Colorado River Supply and Demand Study projects 3.2 maf shortage by 2060 #CORiver

December 14, 2012

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, released by the Bureau Wednesday, Dec. 12, projects that these demands will continue to grow, even as climate change models indicate that average annual inflows to the basin from rain and snow are likely to diminish. The fact that water use has already exceeded inflows into the basin for nearly a decade, while the region has been in drought, shows just how close to the margin we are already. The giant reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead can only enable overuse of the river for a limited amount of time.

The Bureau’s study, conducted with input from numerous water managers and interest groups and drawing on historical observations, studies of ancient tree rings and global climate change models, began by defining four plausible future water supply scenarios and six demand scenarios. Interim reports on these scenarios have been out for months, and they don’t paint a pretty picture.

Comparing the median of water supply projections against the median of demand projections (without any action to change how water is managed) yields a projected imbalance of 3.2 million acre feet/year by 2060. That’s 3.2 million football fields covered with water one foot deep. An acre foot is about enough to supply two average families of four for a year, under current use patterns. 3.2 million acre feet is a lot of water to want but not get.

The new parts of the Bureau’s study focus on what can be done to avoid that bleak future. For this, the Bureau asked for input from all interested parties. They got about 150 suggestions, ranging from towing icebergs to California to conservation and reuse strategies.

The study evaluated a representative range of all the suggestions it received based on their feasibility, viability, how much water they could generate or save, environmental impacts and other factors. These were then grouped into portfolios reflecting different strategies (try everything, maximize reliability, minimize environmental impacts, etc.), and the portfolios were evaluated to see how well they would work to resolve future supply and demand imbalances.

The results of these evaluations show that all of the portfolios significantly reduce the number of years in which the basin would be vulnerable to hitting key indicators of supply and demand imbalances, such as critically low water levels in Lake Mead, low flows below Lake Powell, and failure to maintain target flows for healthy rivers and recreational boating. However, the study points out that even if every measure studied is taken, “plausible futures still exist in which the system is vulnerable.” Put more directly, “complete elimination of Basin vulnerability is not likely attainable.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Restoration: The EPA relaxes Clean Water Act permitting liability for some ‘Good Samaritan’ mine cleanups

December 14, 2012

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Here’s the guidance document to EPA Regional Administrators from the Environmental Protection Agency:

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The memo from EPA national headquarters to the agency’s regional offices extends the legal liability protections in cleanup agreements and specifies that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

The complex structure of the Clean Water Act has, in some cases, prevented community groups from proceeding with cleanups because of concerns over future liability for pollution.

Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, has been leading efforts to facilitate more protection for voluntary remediation efforts. He announced the new EPA guidance this week, saying that it required persistent communication with the agency, as well as direct appeals to the White House.

“This is a powerful statement coming from the EPA and I’m glad they decided to stand with me on this issue … True Good Samaritans can feel comfortable pursuing cleanups and partnerships with EPA knowing they won’t be responsible for pollution when they get done,” Udall said.

There are more than 7,000 abandoned mine sites in Colorado, many of them leaching toxic heavy metals into streams to the detriment of aquatic life. Udall said the new EPA guidance could ease cleanup projects at the Pennsylvania Mine site along Peru Creek, in Summit County, as well as at the Tiger Mine, along the Arkansas near Leadville, in the Animas River Basin near Silverton and along Willow Creek, near Creede.

“This new policy, which follows a multiyear effort I led, is welcome news for my constituents and Good Samaritans everywhere. Abandoned mines in Colorado and across the West threaten our waterways and the environment,” Udall said in a prepared statement.

“I am glad the EPA has partnered with me to develop this policy, which will free up Good Samaritans – like Trout Unlimited, the Animas River Stakeholders Group and the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee – to help protect our streams, waterways and drinking supplies. We still have work to do to address these abandoned mines, but this is a welcome step in the right direction that will unleash the power of local groups and volunteers.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday eased policy restrictions that had limited efforts by third parties to clean up abandoned hard rock mines. The move, which would enable third parties to partner with the agency for extended time periods and eliminate the need for a permit under the Clean Water Act during or after cleanup, may spur further reclamation here and at the nearly 7,000 abandoned mines in Colorado.

