The State of Colorado Coal

December 15, 2013

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

The State of Colorado Coal

CFWE’s most recent Headwaters magazine on energy took a look at coal in Colorado.  Writer Josh Zaffos interviewed Jack Ihle, Xcel Energy’s director of environmental policy about the switch from coal to natural gas…

HW 32 coversmallEven with the rush toward natural gas, the push for renewables, and potential carbon emissions regulations, Ihle says Xcel—and Colorado—aren’t likely to fully divest from coal. Xcel is upgrading pollution controls at several coal plants to further limit smog and air pollution and keep the plants running and in compliance with Clean Air Act regulations. “We see value in balance even as certain drivers like emissions regulations will cause us to look harder at cleaner resources,” Ihle says. “Coal has been a very cost-effective resource and price-stable for a long time, and we’ll look for ways to make it as clean as we can.”

And the use of coal in…

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2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum recap

November 12, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

At the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley’s 2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum, [Diane Mitsch Bush] and fellow presenters Kent Vertrees, Kevin McBride and Jay Gallagher talked through the issues and challenges ahead for the state as it races to meet the December 2014 deadline set out by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for a state water plan draft. Vertrees is a member of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, Gallagher represents the Yampa-White River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, McBride is on the board of the 2013 Colorado Water Congress, and Mitsch Bush serves on state house committees that oversee water issues. All four represent the interests of the Yampa River Basin in the complicated confluence of water and policy.

Their presentation Monday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library briefed attendees on geology, hydrology and water law as it applies to the Yampa River and Colorado.

The Yampa River, being largely a wild river with a natural hydrograph, is an anomaly among Colorado rivers, and as multiple members of the panel pointed out, that gives the basin a chance to buck the constraints of other basins across the state.

The amount of water in the Yampa River Basin is large compared to other basins, McBride said…

There’s pieces of Colorado water law that would push the Yampa toward developing the same constraints faced in the South Platte River Basin, McBride said, but there’s also opportunity to do something different.

There are many constraints on the future water plan outlined in the presentation, such as highly variable annual flows, climate change, existing water laws and interstate and international agreements, local control and balancing the impact on existing uses and future growth.

There are interests on the Front Range that would look to the Yampa as a reservoir for their needs, Mitsch Bush said, and if consensus can’t be reached with them, the Western Slope will have to stand by its interests…

“Here in Northwest Colorado, we can have that wild river in some ways,” Vertrees said about the best case scenario from the state water plan. “We can have smart storage. We can continue to provide for agriculture needs.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


‘The Front Range is thirsty. They want our water, and they’ve taken it’ — J. Paul Brown

November 11, 2013
Durango

Durango

From The Durango Herald (Brandon Mathis):

…La Plata County sheep and cattle rancher J. Paul Brown addressed a crowd of about 40 people at Christina’s Grill & Bar on Saturday morning to announce his plans to retake the House seat he lost by two percentage points in 2012 to Durango attorney Mike McLachlan. He called the district, which includes La Plata, Archuleta, Hinsdale, Ouray and a portion of Gunnison counties, one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of great importance to the state and nation.

“We are the pull of all of Colorado,” he said. “Tourism, mining, gas and oil, hospitals. It’s a wonderful district.”

While Brown, a Republican, said he is not yet ready to propose specific legislation, he did say he had a long list of issues and possible bills…

“Water is an issue here, and it always will be,” he said. “The Front Range is thirsty. They want our water, and they’ve taken it.”

Brown mentioned water-storage initiatives to keep water on the Western Slope and in the state.

“Six hundred thousand acre feet of water just went to Kansas and Nebraska,” he said. “That’s our water – we just don’t have any way to keep it.”[...]

La Plata County Planning Commissioner and beef rancher Wayne Buck supports Brown’s ideology. He called Brown a politician of moral fiber and character.

“He’s honest, and Lord knows we need honest politicians in Denver and in Washington, D.C.,” Buck said.

From The Denver Post (Kurtis Lee):</p.

Steve House, a healthcare consultant from Brighton, will announce his candidacy for governor Monday in Adams County…

House is now among five Republicans vying to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo have all announced their candidacies for governor.

