@USGS: Assessment of Moderate- and High-Temperature Geothermal Resources of the United States

Map showing the location of identified moderate-temperature and high-temperature geothermal systems in the United States. Each system is represented by a black dot. Credit USGS.
Map showing the location of identified moderate-temperature and high-temperature geothermal systems in the United States. Each system is represented by a black dot. Credit USGS.

Here’s the release from the USGS:

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently completed an assessment of our Nation’s geothermal resources. Geothermal power plants are currently operating in six states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. The assessment indicates that the electric power generation potential from identified geothermal systems is 9,057 Megawatts-electric (MWe), distributed over 13 states. The mean estimated power production potential from undiscovered geothermal resources is 30,033 MWe. Additionally, another estimated 517,800 MWe could be generated through implementation of technology for creating geothermal reservoirs in regions characterized by high temperature, but low permeability, rock formations.

CDPHE: Water Quality Information Bulletin

Click here to read the bulletin. There will be an informational briefing concerning Clear Creek at the December 12, 2016 meeting.

Clear Creek, Standley Lake watersheds including the Standley Lake Canal Zone via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation.
Clear Creek, Standley Lake watersheds including the Standley Lake Canal Zone via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation.

UAWCD files objection in Coaldale water case — The Mountain Mail

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District
Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors voted at its recent meeting to file an objection to the Security Water District’s court application for a change of water rights on Hayden Creek in Coaldale (Division 2, case 2016CW3055).

In discussing whether or not to get involved in the case, Upper Ark directors mentioned unresolved issues with Hill Ranch near Nathrop after the Pueblo West Metropolitan District purchased the ranch, changed the water right and dried up the land.

The directors’ discussion highlighted three main concerns:

  • Ensuring that the amount of water claimed by Security is not excessive.
  • Ensuring that Security administers the amount and timing of return flows so that other water rights are not injured by the change of use.
  • Ensuring that the dried-up ranch land is properly revegetated.
  • Security acquired the 1894 agricultural water rights when it purchased a Coaldale ranch that, according to the filing, historically used the water to irrigate 195 acres.

    The filing cites Security’s own study of consumptive water use on the ranch from 1912 through 2006 in asserting that historical water use “resulted in net stream depletions (consumptive use credits) of approximately 236 annual acre-feet.”

    Security seeks to change the Hayden Creek water rights from an agricultural use in Coaldale to a municipal use in Security, allowing the water to flow into Pueblo Reservoir before diverting the proposed 236 acre-feet per year through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

    The Security filing indicates that the water right may be used for continued irrigation on the ranch “to the extent not limited by municipal use of the depletion credits and dry-up requirements.”

    In the filing Security commits to constructing a Coaldale augmentation station to measure and administer the Hayden Creek water rights. The filing also indicates Security “may construct a groundwater recharge facility” that “may be used for recharge to the aquifer and later delivery of accretion credits back to the Arkansas River” (i.e., return flows).

    This would help prevent injury to other water rights holders because the return flows would be delivered to the river in the same location as the historical return flows created by irrigating the ranch.

    But the filing also indicates that Security may “replace return flow obligations to the Arkansas River” by means of “releases from Pueblo Reservoir,” which could injure other water rights between Coaldale and Pueblo Reservoir.

    Since Security owns the Hayden Creek water rights, the Upper Ark district’s filing won’t prevent the change of use, but as an objector, the conservancy district will receive future filings in the case and will have the opportunity to negotiate stipulations to address concerns.

    San Luis Valley: New groundwater sub-district forms

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Southern San Luis Valley water users took charge of their future on Tuesday as they became the third group to form a water management sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

    The sponsoring district board unanimously accepted petitions for its latest subdistrict , which encompasses 141 wells covering 170 parcels of land in Conejos County.

    The sub-districts are designed to provide an alternative to individual well regulation by grouping wells in geographic or hydrological areas of the San Luis Valley (Rio Grande Basin), which as a group replaces its injurious depletions to surface water rights. Sub-districts are also beginning to repair long-term depletions to the Valley’s aquifer system caused by well pumping.

    Sub-district participants pay fees, which are used to buy water and/or provide incentives to reduce pumping. In the sub-district presented on Tuesday, participants will be assessed fees per well and per acre foot of water.

    Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program Manager Amber Pacheco presented to the sponsoring district board on Tuesday petitions representing 141 of a potential 198 wells in Sub-district #3. Nathan Coombs and LeRoy Salazar, who were part of the group that formed the subdistrict , were also present for the petition presentation to the RGWCD board.

    Pacheco told the board staff and working group members had been working on this third sub-district for many months. Once they had information from the groundwater model, which determines depletions, the group was able to move forward.

    Pacheco said the group was very successful in persuading well owners to join the sub-district , which is an “opt-in” sub-district . People had to choose to join. The first sub-district , on the other hand, was drawn up to cover a specific geographical area in the Valley’s closed basin region, and the work group then had to gather petitions from at least 51 percent of the landowners and 51 percent of the land.