Good Samaritan groups, as many of the nonprofit and community­based cleanup organizations have been called, had feared tackling projects that directly involved a pollution source out of fear of being held liable for the site by the agency.

“The great thing here is that we’ve really superempowered these groups to go to work,” U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D­ Colo., said in a conference call with reporters.

The senator visited Creede in 2011 and met with the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee, which has been working for 13 years to clean up the historic mining district north of town. At the time, the group pointed to the Solomon Mine on East Willow Creek as a site where more work could be done if the threat of liability was erased. The group’s director could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The cleanup of the Tiger Mine near Leadville also was hampered by liability concerns. Elizabeth Russell, who heads mine cleanup efforts for Trout Unlimited in Colorado, said financial considerations might limit any immediate work on the project, but she said it was tailor­made for the new policy.

“The Tiger Mine is probably the best situation where this could probably work,” she said. Udall said he would monitor efforts under the new policy to see if a legislative fix was needed. But one effort he intends to push for is a bill that would allow federal funds for coal mine cleanup also to be directed toward hard­rock sites.

More water pollution coverage here.


Drought news: Aurora is shopping for short-term water leases, storage at 53% of capacity #CODrought

December 14, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Aurora wants to lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin in 2013 and is prepared to spend $5 million. The city’s storage has been drawn down to 53 percent of capacity, triggering a situation where it can lease water under the terms of a 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Aurora Water sent a letter to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch last month offering to lease 10,000 acre­-feet of water for $500 per acre-­foot, or $5 million total. The terms are part of an agreement Aurora made with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2010. That may not be enough, said Super Ditch President John Schweizer. If commodity prices stay high, farmers would be able to get about $1,200 per acre for corn and $1,500 per acre for alfalfa, minus costs for cultivating, planting, irrigation and harvesting. “We’ve got to see if there are farmers interested in doing it,” Schweizer said. “If the price per acre is right, I think you could see some interest.”

Schweizer expects opposition to the transfer. This year, a Super Ditch pilot program met unprecedented resistance from other water users after it was submitted to the state engineer. “A lot depends on the severity of the drought and how people in cities might be affected,” he said.

While the Super Ditch conceptually includes seven large irrigation ditch systems east of Pueblo, farms on the High Line and Catlin canals could fill the Aurora order, Schweizer said. Both canal companies already have had annual meetings, so the leases would be filled through negotiations with the boards of each canal and interested shareholders. Bylaws on both canals have been changed to allow for temporary water transfers, and the High Line Canal leased water to Aurora and Colorado Springs in 2004-­05.

Aurora is waiting to hear if the Super Ditch can fill the order and does not have a backup plan, said Greg Baker, Aurora Water spokesman.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Agreements with three conservancy districts determine whether Aurora can lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin.

Aurora purchased nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, part of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and several ranches in Lake County in the 1980s and 1990s to meet water needs of the city of 300,000 east of Denver. In 2004-­05, it leased water from the High Line Canal, which irrigates farms in the Rocky Ford area, as the city recovered from the 2002 drought.

Next year, Aurora is bracing for another drought recovery to bolster its storage levels.

Under 2003 agreements with the Southeastern district and the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Aurora may lease additional water when its storage levels drop below 60 percent of total capacity on March 15. It can lease water for up to three out of 10 years under those circumstances.

Aurora has drawn down Homestake Reservoir, which it shares with Colorado Springs, for dam repairs. Aurora stores water in 10 other reservoirs. Including Homestake, Aurora is at 53 percent capacity, but even without Homestake factored in, capacity already is at just 61 percent. Last month, the Aurora City Council authorized its water utility to begin looking for leases. “We’re looking at the agreement to determine if we have any issues with the leases,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

Under its 2010 agreement with the Lower Ark District, Aurora is obligated to work with the Super Ditch before looking elsewhere for water in the Arkansas Valley. “It’s a step in the right direction,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “The Super Ditch will build collaboration and cooperation among the ditch companies.”

Aurora also has an agreement with the High Line Canal board for future leases. Arkansas Valley water is exchanged upstream to Twin Lakes, where it moves to Aurora through the Otero Pumping Station and Homestake pipeline.

More Aurora coverage here and here.


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