More 2014 Colorado Election coverage here.


CWCB: State of Colorado Receives Partners in Conservation Award

October 18, 2012

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.

The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.

Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource (2011) — Union of Concerned Scientists

October 15, 2012

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Here’s a guest commentary about the report, running in The Denver Post (Alice Madden/Peter C. Frumhoff). Here’s an excerpt:

Electricity generation from coal and nuclear plants requires water — a lot of water compared to other fuel sources — to cool the steam they produce to make electricity. In Colorado, coal plants consumed some 80,000 acre-feet of water for cooling in 2008. That’s enough water to supply the city of Boulder for four years, or Denver for four months.

Colorado’s water consumption rates in energy production were highlighted in a recent report of the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a research collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists and a team of more than a dozen national scientists, including local experts at the University of Colorado, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Western Resource Advocates.

For most conventional coal plants, the bottom line is this: To keep the lights on, keep the water coming. It’s easy to ignore this dependence when there’s plenty of water. But in a water-constrained future, is heavy reliance on coal the best choice when we have smart water energy choices?

Although extracting natural gas via hydraulic fracturing is placing growing demands on water resources, an efficient natural gas plant consumes far less water than a coal plant. And some, like the Front Range plant in Colorado Springs, cool with air instead of water.

By contrast, wind and solar photovoltaics use virtually no water, making them smart energy choices for water-constrained states. Fortunately, Colorado has had impressive growth in both. That’s thanks in part to the Renewable Portfolio Standard law that requires investor-owned utilities Xcel Energy and Black Hills to produce at least 30 percent of the energy they generate from renewable sources by 2020, a goal both companies will meet easily. The remaining utilities, which provide about 40 percent of the state’s energy, must only meet a 10 percent RPS and rely heavily on coal.

Here’s the link to the report: Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource (2011). Here’s the executive summary:

Across the country, water demand from power plants is combining with pressure from growing populations and other needs and straining water resources—especially during droughts and heat waves:

• The 2011 drought in Texas created tension among farmers, cities, and power plants across the state. At least one plant had to cut its output, and some plants had to pipe in water from new sources. The state power authority warned that several thousand megawatts of electrical capacity might go offline if the drought persists into 2012.

• As drought hit the Southeast in 2007, water providers from Atlanta to Raleigh urged residents to cut their water use. Power plants felt the heat as well. In North Carolina, customers faced blackouts as water woes forced Duke Energy to cut output at its G.G. Allen and Riverbend coal plants on the Catawba River. Meanwhile the utility was scrambling to keep the water intake system for its McGuire nuclear plant underwater. In Alabama, the Browns Ferry nuclear plant had to drastically cut its output (as it has in three of the last five years) to avoid exceeding the temperature limit on discharge water and killing fish in the Tennessee River.

• A 2006 heat wave forced nuclear plants in the Midwest to reduce their output when customers needed power most. At the Prairie Island plant in Minnesota, for example, the high temperature of the Mississippi River forced the plant to cut electricity generation by more than half.

• In the arid Southwest, power plants have been contributing to the depletion of aquifers, in some cases without even reporting their water use.

• On New York’s Hudson River, the cooling water intakes of the Indian Point nuclear plant kill millions of fish annually, including endangered shortnose sturgeon. This hazard to aquatic life now threatens the plant as well. Because operators have not built a new cooling system to protect fish, state regulators have not yet approved the licenses the operators need to keep the plant’s two reactors running past 2013 and 2015.

• Proposed power plants have also taken hits over water needs. Local concerns about water use have scuttled planned facilities in Arizona, Idaho, Virginia, and elsewhere. Developers of proposed water-cooled concentrating solar plants in California and Nevada have run into opposition, driving them toward dry cooling instead.

This report—the first on power plant water use and related water stress from the Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative—is the first systematic assessment of both the effects of power plant cooling on water resources across the United States and the quality of information available to help public- and private-sector decision makers make water-smart energy choices.

Our analysis starts by profiling the water use characteristics of virtually every electricity generator in the United States. Then, applying new analytical approaches, we conservatively estimate the water use of those generators in 2008, looking across the range of fuels, power plant technologies, and cooling systems. We then use those results to assess the stress that power plant water use placed on water systems across the country. We also compare our results with those reported by power plant operators to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for 2008.

