2014 Colorado November election:

September 15, 2014

Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative


From The Colorado Statesman (Ernest Luning):

“High and dry is not a water plan,” Beauprez responded to a question about water storage. “We simply must put a shovel in the ground.”

Saying he supports building water storage, no question, Beauprez contended that regulation gets in the way of building the projects Coloradans need. “A governor needs to lead on behalf of the people to eliminate regulatory hurdles, not add to them,” he said.

Hickenlooper countered that any big water storage project will take decades to complete and that “Every conversation has to start with conservation.” He also declined to take a position on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a proposal to build reservoirs on the northern Front Range. “I’m not allowed to take — if I took a stand on NISP, it would jeopardize the entire federal process,” he said.

“On my watch,” Beauprez rebutted, “we’re going to build”


Pagosa Springs geothermal project: Concerns over legality of funds transfer to public-private partnership

September 14, 2014
Pagosa Hot Springs

Pagosa Hot Springs

From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Ed Fincher):

According to 18th century Scots poet Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Pagosa Verde owner Jerry Smith must have this line of poetry running through his mind all the time when dealing with the federal, state and local government, and Monday night’s meeting of the Pagosa Area Geothermal Water and Power Authority was probably no exception.

The authority, which consists of three town councilors (David Schanzenbaker, John Egan and Mayor Don Volger), the three county commissioners (Michael Whiting, Steve Wadley and chairman Clifford Lucero) and one at-large seat held by Mike Alley, just barely had enough members show up at Town Hall to achieve a quorum for the meeting.

Town Manager Greg Schulte, along with County Administrator Bentley Henderson and County Attorney Todd Starr, acts as staff for the authority, began by giving some background information for the people in the audience who may not have attended the authority’s previous meetings.

The original intent of the authority, as spelled out in the agreement between the town and the county, was to enter into an agreement with Pagosa Verde to form a separate entity — Pagosa Waters LLC — as a public/private partnership.

Pagosa Waters would then consist of three people: one appointed by the authority, one appointed by Pagosa Verde and one at-large member. The point being, this arrangement would ensure joint ownership of the project between the two local governments and Pagosa Verde, while at the same time allowing the project to be managed by a full-time, working board instead of part-time government volunteers.

According to Schulte, a wrinkle in the plan occurred because of a recently awarded grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs worth nearly $2 million. Archuleta County was the official applicant for the grant because DOLA only deals with local government bodies, not private companies.

The $2 million grant from DOLA counts as matching funds for a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which was awarded earlier this year to Pagosa Verde. However, since Pagosa Verde is a privately owned, for-profit company and Pagosa Waters LLC would be a public/private partnership, DOLA had concerns about the legality of Archuleta County funneling its funds into the project.

Schulte then alluded to a meeting held last week involving himself, town attorney Bob Cole, Starr and another attorney, Russ Dykstra, who has some experience with similar situations.

Starr then took over the briefing, explaining, “He has been involved in some very large public/private partnerships … and his suggestion was that, from everybody’s stand-point, an LLC is probably not the form we want to take. Some sort of concession agreement is the best way to do it because we can take care of all of Jerry’s requirements and all of our requirements.”

More Pagosa Springs coverage here.


The Grand Canyon & Hydropower — a complicated relationship — Grand Junction Free Press #ColoradoRiver

September 10, 2014


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most famous wild places, but the river that runs through it is one of the most managed in the world.

On Monday afternoon (Sept. 8), Lucas Bair, an economist with the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, told an audience at Colorado Mesa University’s Saccamano Lecture Hall how the price of electricity factors into river flows through the Grand Canyon. His lecture was part of CMU’s “Natural Resources of the West” weekly fall seminar series (schedule available at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter ).

The demand for air conditioning in Phoenix and the performance of power plants across the vast western grid both affect when electricity demand and prices peak, which in turn determines the most profitable time to maximize power production with high releases through Glen Canyon Dam. Hydropower plants can respond quickly to changes in demand, as can natural gas power plants; coal plants respond more slowly, and wind and solar plants’ power production is dependent on natural conditions and is thus intermittent.

Hydropower production is only one of the purposes for which the dam was constructed, however, and only one of many factors driving the quantity and timing of releases (along with the experiences of rafters in the Grand Canyon).

The “Law of the River” — a complex set of laws, plus interstate and international agreements on how to allocate Colorado River water — sets the broad framework for how much water is released in each year. Seasonal and daily release fluctuations are influenced by attempts to maximize benefits and minimize harm to native fish and riparian habitat, as well as recreational boating.

