South Platte River Basin: BLM delays oil and gas leases in South Park

November 20, 2012

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The Bureau of Land Management released environmental-assessment documents that cited concerns about water resources, state parks, critical wildlife habitat, recreation, tourism and visual factors as reasons for deferring action on six South Park parcels that were to be offered for lease in February.

The leasing of the parcels would let companies drill for possible oil and gas.

“The parcels will not be offered in February. They could be offered at subsequent lease sales or never offered for sale,” BLM spokesman Steven Hall said. “Concerns about water quality, fracking, impacts of development on the South Park quality of life and impacts to wildlife habitat were all cited by those opposed to oil and gas leasing.”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


Recreation Industry Praises High Flow Release at Glen Canyon: Target maximum release is 42,300 cfs #CORiver

November 20, 2012

Here’s the release from Protect the Flows (Molly Mugglestone):

Today, the U.S. Department of the Interior triggered the first “high-flow experimental release” at Glen Canyon Dam since 2008.

According to Interior, the release, which will last nearly five days, is part of a new long-term protocol to meet water and power needs, allow better conservation of sediment downstream, and better control the non-native fish population from preying on other species. The high release flows are geared to mimic historical pre-dam spring floods and runoffs.

Protect the Flows member George Wendt, President and CEO of OARS Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, which has been providing Grand Canyon rafting experiences since 1969, made the following statement in response:

“The water released this week is the first in a long term plan that will help to build new camping beaches in the Grand Canyon, and ultimately, will improve the canyon experience for boaters supporting a $26 billion recreation economy that depends on the Colorado River. We applaud the Department of Interior for taking these important steps that take into consideration the long term use of the canyon by boaters. This release shows an attempt at good stewardship of the area and is an example of how the conservation community and those who love to recreate on the river worked together with the Department of Interior on a solution that both fish and rafters will benefit from for years to come.”

Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior (Blake Androff/Lisa Iams):

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today triggered the first “high-flow experimental release” at Glen Canyon Dam, under a new experimental long-term protocol to better distribute sediment to conserve downstream resources, while meeting water and power needs and allowing continued scientific experimentation, data collection, and monitoring on the Colorado River.

The new protocol calls for experimental releases from the dam through 2020 to send sediment downstream to rebuild sandbars, beaches, and backwaters. The rebuilt areas will provide key wildlife habitat, enhance the aquatic food base, protect archeological sites, and create additional camping opportunities in the canyon.

“This is truly an historic milestone for the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, and the United States Bureau of Reclamation,” said Salazar. “It was an honor to open the door to a new era for Glen Canyon Dam operations and the ecology of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park – a new era in which we realize that the goals of water storage, delivery and hydropower production are compatible with improving and protecting the resources of the Colorado River.”

The new protocol is built on more than 16 years of scientific research and experimentation conducted under the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. The Department translated the research into a flexible framework that enables scientists to determine, based on the best available science, when the conditions are right to conduct these releases to maximize the ecosystem benefits along the Colorado River corridor in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park.

With the Glen Canyon Powerplant running at full capacity, Secretary Salazar opened the river outlet tubes at noon, releasing additional flows that will increase throughout the day until a maximum release of approximately 42,300 cubic-feet-per-second is reached. These releases will continue for nearly five days based on the parameters specified in the protocol and the volume of sediment deposited by the Paria River since late July, which scientists estimate is approximately 500,000 metric tons, enough to fill a football field 230 feet deep.

Through the foundation laid by the protocol, annual experiments can be conducted through 2020 to evaluate the effectiveness of multiple high flow experimental (HFE) releases in rebuilding and conserving sandbars, beaches, and associated backwater habitats that have been lost or depleted since the dam’s construction and operation. The protocol identifies the conditions under which a high flow release will likely yield the greatest conservation and beneficial use of sediment deposited by inflows from Colorado River tributaries as a result of rainstorms, monsoons, and snowmelt.