We examine both the withdrawal and consumptionof freshwater. Withdrawal is the total amount of water a power plant takes in from a source such as a river, lake, or aquifer, some of which is returned. Consumption is the amount lost to evaporation during the cooling process. Withdrawal is important for several reasons. Water intake systems can trap fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Water withdrawn for cooling but not consumed returns to the environment at a higher temperature, potentially harming fish and other wildlife. And when power plants tap groundwater for cooling, they can deplete aquifers critical for meeting many different needs. Consumption is important because it too reduces the amount of water available for other uses, including sustaining ecosystems.

While our analysis focuses on the effects of water use by power plants today, we also consider how conditions are likely to change in the future. In the short run, our choices for what kind of power plants we build can contribute to freshwater-supply stress (by consigning an imbalanced share of the available water to power plant use) and can affect water quality (by increasing water temperatures to levels that harm local ecosystems, for example). Over a longer time frame, those choices can fuel climate change, which in turn may also affect water quantity (through drought and other extreme weather events) and quality (by raising the temperature of lakes, streams, and rivers). Population growth and rising demand for water also promise to worsen water stress in many regions of the country already under stress from power plant use and other uses.

More coal coverage here and here.


‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

October 10, 2012

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Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

Water Wranglers
The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

More Colorado River District coverage here.


2012 CWCB Statewide Drought Conference recap: Colorado’s weather will become more volatile and unpredictable

September 22, 2012

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Here’s and in-depth look back at this week’s conference from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

…as the El Nino sputters in the Pacific Ocean, hardly guaranteeing a dramatically better snow season than the dry winter that ushered in this year’s drought, Coloradans are asking deeper questions about what Colorado might look like if extended drought becomes a disastrous reality…

Little is certain about that future, except that most scientists and climate watchers agree that Colorado’s weather will become more volatile and unpredictable…

“Colorado is at a transition point where some seasons are wet with El Nino and some are dry,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climatologist Klaus Wolter.

Northern Colorado usually experiences a wet fall and spring but dry winter during an El Nino year. Wolter said he’s still refining his forecast for the upcoming snow season, but it doesn’t look promising. “In the winter, if you want powder, pick a La Nina year,” he said.

And yet, last year’s dry winter came at the height of a strong La Nina. Most drought years come after a two-year La Nina.

“I share that attitude — the high country may not fare so well (this winter),” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

More CWCB coverage here.


CWC Summer Conference: ‘The money available for infrastructure projects, especially for water, is going to be very challenging’ — Carl Steidtmann

August 19, 2012

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From Steamboat Today (Frank Ameduri):

“The real issue here with water is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’” Carl Steidtmann said. “The problem is our government entities are deeply in debt.”

Steidtmann, a Steamboat Springs resident who is chief economist for Deloitte, was the lunchtime speaker during the 2012 Summer Water and Energy Conference at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort on Wednesday. The three-day conference goes through Friday and is put on by the Colorado Water Congress. There are 240 people registered for the conference, and attendees include local politicians, state legislators and representatives from water conservancy districts, water departments and municipalities across the state.

Steidtmann’s keynote Wednesday was titled “The Regional Impact of the National Economy: Letting Go of the Status Quo for Water and Energy.”[...]

Steidtmann, who consults with Fortune 500 companies, said water is becoming an increasingly important issue for energy companies because of its increasing scarcity. To illustrate this point, he showed a map forecasting water availability in 2025. “The western part of the U.S. becomes one of those areas of critical water shortages,” Steidtmann said.

In an era of a contracting government where more money is being spent to pay off debt, Steidtmann said infrastructure projects are the ones that are easy to delay. “The money available for infrastructure projects, especially for water, is going to be very challenging,” he said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Environmentalism is a luxury good,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Services. “Richer countries are more environmentally conscious.” In his view, poorer nations are more focused on the need to survive, and have a greater impact on the environment as populations grow. It takes money to protect the environment, he said. Energy development has been the greatest factor in the divide between rich and poor nations, but in the future, the availability of food and water will also have economic consequences, he said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We need to make sure the most water goes to the hottest fires,” said Reeves Brown, executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. He was among state officials who discussed water project funding last week at the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress. There is an estimated $5 billion backlog in about 1,000 community water projects across the state.

