@USBR Releases Draft Environmental Documents for Platte River Recovery Extension

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Brock Merrill):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the Final Environmental and Biological Assessment (EA) and signed the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension. Reclamation, working with the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, water users, and environmental and conservation organizations, proposes to extend the First Increment of the basin-wide, cooperative Recovery Implementation Program by 13 years. Reclamation participates in the Program to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

The purpose of this action is to continue implementing Program projects in order to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce flow shortages in the Platte River aimed at conforming with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service target flows
  • Continue land management activities necessary to provide habitat for target threatened and endangered species
  • Continue integrated monitoring, research, and adaptive management, in order to assess the progress of the Program and inform future management decisions
  • The final EA and FONSI evaluates and discloses the potential impacts of the proposed 13 year extension of the Program’s First Increment. The final EA and FONSI does not represent the final decision of the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the Governors of the states of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, to extend the Program. The final EA and FONSI informs the Secretary that the potential impacts of the proposed extension do not warrant the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. The formal decision by the Secretary regarding whether or not to extend the Program in cooperation with the Governors will occur at a later date.

    The final EA and FONSI are available for viewing at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/nepa/platte_river/index.html. For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the EA or Draft FONSI, please contact Brock Merrill at 307-532-1093 or bemerrill@usbr.gov.

    The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

    Floating #Solar Is Best Solution For Walden’s High Electric Bills — CleanTechnica.com #ActOnClimate

    From CleanTechnica.com (Charles W. Thurston):

    When a town has high electric bills and no available land for a solar farm, a floating solar plant on the pond of a waste water plant makes great sense. Walden, Colorado, population 750, elevation 8,000 feet plus, and land area of 0.34 square miles, is such a town.

    Photo credit: CleanTechnica.com

    “We were spending about $22,000 a month for electricity for the water treatment facility, and this 75 kW solar installation will save us $10,000 a month,” says Jim Dustin, mayor of Walden, Colo. “We’ll pay for the plant in 20 years, and it is still expected to run 10 more years after that,” he says.

    The plant technology was furnished by floating solar specialists Ciel & Terre USA and was installed by GRID Specialists. The $400,000 cost of the plant was offset by a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which manages revenues earned by oil and gas development tax in the state. The project also was supported by the Colorado Energy Office.

    “The Energy Office is interested in this installation because it gets down to minus 40 or 50 degrees in the winter, and we have very high winds. They want to know if the technology will work, because there are irrigation ponds and unused water bodies all over this state,” says Dustin. The energy office has offered $120,000 to move the installation to another location if it doesn’t work in Walden, he adds.

    The Energy Office is also interested in conserving water in the state, where evaporation reduces holding pond levels by up to 90 inches per year, according to Taylor Lewis, a program engineer at the agency. “We have 2,000 man-made reservoirs in the state to keep water so if we can identify a few where it makes sense to cover them with solar, there could be a double benefit of water savings and electricity generation,” he says.

    The concept of covering drinking water bodies to reduce evaporation is not new. “I’ve been looking at claims by the City of Los Angeles that they have saved billions of gallons of water over the past 10 years at four reservoirs, using black floating plastic balls,” Lewis says. “We’re interested in studying the impact with floating solar here,” he adds.

    Johnson Controls came up with the initial idea of a floating solar array for Walden, says Dustin. “The floating solar array is a milestone for the Town of Walden and highlights the potential for Colorado’s overall energy efforts,” said Rowena Adams, a Performance Infrastructure account executive at Johnson Controls, in a statement.

    “It was a practical choice for Walden given the surrounding bodies of water and the town’s energy resiliency efforts at the Town Water Treatment Facility, as well as the desire to conserve water and minimize algae growth,” Adams said.

    Ciel & Terre, the technology provider, has more water projects in mind for Colorado. “With demand for solar power continuing to rise and available real estate becoming more expensive, floating solar is the ideal solution for anyone with a manmade pond or body of water. It’s cost-effective, quick to install, easy to maintain, and offers a variety of environmental benefits,” said Eva Pauly-Bowles, the representative director for the US office of the French company.

    “Floating solar is no longer an exotic niche in the US, but a rapidly growing sector of the solar market. Ciel & Terre USA has other larger floating solar projects under construction and planned across the country,” Papuly-Bowles said.

    Deploying a floating solar array on manmade bodies of water improves energy production by keeping the solar system cooler, Ciel & Terre says. At the same time it reduces evaporation, controls algae growth, and reduces water movement to minimize bank erosion, it says. Floating solar arrays also make optimal use of pond surfaces, providing clean solar energy without committing expensive real estate or requiring rooftop installations, the company adds.

    Established in 2006 as a renewable Independent Power Producer (IPP), Ciel & Terre has been fully devoted to floating solar PV since 2011. The French company pioneered Hydrelio, the first specific and industrialized system to make solar panels float on water, with criteria such as cost-effectiveness, safety, longevity, resistance to winds and waves, simplicity, drinking water compliance, and optimized electrical yield, the company states in its profile.