    Pacheco said efforts were made to contact every well owner in the Conejos subdistrict to give them the opportunity to join the subdistrict . Only one well owner, whose address was in Florida, did not respond at all, and another did not want to be involved. Both of those wells had not been used in a while.

    Four other well owners opted out, not because they were against the sub-district but because they had other plans for their properties, and 21 wells belonging to governments such as towns or school districts indicated they would like to contract with the sub-district but could not participate directly, Pacheco explained.

    She added a number of well owners decided to move their wells to exempt status so they would not fall under the groundwater rule process, for example downgrading them to stock or domestic wells, and a couple of well owners planned to seek abandonment of their wells.

    All of the irrigation wells in the third sub-district are included, however, Pacheco said.

    After receiving the petitions , RGWCD staff verified ownership and legal descriptions before presenting them to the board.

    “It’s a massive undertaking ,” said RGWCD General Manager Cleave Simpson who commended the staff who completed that process. He also commended the residents who have been working on this for some time.

    “The people have been great to work with,” Pacheco added.

    RGWCD Attorney David Robbins said the process now is to file the petitions with the district court in Conejos County (because that is where the land lies in this subdistrict ) and seek the court’s approval for the sub-district’s formation. The court must hold a hearing no less than 60 days and no more than 90 days after receiving the petitions , he added. Individuals with questions or challenges against the sub-district formation may express those to the court.

    “With our participation basically 100 percent, we would hope we wouldn’t see much of a protest to the formation of the sub-district ,” Pacheco said.

    If there are no challenges, the court will enter an order forming the sub-district , and a board of managers can then be appointed and a plan of management prepared, Robbins explained.

    That plan will be submitted to the state engineer’s officer for approval.

    The first sub-district , which is one of the largest and most complicated, has been in operation for a few years now, and the second sub-district in the alluvium of the Rio Grande was officially formed in March of this year and is currently working on its plan of water management.

    Pacheco said progress is also being made in sub-districts in the San Luis Creek, Saguache and Alamosa/La Jara areas. She said the goal is to have the remainder of the sub-districts in front of the court by early next year.

    RGWCD staff has been meeting with entities such as the towns of La Jara and Saguache and the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District to discuss their options for contracting with sub-districts . Discussions are also occurring with federal agencies.

    San Luis Valley aquifer marks another year of gains — Pueblo Chieftain

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The shallow aquifer leaned on heavily by farmers in the San Luis Valley is up 58,000 acre-feet over last year at this time.

    The news delivered by Rio Grande Water Conservation District Engineer Allen Davey marks the third straight year the aquifer has gained.

    “The last three years have seen a significant change in direction,” he told the district’s board Tuesday.

    Davey, as he has in previous years, credited gains to the reduction in groundwater pumping by well owners in Subdistrict No. 1, which takes in 163,000 irrigated acres in the north-central part of the San Luis Valley.

    The subdistrict, which was implemented four years ago, assesses a combination of fees on its members that aim to reduce pumping and also pay to fallow farm ground.

    Groundwater pumping was expected to be 238,000 acre-feet, according to the subdistrict documents, although a final tally won’t come until later in the year.

    Landowners in the subdistrict have also fallowed 14,245 acres of ground since 2013 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

    The program pays farmers to either permanently retire ground or fallow for 15 years.

    Davey also said Mother Nature has cooperated by providing decent snowpack.

    “If we can just get in that cycle where we’re average, we have a good future ahead of us,” he said.

    The shallow aquifer, also known as the unconfined aquifer, recharges from stream flow and from the return flows that follow surface-water irrigation by farmers.

    Once stream flows dwindle in late summer, farmers typically rely on groundwater to finish their crops.

    The shallow aquifer has recovered by nearly 250,000 acre-feet since 2013.

    The aquifer would have to recover by another 350,000 acre-feet to meet the goals laid out in the subdistrict’s management plan.

    San Luis Valley Groundwater
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    Movement seeks to bring back flood irrigation in some areas — Capital Press

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From Capital Press (John O’Connell):

    Chris Colson champions an admittedly antiquated and inefficient method of watering crops — flood irrigation.

    The Boise-based regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited is part of a movement that recognizes the wildlife and water-supply benefits of flood irrigation, and the need to make certain it continues to be used in floodplains and other strategic locations across the West.

    Ironically, his efforts to preserve flood irrigation often tap the same federal dollars that help farmers install high-efficiency pivots, which threaten to render flood irrigation obsolete.

    The attraction for Colson and others is that flood irrigation, with its leaky canals and standing water, helps recharge shrinking aquifers and provides migratory birds with a stopover on their annual pilgrimages between the Arctic and points south.

    Unlikely partnerships of agricultural landowners, conservationists, government officials and water managers are behind efforts to keep farmers flooding fields in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and California. During the past year, Colson estimates the movement has maintained flood irrigation on roughly 4,000 acres across the West.

    “For 15 or 20 years or more, the conservation community has been telling people how wasteful flood irrigation is and convert to sprinkler,” Colson said.

    Farmers have relied on flood irrigation — using gravity to spread surface water across fields — for thousands of years.