Mineral severance or federal lease fund revenues are a major source of funds for Colorado water projects to provide drinking water or treat wastewater. Since 2008, the state has looked toward those cash funds to make up shortfalls in other budget areas, particularly health care, education and prisons.

About $250 million over four years in funds that would have gone to local impact grants through DOLA have been diverted. That money would have leveraged three times as much in other grants or loans, Brown said. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has seen $163 million of construction funds diverted during the same period, while making about $80 million in loans to water projects.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Steamboat Springs: Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference August 15 – 17

July 9, 2012

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Here’s the link to the registration page. Here’s the description of the event (Meg Meyer):

The 2012 Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference will include water and energy interests once again as we combine forces and explore areas of common interest. The theme of the conference is The Balance of Power. We will spin the concept several different ways as we look at the balance of political power, the balance of governance, and the balance of energy and water sources.

Immediately preceding the CWC Summer Conference, the Colorado Coal and Power Generation group will hold an all-day event at the Holiday Inn in Craig on Tuesday, August 14th which will include a golf tournament and evening barbeque.

In addition, the Interim Water Resources Review Committee will meet in Steamboat, Tuesday afternoon, for their first substantive meeting to prepare for the 2013 legislative session.

The CWC Summer Conference will be held August 15th through August17th at the Sheraton in Steamboat Springs.

We will have three workshops on Wednesday morning covering topics of drought and current weather conditions, public trust, and endangered species. We will try something a little different this year with the conference kicking off with a luncheon on Wednesday. General Sessions will follow on Wednesday afternoon. An evening open public forum will held on Wednesday at 7:30 pm (attendance is optional for water and energy professionals).

We will have networking breakfasts on Thursday or Friday – a light continental breakfast will be served, but no formal speaker. The hotel restaurant or other local venues are available for those that prefer a heartier breakfast. General Sessions will be held on Thursday from 9:00 to 12:00. On Thursday afternoon, we will offer a couple of tours or you may want to use this time to catch up on other business. The POND Committee is also planning outdoor activities. We will have a reception on Thursday evening at 5:00. The Friday morning format will be similar to Thursday and the conference will conclude with a box lunch.


State of the Rockies Project: Will and Zak release a new video — ‘A Paddler’s Perspective on the Colorado River Delta’

March 12, 2012

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Here’s the link to the video. Will and Zak paddled from the headwaters of the Green River to the Colorado River Delta as researchers for Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Colorado River Basin: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system?

December 25, 2011

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Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:

Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.

We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.

The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.

The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.

That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


IEA: ‘Without a bold change of policy direction, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system’

November 13, 2011

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More from the release:

…”Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge.”

In the WEO’s central New Policies Scenario, which assumes that recent government commitments are implemented in a cautious manner, primary energy demand increases by one-third between 2010 and 2035, with 90% of the growth in non-OECD economies. China consolidates its position as the world’s largest energy consumer: it consumes nearly 70% more energy than the United States by 2035, even though, by then, per capita demand in China is still less than half the level in the United States. The share of fossil fuels in global primary energy consumption falls from around 81% today to 75% in 2035. Renewables increase from 13% of the mix today to 18% in 2035; the growth in renewables is underpinned by subsidies that rise from $64 billion in 2010 to $250 billion in 2035, support that in some cases cannot be taken for granted in this age of fiscal austerity. By contrast, subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $409 billion in 2010.

More coverage from James Herron writing for The Wall Street Journal. From the article:

To prevent long-term average global temperatures rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels—seen as the maximum possible increase without serious climate disruption—immediate, drastic changes to energy and industrial policies are needed, the IEA said in its World Energy Outlook.

Such a shift looks unlikely given current global economic problems and the move away from low-carbon nuclear power in some countries after the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, the IEA said. Promises to invest to curb carbon dioxide emissions have in many cases failed to acquire legislative urgency.