Prior to a 1995 Environmental Impact Statement for the operation of Glen Canyon Dam, which raised the priority of environmental and recreational considerations in dam management decision-making, daily flow fluctuations were much more extreme than they are now. The 1995 EIS also introduced the concept of periodic high releases to rebuild beaches and otherwise benefit riparian habitat by mimicking pre-dam floods.

Knowledge about how releases at Glen Canyon Dam and other management measures affect the environmental, recreational and cultural resources downstream are still imperfect, and any potential change in dam operations to benefit those resources must also be assessed for its impact on water users and hydroelectric power generation. An adaptive management advisory group was set up to respond to new information and integrate all of these considerations into decision-making about how the dam is operated. Bair’s task is to provide information on the economic efficiency of different management options.

The impacts of Glen Canyon dam’s operation extend upstream as well as downstream. This is in part because Lake Powell serves as the Upper Colorado River Basin States’ primary “bank account” for meeting downstream obligations, and partly because revenues from power generation at the dam help fund salinity control and endangered fish recover programs. These programs have funded many irrigation infrastructure upgrades in the Grand and Uncompahgre valleys.

Likewise, water use and hydrology in the Upper Basin impact the operations of the dam. When lake levels drop, whether due to drought or increased water use or a combination of the two, power generation through the dam becomes less efficient. And if levels drop far enough, the dam won’t be able to generate power at all.

The already complex challenge of optimizing management of Glen Canyon Dam gets more complex the farther you broaden the scope. If measures that decrease hydropower production in order to benefit riparian habitat lead to increases in power generation from natural gas or coal-fired plants (and decreases in funding for other management measures), then what is the net environmental benefit? How should economic values be weighed against environmental and cultural values in decision-making?

These are questions that require a combination of sophisticated scientific and economic analysis and informed public deliberation, and will probably never be settled for good. To learn more about the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center’s work to do their part in informing the process, go to http://www.gcmrc.gov.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Brighton works with oil and gas drillers to protect water — The Greeley Tribune

September 10, 2014

Wattenburg Field

Wattenburg Field


From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

For almost a month last spring, Brighton business owners found out just how important the oil and gas industry was to their town. In March, shortly after the Brighton City Council put a four-month moratorium on oil and gas development — to some residents and business owners, seemingly out of the blue, with no pending applications for development — the oil and gas industry reacted, showing the tiny town what that could mean economically.

“You have people like us, the motels, the restaurants, all these people who were doing a lot of business with oil and gas here, going ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing poking a stick in the eye of the major industry here?’” said Steve Whiteside, owner of Whiteside’s Clothing and Boots, 855 E. Bridge St., Brighton, who supplies energy employees with their industry-required flame-resistant clothing in town. “Yeah, we felt the effects.”

The ill-timed ban seemed to punctuate the moratoriums and bans that were ongoing throughout the Front Range, with five votes in the previous election in November 2013. But Brighton was the first such city to induce the rancor of oil and gas-related businesses that helped fuel the local economy.

The move prompted a bit of an uprising, and some local oil and gas-related businesses opted to do business elsewhere. Weeks later, the council rescinded the order under assurances from the industry that they would not submit any applications for development, so the city could buy time to study the effects it could have on its unique municipal water system that is almost entirely reliant on a series of shallow groundwater wells, ditches and streams in and around Barr Lake.

In that time, the city worked out a deal with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, creating an order that creates larger setbacks surrounding those wells and natural waterways that supply Brighton’s water. The new boundaries extend setbacks beyond state rules because of the unique circumstances.

“We met with operators, outlined the desire to protect the water System … then fleshed out details,” COGCC director Matt Lepore told the commission in late July. “It’s taken the better part of two months. It’s been a collaborative process, again with various stakeholders engaged in the process all the way.”

TIMEOUT

For many who hadn’t been completely advised on the city’s happenings, a four-month ban on oil and gas drilling seemed almost ridiculous given where they were — almost in the heart of the Wattenberg Field, where oil and gas drilling had been a mainstay since the field was discovered in 1970.

Kristen Chernosky, spokeswoman for the city, said it wasn’t really a ban. Chernosky wouldn’t answer questions other than through email and city officials deferred comment on the situation to her. It turns out the apparent knee-jerk reaction wasn’t so much about fear-mongering as it was a legitimate concern for the city’s water supply. The council opted for the “timeout” after hearing the industry’s intention in town, Chernosky wrote.

“Residents within the city of Brighton have been receiving leasing offers from the oil and gas industry,” Chernosky wrote. “The city also receives frequent notices from the COGCC about drilling applications in our area. … As a result of the dramatic increase in oil and gas activity in our area, the city of Brighton put forward a four-month “timeout” to allow us to revise our oil and gas regulations.