“Favorable sediment conditions in the system only occur periodically, so the ability to respond quickly and make the best use of those deposits when the time is right is essential,” said Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science. “Today’s experimental release under the new protocol represents a significant milestone in our collective ability to be nimble and responsive to on-the-ground conditions for the benefit of downstream resources.”

HFE releases simulate natural flood conditions that suspend and redeposit sand stored in the river channel to provide key wildlife habitat—including habitat for the endangered humpback chub, protect archaeological sites, enhance riparian vegetation, maintain or increase recreation opportunities, and improve the wilderness experience along the Colorado River in Glen and Grand canyons. Single experimental releases were conducted in 1996, 2004, and 2008, and included extensive scientific research, monitoring, and data collection by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

“These high-flow releases, a new paradigm in water management, recognize that there are hugely beneficial impacts to river ecology from releasing the requisite water needed downstream in large pulses, rather than uniformly throughout the year,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “In the arid West, non-uniform flow better mimics the natural environment in which the plants and animals flourished.”

This scientific process will continue and the knowledge gained from today’s experimental high flow will be used to make further refinements in determining the optimal timing, duration, frequency, and conditions for future releases as well as to inform other management actions on the river.

“As the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act emphasizes, the resources of the Grand Canyon are fragile, and conservation of those resources can only be achieved through wise management by today’s leaders,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Today’s event marks the beginning of the next generation of wisdom for managing this special place. We have only one Grand Canyon. We want to thank the Secretary for his leadership and conservation of this special place now and into the future.”

The protocol represents one of two important milestones in the history of the Colorado River. The second, a program to control non-native fish species, provides a framework for actions and research to protect native endangered fish in the river downstream of the dam. The finalization of both efforts involved extensive government-to-government consultation with Native American tribes to ensure implementation of the programs in a manner that respects tribal perspectives.

“The Bureau of Indian Affairs supports the cooperating tribes’ active involvement in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. “Many of their insights were incorporated into the process leading to the HFE event. Their strong connections to the Grand Canyon, including their cultural, historic and religious ties, give them a unique perspective on this national treasure. I want to thank the tribes for their long stewardship and their full participation in this important effort to conserve and protect the Colorado River ecosystem.”

The additional water released as part of the HFE is part of the annual water delivery to the Lake Mead. “The volume of water we are releasing during this high flow experiment does not change the overall volume of water delivery in the 2013 water year,” said Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor. “The current operations plan based on forecast data calls for releasing 8.23 million acre-feet of water from the dam to meet delivery obligations to the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico. The experimental flows are included in that total annual volume and will be offset by adjustments to the monthly release volumes throughout the rest of the water year.”

“This new protocol developed by Reclamation will protect both the Grand Canyon and the delivery of water for communities, agriculture and industry,” Salazar noted. “We are taking a practical approach. If, for any reason, the new high-flow experiments do not yield the positive results we anticipate, we have the ability to change and adjust future flows.”

In addition to the opportunities for HFE releases made possible under the protocol, Secretary Salazar has initiated the first comprehensive analysis of Glen Canyon Dam operations since 1996. The Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement will build on information obtained through the Adaptive Management Program and activities conducted under the protocol to analyze a broad scope of dam operations and other related activities. The goal is to determine specific alternatives that could be implemented to improve and protect downstream resources while adhering to applicable laws. Reclamation and the National Park Service are jointly developing the LTEMP EIS, which will ultimately integrate and further refine actions conducted under the protocol.

Here’s a technical description of what the USGS hopes to accomplish (Jack Schmidt/Barbara Wilcox). Here’s an excerpt:

“Throughout summer and fall 2012, the USGS research team developed, and continually revised, estimates of the total amount of sand and of mud delivered by the Paria River, as well as estimating the fate of that fine sediment as it was transported further downstream through the Grand Canyon,” said Jack Schmidt, chief of the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. “These data are the scientific foundation on which the planned high-flow experiment is based. Without the estimates of the amount of sand and mud delivered from tributaries, it would not have been possible to implement the Protocol for these high flow experiments. The entire program of utilizing small controlled floods to rehabilitate the Grand Canyon ecosystem depends on state-of-the-science monitoring efforts by the USGS to measure sediment transport rates in real time and to provide those data to the Bureau of Reclamation and to other agencies.