Meanwhile, Science Daily reports that 99.5% of conservation scientists that participated in a recent survey are concerned about the imminent massive decrease of species biodiversity on the horizon. From the article:

“As with climate change the large level of investment needed if loss of biodiversity is to be stopped will result in an increase of public and political scrutiny of conservation science,” said study author Dr. Murray Rudd from the Environment Department at the University of York. “That makes it important to show how much scientific consensus there is for both the problems and possible solutions.”

583 individuals who had published papers in 19 international journals took part in Dr Rudd’s survey via email. The survey sought to gather opinions on the expected geographic scope of declining biological diversity before posing 16 questions to rank levels of agreement with statements that explored authors’ values, priorities, and geographic affiliation and their support of potential management actions.

“The survey posed the key questions facing conservation science: why people care, how priorities should be set, where our efforts should be concentrated and what action we can take. Scientists were also asked about a range of potentially controversial statements about conservation strategies to gauge shifting opinions,” he said.

The results revealed that 99.5 per cent of responders felt that a serious loss of biological diversity is either ‘likely’, ‘very likely’, or ‘virtually certain’. Agreement that loss is ‘very likely’ or ‘virtually certain’ ranged from 72.8 per cent of authors based in Western Europe to 90.9% for those in Southeast Asia.

Tropical coral ecosystems were perceived as the most seriously affected by loss of biological diversity with 88.0 per cent of respondents who were familiar with that ecosystem type gauging that a serious loss is ‘very likely’ or ‘virtually certain’.

More climate change coverage here and here.


West Elk Mine environmental impact statement affirmed by U.S. District Court

November 11, 2011

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From the Delta County Independent:

The lawsuit, filed over a 2008 decision, alleged that the Forest Service failed to analyze alternatives that would mitigate the effects of methane, a greenhouse gas that is released from the mine into the atmosphere to meet Mine Safety Health Administration requirements. WildEarth Guardians claimed that the Forest Service analysis, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), for flaring of methane and capture of methane was insufficient. The plaintiffs also challenged the agency’s evaluation of the effects of methane on global warming.

After a thorough review of the documents associated with this case and hearing the arguments of the parties, the judge found that the Forest Service had satisfied its legal obligations under NEPA in analyzing the environmental effects of this project.

Forest supervisor Charlie Richmond stated, “We are always pleased when a federal judge rules in our favor, especially on such an important case that helps to preserve the economic future of the area.

More coal coverage here.


Colorado College State of the Rockies Project releases ‘Conservation in the West’ survey: Westerners favor environmental protection

February 25, 2011

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Here’s the release from the State of the Rockies Project:

Majority of Western Voters Believe Environmental Protections, Strong Economy Can Co-Exist

First-ever “Conservation in the West Survey” measures voters’ environmental attitudes in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — A new bi-partisan poll of inter-mountain West voters shows that a strong majority (77 percent) believe that environmental standards and a strong economy can co- exist. The findings, from the first-ever “Conservation in the West Survey,” reveal differences and many points of agreement among voters on issues such as conservation, regulations, renewable energy and other environmental issues.

The poll, conducted by Lori Weigel at Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz at Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm), measured environmental attitudes of 2,200 voters in the five Western states January 23-27, 2011. The survey is being released by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, which, for the past eight years, has worked to increase public understanding of vital issues affecting the Rockies through annual report cards, free events, discussions and other activities.

“This research underscores an interesting and important trend in these five states,” said Walt Hecox, Ph.D., professor at Colorado College and director of the State of the Rockies Project. “While there are differences of opinion on a range of issues, there are true common values shared between each state, including a commitment to protect the important natural resources that make this region so unique.”

“Particularly interesting is the emergence of renewable energy sources – such as solar and wind power – as a much more attractive option over traditional fossil fuels,” added Hecox. (According to the results, voters indicate more positive impressions of solar and wind power as energy sources than they do for coal or oil.) “Voters see renewable energy as producing jobs, and they have ambitious goals for using more of these sources to supply their states’ overall energy needs.”

[Click here for] some of the key findings. To view the executive summary or entire report, please visit:

http://www.coloradocollege.edu/StateoftheRockies/conservationinthewestsurvey_e.html

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Conducted by both a Republican and Democratic polling firm and produced for the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, the “Conservation in the West” survey found that voters thought the average percentage of their state’s electricity coming from renewable resources should be about 65 percent.

