A Western Slope community wants to move beyond its #coal legacy. The @POTUS Administration wants “energy dominance.” — The #ColoradoSun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The final BLM plan for managing multiple uses on federal land in the Uncompahgre Plateau unveiled earlier this month did not limit oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley.

For nearly a decade, a group of farmers in the North Fork Valley joined with local tourism businesses and conservation groups to craft a resource management plan that could help the Bureau of Land Management shepherd the multiple uses of the valley’s public lands for the next 20 years.

More than 600 mining jobs disappeared in that decade of planning as the coal industry contracted and mines closed. Entrepreneurs in the lush communities around Paonia and Hotchkiss helped diversify the local economy from reliance on a single, extractive industry to an eclectic mix of organic agritourism and outdoor recreation.

The group’s North Fork Alternative Plan proposed energy development on 25% of the valley’s public lands, with increased protections for water and recreational attractions in the region.

“We put a lot of effort into negotiating with the BLM with what we thought was a pretty constructive way to share our values and how they should consider those values in managing the lands here,” said Mark Waltermire, whose Thistle Whistle farm is among 140 members in the North Fork’s Valley Organic Growers Association.

The final BLM plan for managing multiple uses on federal land in the Uncompahgre Plateau unveiled earlier this month did not limit oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley. And it did not weigh the state’s concerns over energy projects injuring wildlife, habitat and air quality. But as the first resource management plan released under the Trump Administration, it did represent the president’s pivot toward “energy dominance” by reducing regulations and greenlighting exponentially more coal mining.

“I feel betrayed by the system,” said Waltermire this week after spending the day fixing a tractor on his Delta County farm. “Most definitely this is a step backward. Really it’s even worse. We have lived with coal for 100 years and coal has proven to be compatible with the agriculture we practice here. But gas and the oil development is a different beast. It is a much more substantial threat to our economy, with increased traffic and the potential for spills. That could destroy our reputation that we have built for our valley. It could change everything.”

[…]

Earlier this month the agency released the final plan for managing the vast swath of the Western Slope, which is an update to the region’s 1989 RMP. Many of the wildlife, habitat and environment-focused objections to the Trump Administration’s “energy dominance” push to loosen regulations around domestic energy production — including those from Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, county commissioners, conservation groups and local residents — were dismissed.

As Colorado’s local BLM officials honed the preferred alternative — Alternative D — for the RMP last fall, the agency’s higher-ups crafted a new alternative. Alternative E identified energy and mineral development as key planning issues, and promoted access and a reduced regulatory burden alongside economic development as top priorities.

The BLM said the RMP would contribute $2.5 billion in economic activity into the region and support 950 jobs a year for the next 20 years.

The Alternative E plan:

  • Increased coal available for leasing by 189%, to 371,250 acres from 144,790 acres.
  • Added 13,020 acres to the region’s 840,440 acres open for mineral development.
  • Removed more than 30,000 [acres] from development in areas previously identified for leasing.
  • Cut acres the BLM could sell from 9,850 to 1,930.
  • Added six special recreation management areas and three extensive recreation management areas, setting aside 186,920 acres for recreation management.
  • The final draft of the proposed RMP conflicted with new state laws protecting wildlife, recreation access and improving air quality, so Polis last year sent a letter to the BLM’s Colorado director expressing his concerns as part of a consistency review that makes sure the agency’s plan aligned with state policies.

    Oil and gas leasing sites near Paonia. Courtesy of EcoFlight via The High Country News.

    Specifically the state wanted the agency to limit the density of development — including oil and gas facilities — to one structure for every square mile to help protect wildlife corridors. It also asked the agency to develop a comprehensive plan to protect and conserve the Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat. Polis noted that the BLM plan allowed an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas development that conflicted with last year’s House Bill 1261, which aims to cut those emissions by 90%. The BLM plan also conflicted with Senate Bill 181, which allows the state to consider public health and the environment when regulating oil and gas development.

    The BLM’s final plan released this month did not include the state’s push for limiting the density of development or creating a region-wide wildlife and sage grouse conservation plan. But it did agree to protect 33,000 acres of riparian habitat from surface development and initiate a future statewide planning effort to study density on BLM land. The agency also agreed to coordinate with the state over potential development in sage grouse habitat.

