsible for planet-wide ruin. State lawmakers must not put off severance tax reform any longer.
In the issue, read about the cornerstone role that water storage has played in Colorado for more than a century, the Colorado Water Plan goal to develop additional storage by 2050, challenges and opportunities with specific projects, and some of the many ways that Coloradans are looking toward the next era of storage.