“Our oil and gas regulations had not been revised for eight years. The city council believed the timeout was unnecessary after the industry agreed to give the city time to update our regulations by voluntarily refraining from proposing oil and gas development within the city limits.”

THE BAN

Reaction to the event, however, was pronounced and potentially fueled by a growing resentment of an anti-industry sentiment across the Front Range. For those working in the oil and gas industry, as a matter of fact, it was time to do business someplace else.

“Some of the oil related businesses took offense in a big way and said to the city of Brighton, ‘If that’s your attitude about our industry, then we won’t do business in your town anymore,’” Whiteside said. “The whole kerfuffle got squared away, but it came to blows a bit.”

But in the two weeks it took to lift that temporary timeout, local businesses felt the pain.

Holly Hansen, president/CEO of the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce, noticed the effects almost immediately. Soon, her members were calling.

“I eat out in Brighton probably every day. And if you go on a normal lunch hour almost anywhere, you’ll see a long line of oil and gas employees,” Hansen said.

Hansen said officials at Halliburton and Conoco-Phillips tried to get the city to back off its moratorium to no avail. Word came down to employees. Brighton was suddenly off limits.

“There was just nothing,” Hansen said. “It was dead. … Something didn’t feel quite right. I had downtown merchants who weren’t really following what was going on (at city hall), in the first couple of days, saying, ‘I’m $1,000 down from last year at this time. What’s going on?’”

The oil and gas industry in that area of southern Weld County is huge. Halliburton, which is an oil and gas service company working with the likes of Anadarko Petroleum, has a massive facility just a couple of miles north in Fort Lupton, and had recently invested more than $40 million to stay in the area, after initially seeking to move further north in the county.

Several oil and gas employees had called Brighton home, and the time they spent away from Brighton business had an impact. The town also was reliant on other industry-related businesses.

“There was a gas station in town that had a sign saying, “We love Halliburton,” said Jared Whipple, an area resource coordinator for Halliburton, on a recent lunch at the Philly Cheese Steak at the Pavillions in downtown Brighton.

Shortly after the industry showed its collective might, the council agreed to rescind the ban. Meanwhile, the city would get to work with the COGCC on the concerns of its water system.

“Actually, as soon as the (measure) was revoked, business did come back to Brighton, and that made companies really happy,” Hansen said. “But also, and I talked at length with folks from Halliburton, they made it clear they appreciated Brighton and the support the town gives to families of employees. The overall kind of lesson was that oil and gas has to work in tangent with the city because it’s such an important industry.”

Business owners, while lauding any agreement the city could make, feel that cloud has lifted.

“From a business point of view, it was a bit shortsighted,” Whiteside said of the council’s ban. “It was presumptive, and I’m sure all with good intentions. But you know, people that aren’t really involved in (oil and gas) business maybe don’t realize how business works. It’s just such a key part of the economy in the area.

“It was a little frustrating, but government oftentimes proves they’re really disconnected from what’s reality. I’d think in this particular issue, they might have stopped and talked to a few people first.”

Small business owner Gary Mikes, who was opposed to any ban, spoke out against it to the council.

“It just sends a message that, ‘We don’t want your business, go away,’” said Mikes, who said his refrigeration business wasn’t directly affected by the temporary ban. “I look at it as a microcosm of what will happen statewide if we vote for no oil and gas exploration. These people will pack up and go to other places like Texas and Oklahoma, and we’ll be left holding our hands with nothing.”

The event laid the groundwork the city council was looking for in protecting the city’s unique water resources.

A NEW DAY

Brighton’s water system includes about 11 shallow groundwater wells near ponds and Barr Lake, both of which serve as water storage for the town, as well as some streams and ditches that are integral parts of the city’s water supply, COGCC Director Matt Lepore told the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at its monthly meeting held July 28 in Greeley.

“The circumstances in Brighton are unique,” Lepore said. “The regulatory agencies have crafted a unique response and solution that is appropriate we believe in these circumstances. The intent is this is a site-specific response to these set of circumstances.”

The agreement — which is not intended in any way to set a precedent for other municipalities throughout the state — will prohibit drilling around several natural water sources and shallow groundwater wells that make up a majority of the city’s municipal water system.

The commission unanimously approved the order preventing drilling from 500 feet around water wells and 300 feet from the city’s many streams, ponds and ditches, all of which make up about 70 percent of the city’s water.

Lepore explained that the agreement also called for groundwater sampling — once before and twice after drilling — for all drilling locations within a half-mile of water wells or from 301 to 500 feet of a river or a stream, or a ditch.