    “Our issue is that we worked on the preferred alternative, Alternative D and we sent that to Washington for approval. Alternative E was never contemplated and that’s what came back from D.C. We were not able to weigh in on that option,” said Department of Natural Resources director Dan Gibbs, who joined Polis in the only process available for commenting on the final proposal: a protest letter to the BLM over its proposed RMP.

    Gibbs said he was happy the agency heard a portion of the state’s protests and the final decision included plans to work more closely with the state on a border-to-border plan for limiting development density…

    The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility group uncovered a BLM document summarizing an October 2018 meeting where the agency’s Washington D.C. leaders told Uncompahgre Field Office managers that their preferred alternative “misses the mark” and was “not in line with the administration’s direction to decrease the regulatory burden and increase access.”

    […]

    Aerial view of the San Miguel River. Photo credit: The Montrose Daily Press

    San Miguel County, for example, asked the BLM to expand areas of critical concerns in the San Miguel River watershed and remove those riparian areas from mineral leasing. The final plan reduced the size of those areas and kept them open for mineral leasing. Montrose County asked for some areas inside Camelback, Dry Creek and Roc Creek to be managed for wilderness protection, but the final plan did not set aside any land in the county for wilderness protection.

    San Miguel County commissioner Hilary Cooper said that while the plan is slightly improved by the promise to work with Parks and Wildlife on a density-limiting plan, “it still feels like the BLM is not a willing partner in the management of our land.”

    […]

    Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, also sent a letter to the BLM and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last fall, urging the agency to “reengage with local stakeholders” before moving forward with its new Alternative E.

    This month he blasted the plan as “completely inadequate.”

    […]

    “You see what happened today?” he said this week, after the price of a barrel of oil collapsed to below $0 for the first time as a stalled nation sits at home and oil stockpiles swell.

    “That is really good news. I bet they are not going to look to develop new rigs for 10 years now,” Schwartz said. “We seem to have bought ourselves some time. Gas and oil are looking to survive right now. And if they look to fracking in our valley, they know we will fight them tooth and nail every step of the way. They don’t want that.

    “And really, who knows what will happen in the future,” he said. “We will have a new administration in a year or four years and this whole thing could change. Either way, we are coming out the end of this solid and safe.”

    Dolores River watershed

    Norwood Water Commission board meeting recap #PFAS

    Lone Cone from Norwood

    From The Norwood Post (Harley Workman):

    Each year, the board votes on a new chairperson that is from either location; a town member is appointed to lead on odd years, and a rural member is appointed on even years. The opposite happens for the vice chairperson.

    For 2020, the board voted Jim Jensen, who represents the surrounding rural area, as chair. He replaces Finn Kjome, who lives in town limits. Kjome was appointed as the new vice chair at last week’s meeting.

    Other water commission board members are Mike Grafmyer, Jim Wells, Ron Gabbett and John Owens.

    Tim Lippert, the town’s public works director and operator, gave the board several updates. The first item was the repair work needed on a town vehicle and the possibility of purchasing a new vehicle as a replacement. Lippert said the repairs would cost approximately $1,000.

    He also presented new raw water data to the board, as they’d requested information on how the new system was impacting the town’s reserves. However, the water data is based on only the first year of operation and study for Norwood’s new system. The board agreed that additional data over several years is needed to ensure data collected on the raw water system is accurate.

    Lippert informed the board of a state program, which is offering free testing of municipal water for the chemical Teflon, a substance dangerous to drinking water and frequently found in fire-fighting foam.

    Lippert told the board that the testing is not mandatory, but could possibly be in the future.

    Teflon testing has been occurring across the nation since 2013 and has recently started in Colorado. The test looks for Teflon in amounts as small as 70 parts per trillion.

    Norwood’s board expressed willingness to do the Teflon testing if the tests are paid for by the state program. Board members said they don’t want to have to pay for the testing with the town’s money.

    Currently, the state has roughly $500,000 in funding for the free testing. Lippert said on Monday the Town of Norwood did apply for funds and will know in the near future if the test will be conducted locally.

    At the same time, board members also said they don’t believe that the chemical will be found in Norwood’s water, because of the lack of forest fires that have occurred on the Lone Cone. Still, they said they are open to running the test to be certain.

    The Water Information Program August/September 2019 Newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New Executive Director

    Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the confirmation of their new Executive Director, Frank Kugel.