    Ciel & Terre has floating solar installations in Japan, Korea, China, UK, France, Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, and Taiwan as well as the United States. The company has its United States headquarters in Petaluma, California.

    @WaterLawReview: Crisis on the High Plains: The Loss of America’s Largest Aquifer – the Ogallala

    Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

    From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Jeremy Frankel):

    The grain-growing region in the High Plains of America—known as America’s breadbasket—relies entirely on the Ogallala Aquifer. But long term unsustainable use of the aquifer is forcing states in the region to face the prospect of a regional economic disaster. As the High Plains states reach the verge of a major crisis, the states have taken different approaches to conservation with varying results.

    The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce, and it has long been an essential component of American agriculture. The High Plains region—where the aquifer lies—relies on the aquifer for residential and industrial uses, but the aquifer’s water is used primarily for agricultural irrigation. The agricultural demands for Ogallala water in the region are immense, with the aquifer ultimately being responsible for thirty percent of all irrigation in the United States. The Ogallala Aquifer has long been unable to keep up with these agricultural demands, as the aquifer recharges far slower than water is withdrawn.

    Aside from the obvious agricultural ramifications from the Ogallala’s depletion, recent studies have shown that groundwater depletion also has a severe effect on freshwater ecosystems in the region. Each state has had to confront the issue in their own way, but the depletion of the aquifer has become severe enough to warrant the attention of the federal government as well. At the state level, the focus has been on maintaining an orderly depletion of the aquifer rather than developing a plan for sustainable use. However, some states have achieved some level of success in slowing down the aquifer’s depletion. Kansas, for example, has recently achieved mild success by adopting a program that put conservation in the hands of the State’s farmers. On the other hand, Nebraska has seen more success than Kansas by being tougher on farmers and exercising its enforcement powers. The federal government has also set up financial and technical assistance for farmers who commit to conservation and is funding large-scale pipeline projects to bring in water to the more desperate areas of the High Plains.

    Recap of the first Ogallala Water Summit

    From The Hutchinson News (Chance Hoener):

    When early explorers Zebulon Pike and Francisco de Coronado came upon the High Plains, they described it as a desert — an impossible region to farm.

    Irrigation changed that. It allowed residents to pull water from the Ogallala Aquifer, and grow crops nearly anywhere. The first irrigation wells in Kansas were drilled east of Garden City in 1908.

    The Ogallala is a massive, underground sponge, spanning from South Dakota and Wyoming, down through the High Plains to west Texas and New Mexico. Over 27,000 of the total 35,000 wells with active water rights in Kansas overlie the Ogallala, with 87 percent used for irrigation.

    But decades of pumping water out, with little return, has taken its toll.

    After 110 years of drilling and draining, the world’s largest aquifer is drying up.

    The Ogallala is the primary source of water for western Kansas farms, ranches and some communities, but projections indicate several areas that will go dry within 25 to 50 years at current usage rates. Some regions in Haskell County may have a decade or less…

    The Ogallala Aquifer Summit was organized by Colorado State University’s Ogallala Water CAP Program — a coordinated agriculture project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The summit brought together scientists, government agents and producers from the eight states situated over the Ogallala to discuss shared challenges and current initiatives to preserve the aquifer.

    Conversations between states had a rocky start, partly because they were spurred out of litigation regarding the Republican River basin along the Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas borders. The conflict led to monthly meetings of the Republican River Compact Administration — comprised of one member from each state — to change the approach and improve water management.

    “No offense to those that are here, but I’m just excited to come to an interstate water conference that doesn’t have more lawyers than it does farmers and ranchers,” Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey said to applause from the summit crowd.

    Nebraska Natural Resources Program Director Jesse Bradley and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown joined McClaskey for the first panel of the summit, discussing the cultivation of interstate conversations.

    Brown joked that the whole problem was Nebraska’s fault — Nebraska native Frank Zybach invented center pivot irrigation while living in Colorado — and Bradley fired back that ‘you always blame the upstream state.’

    She credits interstate conversations regarding the Republican River as a critical factor for changing the tone of the discussion. Instead of fighting over the water, the group is now working together to preserve water.

    “The biggest way we learned this lesson is from the complete 180 we’ve done on the Republican River discussions,” McClaskey said. “In July 2014, we started meeting month-to-month and created a true, long-term agreement, and are using those lessons to expand to all the states.

    “Now, I would call my colleagues from Nebraska and Colorado friends, which may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a lot easier to solve a problem with a friend than with an enemy.”

    @USBR North Platte River operations meeting, April 11, 2018

    The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

    From email from Reclamation:

    The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a North Platte River Water Information Meeting in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

    The meeting will be held at 10:00 a.m., on Wednesday, April 11, at the Scottsbluff Panhandle Station Auditorium, Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The meeting is being held to apprise water users and other interested parties of the reservoir storage and current water supply conditions. Information regarding snowmelt runoff and expected reservoir operations for water year 2018 will be presented.