“The USGS program of measuring and reporting sand and mud transport in real time and in such a challenging environment is unprecedented in the scientific management of rivers,” Schmidt said.

USGS data show that the Paria River delivered at least 593,000 tons of sand to the Colorado River between late July and the end of October 2012 – enough to fill a building the size of a 100-yard NFL football field about 24 stories high. Long-term measurements show that this amount is about 26 percent less than delivered by the Paria in an average year, but is still sufficient to trigger a small controlled flood intended to rehabilitate the downstream ecosystem.

From the Associated Press via Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opened the river outlet tubes at noon and called it “an historic milestone” and “a new era in which we realize that the goals of water storage, delivery and hydropower production are compatible with improving and protecting the resources of the Colorado River.” The peak flow will last 24 hours from Monday night into Tuesday, and the river will run high for five days…

The experiment could hurt next year’s fishing – and complicate hydropower production and water storage – in the name of a more environmentally correct river…

Previous experiments in 1996, 2004 and 2008 were one-time fact-finding missions instead of fundamental shifts in river management.

“This (Obama) administration can be patted on the back and thanked for doing what we’ve been trying to do, seriously, for 15 years,” Lash added.

The previous experiments yielded mixed results, partly because a return to up-and-down flows timed partly to regional summer hydropower needs wiped out many of the new beaches and sandbars.

Advocates hope the effects will be longer lasting if these floods come more regularly and if a longer-term Interior Department planning effort leads to steadier flows through the summers.

But critics say that there’s little environmental benefit and that it comes at a cost.

In comments submitted to the Interior Department before the decision to go forward with regular flushes, the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association, a group of nonprofit energy utilities, noted that previous springtime flood experiments helped boost the population of non-native trout that feed on the endangered humpback chub.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Snowpack news: No snowfall in sight for Colorado through the weekend #CODrought

November 20, 2012

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From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Most of the state should see sunny, warm weather this week. Precipitation was expected to cross the northern and central mountains Sunday night, with up to 3 inches of snow possible at higher locations, mostly above timberline, with light rain in the valleys, forecasters said. Durango, Aspen and Steamboat Springs are expected to see highs near 50 each day with no snow in the forecast through next weekend, according to the western Colorado forecast. That’s not good news for the state’s ski industry or others affected by Colorado’s ongoing severe drought. Statewide snowpack as of Thursday was 57 percent of the 30-year average for the date.


Farmers and conservationists both find something to like in Interior’s new oil shale leasing policy #CORiver

November 20, 2012

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From the Colorado News Connection (Kathleen Ryan) via the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

Bill Midcap, renewable energy director with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, likes the new plan. He says it will help preserve one of Colorado’s most precious resources: water. “We all know that water has all the potential of running out of Colorado. We think it’s prudent that they ensure to the agricultural community how much water is going to be taken, before they move forward.”

The new policy says that public lands can only be leased if oil shale companies can show the economic and environmental viability of the technology used for research or development. The previous policy made nearly 2 million acres available without those restrictions; now, just under 700,000 acres of public land could be used. Twenty-six thousand of those acres are in Colorado. Supporters of increased oil shale research – including the oil and gas industries – worry that the amount of public lease land available is too small to offset economic costs and risks in development.

Ken Neubecker, director of the Western Rivers Institute, says the viability restriction is important, because energy companies often have water rights that trump those of agriculture or Colorado cities. Also, he warns, the current technology used to develop oil shale abroad is not practical in the arid Mountain West. “That is actually a pretty water-intensive operation, using two-and-a-half to four barrels of water for each barrel of oil. It’s a lot easier to do in Estonia and Latvia, but it’s not that easy to do here. Those are wet countries, and this is very dry country.”

Midcap says the new plan leaves him optimistic that the government will listen to the concerns of Coloradans and those across the West about the region’s natural resources. “Farmers and ranchers have a strong enough voice that I don’t think we’ll be pushed out. I think our voice is strong.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.