    Frank Kugel. Photo credit: Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District

    Kugel was the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for almost 13 years, and is a registered Professional Engineer with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Colorado – Denver. Frank was involved in construction engineering in the Denver area before joining the Colorado Division of Water Resources as a Dam Safety Engineer. He served in the Denver and Durango offices of DWR before moving to Montrose where he ultimately became Division 4 Engineer for the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores Basins. Frank joined the UGRWCD upon leaving DWR in 2006. He was a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable since its inception and chair of its Basin Implementation Planning Subcommittee.

    WIP had a brief chat with Frank to give you a bit more information. Here are a few questions and answers from our conversation.

    WIP: What experience and knowledge do you bring to the District?

    Frank: I have been the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for the past 13 years. During that time I worked on local and statewide water issues and reported to an 11-member board. Prior to that, I was Division Engineer for Water Division 4, encompassing the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins. As Division Engineer, I frequently attended SWCD board meetings and the SW seminar. Before that, I lived in Durango for 11 years while inspecting dams for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

    WIP: As the new Executive Director of SWCD, what is your vision for the district?

    Frank: My vision as Executive Director is to build upon the many successes accomplished by the Southwestern Water Conservation District. I intend to work closely with the board of directors in developing policies that will help guide the district. Instream flows and drought contingency planning are two of the areas that could benefit from policy guidance.

    WIP: What are some of your top priorities with/or within the district?

    Frank: A top priority for me is to reach out to the local communities. I plan to attend a county commissioner meeting in each of the nine counties within my first year at the district. Working on Colorado River issues will also be a high priority.

    WIP: What do you foresee being challenges?

    Frank: Facing a future with reduced water supplies due to climate change, coupled with increasing population, is a challenge for all of Colorado. The Southwest District can play a lead role in educating our constituents about this pending gap between water supply and demand and how the District can mitigate its impact.

    We welcome Frank Kugel to SWCD and wish him all the best in his new position!

    Southwestern Water Conservation District Area Map. Credit: SWCD

    Frank Kugel will likely be the next executive director of the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District

    Frank Kugel. Photo credit: Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District

    From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

    One the region’s foremost water experts is being offered another job in the industry that would take him back to Durango. Frank Kugel, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District, is in negotiations with the Southwestern Water Conservation District for the top job.

    According to the SWCD website, “on July 15, pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-6-402(3.5), the Board of Directors of the Southwestern Water Conservation District selected Frank J. Kugel as the finalist under consideration for the position of Executive Director.” The SWCD board plans to approve a conditional offer employment at its August 6 meeting and formally make the offer on August 7.

    Kugel confirmed the situation and said if all goes well and the SWCD board accepts the terms of employment, he would begin the new position on September 3.

    Kugel has led the UGRWCD for almost 13 years. “The Southwestern Water Conservation District serves all of nine counties, as opposed to three with the UGRWCD, so it is a higher profile position for me,” Kugel explained in an email this week. “I have worked with the SWCD for 18 years, 11 of which were while inspecting dams while living in Durango. The other seven years were while I was Division 4 Engineer in Montrose and dealing with water administration in the San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins.

    “The Southwestern District shares a number of common challenges with UGRWCD, namely Colorado River issues and drought contingency planning and demand management,” Kugel continued. “They also face a challenge of having nine separate river basins, most of which individually flow out of the state.”

    […]

    The SWCD board unanimously chose Kugel as the top finalist for the executive director job as the previous executive director had retired in April. Board president Robert Wolff explained there is a two-week public notice period before a formal job offer is made, so that will happen after the August meeting.

    “For me personally, several things about Frank stood out,” Wolff said. “He is fluent with all the Western Slope water issues we are dealing with, and he lived in Durango back in the 1990s. He is well thought of in the water community as a whole and he seems to know how to manage a district.”

    Kugel said he is fortunate to have this new opportunity and also lucky to have been in the Gunnison Valley for a dozen years. “I have been blessed with a supportive board and top-notch staff over these past 13 years,” he said. “We have done great things to develop and protect the quality and quantity of our precious water resources. The Upper Gunnison basin is a very special place and I will always hold it, and its people, near and dear to my heart.”

    Telluride councillors told: “We are a steward to our water resources…We are stewards for what we need now and into the future” — Karen Guglielmone

    Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Suzanne Cheavens):

    Karen Guglielmone, the Town of Telluride’s environment and engineering division manager, presented the yearly water audit to Town Council in a Tuesday work session, which emphasized the importance of conservation, despite the town’s abundant water supply.

    “We are a steward to our water resources,” she told council. “We are stewards for what we need now and into the future.”