    #Nebraska: Platte River to Republican River compliance transbasin diversion in the plans

    From the Associated Press via ARGUS-Press.com:

    The plan is to divert excess Platte water via canal, culvert and pipeline over the Platte-Republican divide near Smithfield in south-central Nebraska’s Gosper County and run it south into the Republican via Turkey Creek, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

    The 25-mile-long stream is a tributary of the Republican starting about 3 miles west of Smithfield. It empties into the Republican between Edison and Oxford. The Republican River rises in Colorado and crosses southern Nebraska before flowing into Kansas.

    The primary objective is to help ensure the state’s compliance with an interstate compact that allocates certain percentages of the Republican River’s flows to Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado, said John Thorburn, general manager of the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District in Holdrege. Although the states have been working in harmony on managing the river in recent years, disputes among the three have escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    After three years of active planning, project proponents submitted their initial permit paperwork to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources last week.

    Tri-Basin partnered with the Alma-based Lower Republican NRD to develop the $1.4 million to $1.9 million enterprise known as the Platte Republican Diversion Project. It would tap Platte water from a canal owned by the Holdrege-based Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. The district stores North Platte River water in Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska and delivers it downstream and into canals for delivery to farmers to irrigate cropland.

    “This is precedent-setting for Nebraska,” Thorburn said. “We’d be taking otherwise ‘wasted’ water to be put to good use for a beneficial purpose.”
    Thorburn and others expect resistance from environmental organizations that have raised concerns, saying there really isn’t extra water in the Platte and that it’s all precious in providing habitat for endangered bird species, including the whooping crane, piping plover and least tern.

    The Platte’s floodwater — the excess flows that would be diverted at times — scrubs trees and other vegetation from sand bars and other important habitat for sandhill cranes. Downstream near Lincoln and Omaha, the river replenishes aquifers and well fields providing drinking water to the state’s two largest cities.

    The diversion would not occur during the June-through-August irrigation season, Thorburn said.
    The potential economic impact of the project in the Republican basin would range from $14.2 million to $33 million, depending on how much of the water required to meet interstate agreements and obligations comes from the diversion versus other sources, according to a study by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    The Platte in central Nebraska is designated by the Natural Resources Department as over appropriated, meaning there is more demand for the water than the river can provide. It is the state’s only over appropriated river. Still, there are times when floods funnel high water down the river’s usually shallow channels.

    An engineering study by Olsson Associates of Lincoln for the project partners indicated that under two scenarios a potential 57,000 to nearly 140,000 acre-feet of unallocated water could have been diverted from the Platte into the Republican during the period of 2013 to 2016. An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre of land 12 inches deep.

    The peak scenario would require 100 cubic feet per second of water to flow down Turkey Creek at times. A cubic foot is like a box of water measuring one foot by one foot by one foot. It contains around 7½ gallons. This rate of flow is a bit less than the volume of water Omahans see in Big Papillion Creek at Q Street in a typical March.

    Turkey Creek’s current base flow is about 12 cubic feet per second. Erosion-control measures and other improvements would allow the creek to handle diverted flows up to 100 cubic feet per second without damaging the surrounding land in Gosper and Furnas Counties, according to the engineering study. The draft application calls for diverting 275 cubic feet per second from the Platte in order to provide up to 100 cubic feet per second into Turkey Creek.

    @USBR Announces Public Scoping Meetings for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension, Environmental Assessment

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Brock Merrill):

    The Bureau of Reclamation is preparing an environmental assessment (EA) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension. Reclamation, working with the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, water users, and environmental and conservation organizations, proposes to extend the First Increment of the basin-wide, cooperative Recovery Implementation Program by 13 years. Reclamation is doing this to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

    The purpose of this action is to continue implementing projects that provide additional water, in order to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce flow shortages in the Platte River aimed at conforming with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service target flows
  • Continue land management activities necessary to provide habitat for target threatened and endangered species
  • Continue integrated monitoring, research, and adaptive management, in order to assess the progress of the program and inform future management decisions
  • Reclamation will hold four public scoping meetings during the 45-day scoping period to gather information from other agencies, interested parties, and the public on the scope of alternatives for the EA. The public is encouraged to attend the open house EA scoping meetings, to learn more about the proposal and to assist Reclamation in identifying issues.

    The public scoping meetings on the EA are scheduled as follows (All meetings will be held 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.):

  • October 4, 2017, at Goshen County Fair Grounds, 7078 Fairgrounds Road, Torrington, Wyoming
  • October 5, 2017, at The Ranch Events Complex, 5280 Arena Circle, Loveland, Colorado (Located in the Larimer County Conference Center; park in Lot B)
  • October 11, 2017, at Hotel Grand, 2503 S. Locust Street, Grand Island, Nebraska
  • October 12, 2017, at Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Executive Director’s Office, 4111 4th Avenue, Suite 6, Kearney, Nebraska
  • At each meeting, the public will have the opportunity to provide written input on resources to be evaluated, significant issues or concerns, and potential alternatives.

    Written comments are due by close of business November 2, 2017. Members of the public may submit written comments at the public scoping meetings, via email to platteriver@usbr.gov, or by mail to:

    Bureau of Reclamation
    Attention: Brock Merrill
    P.O. Box 950
    Torrington, WY 82240

    For additional information, please visit the project website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/nepa/platte_river/index.html.