“All the parties with a stake in this have been engaged and crafted this order together and presented it as a joint presentation for approval,” Lepore told the commission. “This represents a great partnership between the state, municipality and operators. We all came together, worked hard and identified the issue, and we’re pleased to put this order in front of you and ask you to adopt it.”

COGCC member Tommy Holton, who also is mayor of neighboring Fort Lupton, said he could understand the council’s concerns about drilling, especially being new and having so much mis-information out there.

He said the agreement that came out of the mess, while not at all to be used as a template for other cities, showed that all entities could work together to come up with an amicable agreement.

Mikes said he was pleased to hear that the parties could come together on a plan.

“I’m encouraged they came to compromise. It’s shows the stakeholders they can come together,” Mikes said. “It’s 100 times better than an outright ban, not even considering the economic impacts to what happens when you totally ban something.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


Reclamation Releases the Final Environmental Assessment for Developing Hydropower at Drop 4 of the South Canal

September 5, 2014
Uncompahgre River watershed

Uncompahgre River watershed

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Terry Stroh/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that it has released a final environmental assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for a hydropower project at Drop 4 of the South Canal, part of the Uncompahgre Project in Montrose, Colorado.

The project, proposed by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, will be located at existing Reclamation facilities on the South Canal. A Lease of Power Privilege will authorize the use of federal facilities and Uncompahgre Project water to construct, operate, and maintain a 4.8 megawatt hydropower facility and 1.27 miles of associated interconnect power lines.

The hydropower plant will operate on irrigation water conveyed in the South Canal, and no new diversions will occur as a result of the hydropower project. Construction activities and operation of the hydropower plant will not affect the delivery of irrigation water.

The final environmental assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact is available on our web site or a copy can be received by contacting Reclamation.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


September 4, 1964 — the first generator went online at Glen Canyon Dam #ColoradoRiver

September 5, 2014

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Denver District Court Throws Out License to Build Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill—Again — @sheepmtn

September 4, 2014

Here’s the release from the Sheep Mountain Alliance (Hillary Cooper):

A Denver district judge has ruled against the license issued by the state of Colorado to Energy Fuels to construct and operate a uranium mill in Paradox Valley in western Montrose County for the second time.

In a court ruling issued Wednesday, September 3, 2014, District Judge Robert McGahey found that the hearing process for the mill, ordered by a previous judge who invalidated the license in June of 2012, did not comply with the 2012 order. In today’s order, Judge McGahey ruled that a hearing officer must review the record established at the November 2012 hearing and make an “initial decision as to whether Energy Fuels application has met all criteria under state law.” Sheep Mountain Alliance and Rocky Mountain Wild retained technical experts who presented solid evidence at the hearing to prove that Energy Fuels’ application was based on false information and that the environmental review was incomplete.

“This process has been mishandled by the state agency from the start and the district court has agreed again,” stated Hilary Cooper, executive eirector of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “If the state chooses to continue this process, it will be taking action on a 2009 application for a project that will most likely never be built.”

Sheep Mountain Alliance, a grassroots conservation group based in Telluride, Colorado, has led the effort with Rocky Mountain Wild to stop the Piñon Ridge uranium mill based on significant environmental impacts to the surrounding region. SMA filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado in February 2011 after the first radioactive materials license was issued to Energy Fuels. The Piñon Ridge mill would have been the first conventional uranium processing mill approved in the U.S. since 1980. The judge agreed with SMA’s challenge and ordered an independent hearing officer to conduct a hearing in November 2012. The hearing officer did not take action on issues raised during the hearing. Instead, the hearing officer sent the file to the state with simple direction to proceed with the license consideration. The state then issued a second license to Energy Fuels in April 2013. SMA and RMW again challenged the decision, and today’s ruling found that the hearing officer “failed to make a conclusion as to whether Energy Fuels application met all criteria for issuance of a license pursuant”.

In the meantime, Energy Fuels acquired the existing White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah, and admitted that they did not intend to build the Piñon Ridge mill because of unfavorable economic conditions and the redundancy of two mills in close proximity. In addition, Energy Fuels has entered into a contract to sell the Piñon Ridge mill property and other assets to George Glasier, the original founder of Energy Fuels, who is backed by Baobab Asset Management, Inc.

“The application lacks sufficient analysis of impacts to wildlife and the environment,” states Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “This decision is a win for the wildlife and the natural resources of this region. Our hope is that this remand will finally highlight the deficient environmental analysis included in the application.”

“The state has a clear choice to deny the Energy Fuels application and require a future developer to reapply with an updated application, which must address the conditions on the ground at that time,” states Cooper. “It’s time to release the communities of southwest Colorado from the false hope embellished by this industry for too long.”

More nuclear coverage here.


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