    The annual report has been produced since 2014, when the town adopted a Water Efficiency Plan, which was subsequently approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) late that year. The annual report reveals figures such as overall municipal water use — and losses — and indicates trends that can help officials modify the plan.

    Water losses are attributed to a number of factors including leaks, unauthorized consumption, faulty metering and data errors.

    Leaks, Guglielmone explained, are common in municipal water systems as they age. One such leak occurred under East Columbia Avenue in 2018, which officials then said had likely been a progressive event due to pressure from a rock. Directly on the waterline. There are more of those, Guglielmone said.

    “We can expect a slow increase of leaks over time,” she said. “We have others we can’t locate precisely.”

    Despite the challenges of controlling losses, in 2018 the loss rate dipped by 13.5 percent when compared to the last five years of collecting data. Last year’s losses were calculated to be 26 million gallons, down from 2017’s 37 million gallons. Telluride’s losses are still high compared to other municipalities.

    “We’re high on our water loss,” she said. “Fifteen percent is the goal, though 25-30 percent is more the reality,”

    Residential water use is holding steady, according to the report. The fact that it stayed about the same (118 million gallons) is “pretty cool,” Guglielmone said…

    Town Attorney Kevin Geiger noted that overall the town is in good shape as far as its supply is concerned.

    “Our water portfolio is robust,” he said. “(Blue Lake) is a very large reservoir for our town. It is the envy of municipalities in Colorado.”

    Telluride’s water rights are also strong…

    Incorporating the Blue Lake reservoir and the Pandora water treatment plant became necessary when the town’s growth overtook what Mill Creek could provide, Geiger explained. Past water usage reports, which reflected peak days such as those that occur during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, necessitated the work to bring Blue Lake into the fold…

    Council member Geneva Shaunette said she liked the idea of the stricter irrigation practices that the town imposed during last year’s parched summer.

    “I’m a fan of every other day irrigation,” she said. “Maybe grass isn’t the best thing.”

    Unfortunately, even though low maintenance buffalo grass uses half the water, many landscapers’ clients prefer water-hungry Kentucky bluegrass, Guglielmone said. “We can’t police everything.”

    Montrose County shuts down mechanized streambed mining in the San Miguel River near Uravan

    Manhattan Project 1944, Uravan. Photo credit: Uravan.com

    From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    t’s been about 35 years since the mill at Uravan closed and about 33 since the former West End town was designated a Superfund site, eventually to be bulldozed, burned and buried. But roughly 2 miles away is the Ballpark at Historic Uravan, Colorado, which was never contaminated by uranium and vanadium mining — and the one place people who grew up there still have to gather and remember.

    The ballpark, with its primitive camping, has also attracted its share of hobbyist gold miners who access the San Miguel River from there. But when some began showing up with machinery, locals sounded the alarm and on Thursday, Montrose County passed an ordinance prohibiting unauthorized, mechanized mining along the river acreage it owns there. The ordinance can go into effect May 28…

    A problem reared its head, though, when she discovered a video on the Facebook page of a hobbyist prospecting group. Thompson said the video showed compressors and a hose that was pumping the river — plus the site was promoting the location to other hobbyists, as was a prospecting book, which has since delisted the location.

    “There was a big group that was going to come. They were all going to bring their machinery and have a big weekend there. We decided we probably better let the county know what was happening,” Thompson said.

    Although it’s one thing to pan for gold in the river, or put up a small sluice box — that’s still allowed under the new ordinance — mechanized mining imperils the river and the habitat it provides.

    “We contacted the group and told them … it belongs to the county. We lease it to the historical society. They have spent many countless hours down there and have turned that into a beautiful little park we encourage people to use. We don’t want it destroyed,” said Montrose County Commissioner Roger Rash, a former Uravan resident.

    The county also put up a sign barring machinery in the river.

    “But we needed to have some teeth,” Rash said. “We don’t want mechanized mining going on in our park.”

    The new ordinance allows panning within the river channel, as long as it occurs at least 2 feet from the bank. Among other provisions, the ordinance prohibits motorized mining activities, including motorized suction dredging.

    It also bars activity that undercuts or excavates banks and the ordinance further restricts access to the channel to existing roads and trails.

    People cannot disturb more than 1 cubic yard of soil per day and anything that cannot be removed by hand must remain undisturbed.

    All digging has to be filled in and the work area must be cleaned up before departure.

    Violations are treated as a petty offense, which carry fines between $100 on first occurrence and up to $1,000 for repeat offenses.