Generally expressing more positive impressions of solar and wind power than coal or oil (with the exception of Wyoming residents), 77 percent of all those surveyed felt environmental standards and a strong economy can co-exist. And 65 percent said they disagree that renewable energy is “too unreliable to be a significant part of our energy supply.”

And a majority of voters in all five states (70 percent), which also included New Mexico, Montana and Utah, said it’s “time to start replacing coal with other energy sources like wind and solar power.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The “Conservation in the West” survey, commissioned by Colorado College and released this morning, also found that two thirds of voters believe current laws protecting air, land and water should be strengthened or better enforced. Even when offered an economic rationale for relaxing environmental standards, 77 percent of voters surveyed said standards that apply to major industries must be maintained. Only 18 percent favored relaxing standards in an effort to boost the economy and generate jobs. The survey indicates most voters consider environmental protection and a strong economy to be compatible goals.

A majority in every state where voters were surveyed – Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – said they favor replacing coal with other energy sources such as wind and solar power. And 54 percent indicated they’d be willing to pay at least ten dollars more per month to increase the use of renewable energy to generate electricity in their state.


San Juan Mountains: Research into high mercury levels

January 25, 2011

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“In 2007 we began to study mercury because very little was known about its presence in Southwest Colorado other than that reservoirs had fish-consumption advisories, and that precipitation sometimes deposited heavy concentrations of mercury at Mesa Verde National Park,” former institute director Koren Nydick said last week by telephone.

As result of mercury accumulation in fish, the state of Colorado has posted advisories at McPhee, Totten, Narraguinnep and Vallecito reservoirs and Najavo Lake cautioning about consumption of fish from those waters.

Kelly Palmer, a Bureau of Land Management hydrologist, said as a result of the Mountain Studies Institute pilot study at Molas Pass, the San Juan National Forest in 2009 initiated a long-term mercury-monitoring program there.

“It appears the levels of mercury are notable,” Palmer said last week…

Analysis of mercury and weather data collected from 2002 to 2008 at Mesa Verde points to coal-fired power plants in New Mexico as potential sources of mercury. Analysis of pollution components as well as potential sources and storm pathways support the theory, Nydick said.

But they don’t pinpoint specific sources and don’t definitely rule out the possibility that storms were carrying pollution from elsewhere when they passed over the New Mexico plants…

In June 2009, researchers from MSI and other agencies spent a day in Mancos Canyon trapping and releasing songbirds after testing their blood for mercury. They also collected crayfish, spiders, sow bugs, cicadas and centipedes and planned to return to electro-shock fish for testing.

“Wetland-dependent songbirds were chosen for study, in addition to fish and crayfish, because research shows they can accumulate methyl mercury,” Nydick said at the time. “It appears they accumulate methyl mercury from prey such as spiders that are a link between the aquatic and terrestrial food webs. That is why we collect invertebrates, soil and dead foliage to analyze for mercury, too.”

More mercury pollution coverage here and here.


Electric generation and water in the Arkansas Valley

December 30, 2010

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Here’s a look at the water requirements for electrical generation and the current state of power plants in the Arkansas Valley, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The purchase of half of one of the valley’s largest irrigation systems, the Amity Canal, by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association shines a new light on how water and electricity are connected. “The system is out of balance. We really had the need for power-generation resources on the eastern side of our system,” said Lee Boughey, communications director for Tri-State. “We did it differently, because we saw the need for having the water on-site with options for any number of technologies.”[...]

While initial plans called for a pair of coal-burning power plants that would generate 1,400 megawatts of power, Tri-State now is looking at options that could incorporate coal, natural gas, wind, solar or even nuclear technology. Until then, the water that eventually will be used in electric power generation remains in agriculture, on farms that Tri-State bought along with the water and now leases to tenant farmers. “When we do build a power plant, the transmission lines associated with it will help facilitate renewable energy because you will have a more stable infrastructure,” Boughey explained. “At the same time, it’s important to maintain the land and keep it in production.”[...]