Four Colorado River fish show up on the Endangered Species Coalition’s top ten list #CORiver

November 20, 2012

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Click here to download and/or read the report Water Woes: How dams, diversions, dirty water and droughts put America’s wildlife at risk from the Endangered Species Coalition. Here’s the introduction:

Water is as essential to us as the air we breathe. And water, in all its forms, may bring us a fundamental joy that is unmatched by other elements of nature. Whether it’s splashing in puddles, running through a sprinkler, diving into a swimming hole, whitewater rafting a powerful river, skiing down a majestic mountain, ice-skating on a local pond, or just listening to the rush of a waterfall, our collective childhood memories include many wonderful experiences of water.

While water blankets our planet, 97 percent of it is salty, and 2 percent is locked in snow and ice. Therefore, less than 1 percent is available as freshwater, stored in rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers. This freshwater is our lifeblood. We’ve settled along riverbanks, and used freshwater for our enjoyment, transportation, irrigation, fisheries, recreational tourism, energy production, and drinking water. In short, we’ve spread this indispensible resource thinly.

Though we have an unabashed love for water, we treat it with little respect. We use water as our dumping grounds—the pollution and runoff from our cities, industries and farms spills into our rivers and other freshwater sources. We’ve diverted, damned and drained our rivers, parching some of our greatest ones out of existence. Even the mighty Colorado River, though strong enough to carve out the Grand Canyon, has been no match for our intensive water consumption. Most years, it no longer reaches the sea. In fact, few of our rivers remain pristine.

And new man-made threats are bearing down on our freshwater resources. Climate change is expected to increase droughts. According to scientific models climate change combined with population growth will result in much of the United States experiencing issues with water scarcity by 2025. Meanwhile, as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) spreads, so does the potential for more dirty water. According to an Argonne National Laboratory report, our oil and gas wells produce at least nine billion liters of contaminated water per day.

For the country’s imperiled wildlife, these threats are severe. We’ve seen massive fish kills, closures of multi-million fisheries and even the extinctions of species in the wild. Fish no longer reach their spawning grounds, frogs suffer from chemicals seeping through their delicate skins, introduced plants choke native ones from their habitats, exotic aquatic species threaten native fish, and development threatens the stream-side homes of mammals and birds.

This report details the top ten water woes for endangered species. It describes how our water management—our dams, diversions, dirty water and droughts have imperiled America’s wildlife, birds, fish and plants. But this is also a report about hope—how those of us living with threatened and endangered species can take action to help.

Thanks to one of the strongest endangered species laws in the world, we continue to protect our natural heritage. And it is not too late to save our species; across the country, we can all do our part. Supporting the groups involved in this report and their work to protect wildlife, plants and habitats is important. Standing up for wildlife protections is essential. And at home, we can make a difference by eliminating any leaks in plumbing; by installing water-efficient toilets, showerheads, washing machines, and dishwashers; by planting native plants adapted to our local environment; by reducing or eliminating our lawns; and by installing rain barrels to capture storm water for watering the garden.

Join us in protecting our country’s incredible web of life.

Thanks to the Colorado News Connection (Kathleen Ryan) via the Ag Journal for the heads up. From the article:

Leda Huta, the executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, explains why this report is so significant. “When we look at the country and what we’ve done to our fresh water resources, it’s frightening. Every animal has its role to play in the ecosystem.”

The report finds the bonytail chub is functionally extinct, while three other species – the Colorado pike minnow, the humpback chub and the razorback sucker – are all declining in population because of non-native invasions, declining water, and river pollution. Other creatures on the national list include salmon, antelope and mountain yellow-legged frogs.

Huta says the declining availability and quality of water comes at a time when the planet can expect to have less fresh water available because of global warming. “We will see more drought and water scarcities due to climate change that we’ve created and to having an increasing population, so those two together are going to have even greater impact on our fresh water.”

The report highlights things people can do to reduce their demand on fresh water, which makes up only 1 percent of the water on the planet. That includes landscaping with native plants, reducing the size of lawns, and using water-efficient appliances and toilets.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


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