    Since the late 1960s, however, growers have been moving away from flooding in favor of more efficient sprinklers. On average, 120,000 acres in 11 Western states were converted from flood irrigation to sprinklers annually between 1995 to 2010, according to a study of U.S. Geological Survey water-use data.

    Unintended consequences

    Conservation funding sources, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program under the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, have long supported sprinkler conversions with water-efficiency grants.

    But the pursuit of efficiency has had unintended consequences. Migratory wading birds feed in flood-irrigated fields, which have provided an artificial alternative to the natural marshes lost to river damming. And Western aquifer levels have dropped in correlation with the disappearance of flood irrigation — historically a major source of incidental aquifer recharge.

    In Idaho’s Eastern Snake Plain, for example, officials say the aquifer has been dropping by 200,000 acre-feet per year on average, due to increased groundwater use and reduced flood irrigation.

    Zola Ryan, NRCS district conservationist in Harney County, Ore., says her agency’s goals of improving irrigation efficiency and preserving flood irrigation needn’t be at odds.

    Ryan explained efficient sprinklers are ideal for irrigators using groundwater, and watering where benefits of flooding aren’t as pronounced.

    “There is a place and time for flood irrigation and a place and time for sprinkler irrigation,” Ryan said.

    The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation's irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
    The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    An Ecosystem’s Lifeblood, Flowing Through Gravel — @NYTimes

    Photo via GrizzlyTours.com
    Photo via GrizzlyTours.com

    From The New York Times (Jim Robbins):

    In a paper published earlier this year, a team of ecologists sought to outline the essential role of gravel-bed rivers in Western mountain ecosystems — the first time an interdisciplinary team has looked at river systems on such a large scale.

    “A river doesn’t just flow down the channel,” said F. Richard Hauer, a professor of stream ecology at the University of Montana and the lead author of the paper. “It flows over and through the entire flood plain system, from valley wall to valley wall, and supports an extraordinary diversity of life.”

    Perhaps most surprising of all: “Most of the water in these systems is not in the river — it’s in the gravel.”

    These river systems are among the most ecologically important habitats on the continent, Dr. Hauer and his colleagues concluded, supporting a hidden wealth of biodiversity. And not just in the West; the life-sustaining dynamics are at play in the mountains of Europe, the Andes, the Himalayas and New Zealand.

    In the West, a dynamic river is not important just to fish or to amphibians, but to grizzly bears and mountain lions descending from mountaintops to the flood plain for important foods. Indeed, two-thirds of the species in a large river valley spend at least part of their lives in its flood plain.

    The new study also demonstrates that altering this complex biological machinery with dams and diversions has far-reaching effects, leading to long-term decline of the ecosystem.

    “A river is a huge, huge biodiversity engine with multiple parts,” Dr. Hauer said. “If you keep taking out parts, pretty soon the engine stops.”

    Until now, scientists had never put together such a comprehensive ecological blueprint of river dynamics.

    Melting snow and groundwater flow down the channel; this is what we think of as a “river.” But underground, far more water is moving slowly through a labyrinthine network of cobbles, gravel and sand that make up the entire valley bottom.

    This deeply buried habitat is far more important and far more productive than thought. The matrix of gravel and sand cleans the water, filtering organic material and freeing up nitrogen and phosphorous embedded in the gravel.

    These natural fertilizers spread across the valley bottom, a shot of adrenaline that nourishes plants in the flood plain such as willows and aspen, which in turn draw birds and beavers, elk and caribou. The plant-eaters attract predators like wolves and grizzly bears.

    In the summer, warm water is stored underground. It takes so long for the water to move that it surfaces in winter, moderating water temperatures and creating a refuge for some aquatic species, shielding them from winter’s freeze. In the winter, the opposite happens.

    The river also continually rearranges and renews the ecosystem.

    During high water, topsoil, gravel and woody debris are washed into new sites downriver and below ground, fostering new habitats and new plant communities. The new habitats blend with existing ones, from mature cottonwood forests to grasslands, to create a patchy mosaic.

    On a recent flight over the Bitterroot River, a gravel-bed river near Missoula, Dr. Hauer pointed out the flood plain.

    While the river below flowed down a main channel, it was easy to see from the air that over centuries, the Bitterroot had frequently jumped its bounds to create a network of new channels.

    The old channels were covered with gravel — an important habitat for the stoneflies and other insects that feed the fish. Everywhere in the valley, water flowing underground through the gravel surfaced to create a diverse assortment of ponds, seeps and springs.

    Dr. Hauer also pointed out a number of places where people have sought to tame the river’s unruly habits in order to plow farm fields or build subdivisions.

    “There’s no renewal — the river doesn’t move gravel around and doesn’t create new mosaics of habitat,” he said. “Nutrients are not dispersed. Everything gets locked in place and starts getting old and declines.”

    The environmental damage is hidden — at first. Channels feeding the underground habitats are sealed off as the river is confined. The species that depend on the hidden flows begin to falter.

    These gravel flood plains, Dr. Hauer said, are among the most endangered ecosystems worldwide.

    Keeping them intact will help dependent species adapt to the greatest environmental threat of all: climate change. “The implication for conservation is enormous,” Dr. Hauer said.