    If the county property, river or surrounding area sustains damages in excess of $100, violators can be charged with a class-2 misdemeanor punishable by stiffer fines and up to a year in county jail.

    Thompson said she and other Rimrockers didn’t understand why anyone would be mining the river with machinery to begin with. The park is open to the public — although it relies upon donations to sustain the picnic structures and fire pits former residents paid for — and has had only minor vandalism issues prior to the mechanized mining.

    Norwood to complete raw water system this summer

    Lone Cone from Norwood

    From The Norwood Post (April 19, 2018) by Regan Tuttle:

    For decades, town officials have wondered if a raw water system might be possible. Now — after three years of study, group collaboration, grant applications and awards, engineering, numerous public meetings, and more — Norwood will complete its raw water system by end of summer. That means next spring, many people (those that purchased raw water taps for their residences) will be running a sprinkler, watering a garden, planting vegetable patches and growing flowers. And the system, officials say, also has other benefits…

    Experts say that for farming and gardening, raw water is ideal. Raw water attracts pollinators, like bees and butterflies, and plants and flowers flourish quite well with the microbes and other naturally occurring particles present in it.

    “Putting treated water on a plant, we take out the ingredients that a plant likes, the things that are good for them,” Norwood’s Public Works Director Tim Lippert said. “Using treated water on plants and vegetation isn’t a good thing. Raw water already has the nutrients in it.”

    Because it doesn’t go through the treatment process, it’s a cheaper utility to deliver than potable water. Lippert said that in addition to being affordable, raw water is easy to manage, because no regulation of it is needed (other than making the pipe it comes out of purple, to distinguish it from treated water). Raw water is a seasonal product, available only during the growing season…

    HOW NORWOOD’S SYSTEM CAME TOGETHER

    It’s taken a community of people and organizations coming together to make Norwood’s raw water system possible. From the beginning, officials in the Norwood Water Commission and the Public Works Department had wondered if the town could make the project plausible. Lippert said the town explored the idea some 20 years ago, but citizens weren’t ready for it then.

    He said that in the last few years, officials began to revisit the idea and wondered if the town’s existing water shares could be put to use as a raw water utility service for residents. The town does own 119 shares of Gurley water (managed by Farmer’s Water Development).

    In 2015, town officials reopened the conversation with members of the Norwood Water Commission, Farmers Water and other regional water groups.

    The first step included the Colorado Water Board Conservancy awarding a $47,000 grant to the Town of Norwood in 2016 to support a feasibility study on the project. (SGM, of Durango, did the study and continued with the engineering work.)

    Along the way, the Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, spearheaded by Clay Wadman, who owns a home in Norwood and who wanted to see the project succeed, worked on education and outreach in town. The garden group worked to help the town sell residential raw water taps and supported Norwood in the fundraising process.

    Soon, grants began rolling in from the Southwest Water Conservation District ($175,000), San Miguel Water Conservancy ($5,000), the Telluride Foundation ($5,000) and San Miguel County ($25,000). In 2017, the Department of Local Affairs made a decision to give Norwood’s project around $690,000 in a matching grant to make raw water in Norwood a reality.

    The Town of Norwood also put money in — around $68,000 for final engineering — from the town’s reserves to move the project along. In 2017, town officials also budgeted $25,000 for the project; they’ve earmarked another $200,000 from the capital improvement fund if those funds are needed.

    Norwood’s Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer said seeing the raw water system come to fruition is quite an accomplishment for the town.

    “The idea of a raw water system has been discussed for many years, but with the help of a grant from CWCB, Norwood was able to complete a feasibility study. From the feasibility study came the grassroots Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, which became the public outreach group that assisted the Town of Norwood and Norwood Water Commission in this project,” she said. “There are so many people who were key players in this project. This project is the product of teamwork. So many people have shown their support for the raw water system.”

    OTHER BENEFITS OF UNTREATED WATER

    While it’s true that utilizing raw water makes flower and vegetable gardening possible, officials say it offers additional benefits, such as helping to increase property values.

    The Kurtex Management Company, which owns Norwood’s Cottonwood Creek Estates, purchased 31 residential taps for raw water. Wadman has said the system there will no doubt transform the look of the neighborhood: rocky areas that comprise the lots can be replaced with landscaping, and raw water at each residence will sustain the lawns. At the same time, Cottonwood Creek Estates’ residents will have the option of gardening and producing their own food.