An even larger share of the electricity generated at Pueblo will go to Denver metro area customers beginning in 2012. Black Hills Energy is building a gas-fired plant near Pueblo, also with water supplied by the Pueblo water board, and is planning on closing its Canon City generating plant. Colorado Springs Utilities, which supplies the largest customer base in the basin, controls its own water supply, and reuses nonpotable water as part of the supply for its coal and gas plants. It also produces some electricity by hydropower. The city will increase its power demands when it builds the Southern Delivery System, because it will have to pump water uphill from Pueblo Dam. Right now, Colorado Springs has the capacity to produce more electricity than it uses, said Bruce McCormick, chief energy officer for Colorado Springs Utilities. Colorado Springs controls its own water, wastewater, electric and gas utilities.

Click through for Mr. Woodka short bio of Mr. Boughey.

More energy policy coverage here.


Energy policy — coal: The San Juan Citizen’s Alliance and two other environmental groups plan lawsuit against the Office of Surface Mining over San Juan River mercury levels

October 13, 2010

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

A lawsuit will be supported by a “biological opinion” from the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the proposed Desert Rock power station, which is now on hold, Eisenfeld said. The study was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request after it was withdrawn by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for which it had been prepared. Navajo Mine, located one mile southwest of Fruitland, N.M., plans to be the source of coal for the Desert Rock plant. The mine is owned by BHP Billiton. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its air-pollution permit for Desert Rock for failure to follow through on Endangered Species Act requirements. The biological opinion shows that mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal mining is pushing the pikeminnow and razorback sucker to extinction, Eisenfeld said. “We don’t think the Office of Surface Mining is doing its job,” Eisenfeld said…

The biological opinion sheds a poor light on all coal mining and power plant operations in the region, not only BHP Billiton, he said. Mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, impairs reproduction in fish and accumulates in rivers through emissions and runoff, Eisenfeld said. The Fish and Wildlife opinion found that 64 percent of Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River exceed the mercury threshold for reproductive impairment, Eisenfeld said. Forty percent of razorback suckers in the San Juan River also meet contamination thresholds…

Taylor McKinnon, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Department of the Interior should not rubber-stamp coal development that its own science says is causing fish extinctions. “At stake are two species of fish, millions of people’s drinking water and one of the West’s loveliest rivers.”

Here’s a release from the Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon/Anna Frazier/Mike Eisenfeld/Brad Bartlett):

Conservation and citizen groups today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining for failing to conduct Endangered Species Act consultations prior to authorizing the renewal of an operating permit for the Navajo Coal Mine in northwest New Mexico. The agency was required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid impacts to threatened and endangered species from the mining of coal at Navajo Mine, its combustion at Four Corners Power Plant and coal-combustion waste dumping.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE) and San Juan Citizens Alliance filed today’s notice, represented by the Energy Minerals Law Center.

The groups’ lawsuit will be substantiated by newly obtained government records showing how mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal development is driving endangered fish in the San Juan River toward extinction. A draft Fish and Wildlife “biological opinion” for the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project concludes that mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal combustion, including from Four Corners Power Plant, would be “likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker” — two highly endangered fish species in the San Juan River, a tributary to the Colorado.

“The Department of the Interior cannot simply rubber-stamp the same lethal coal development that its own science says is causing fish extinctions.” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “At stake are two species of fish, millions of people’s drinking water, and one of the West’s loveliest rivers.”

“The draft biological opinion for Desert Rock provides solid evidence that San Juan River watershed and the continued viability of native species has been severely impaired in the San Juan River because of coal and other energy development,” said Mike Eisenfeld of SJCA. “Recovery of this river and ecosystem is imperative. Downstream communities rely on San Juan River water, and the agencies must take action to reduce and eliminate the impacts from industrial pollution.”

In 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its air-pollution permit for the Desert Rock Energy Project, citing the need for completion of Endangered Species Act consultations. The newly released biological opinion was prepared by Fish and Wildlife as part of that consultation, and its “jeopardy” determination is believed to have been a fatal blow to the future of the Desert Rock. Like the Four Corners Power Plant, Desert Rock, had it been built, would have burned coal from the Navajo Coal Mine.

“OSM’s decision to renew operations at BHP’s Navajo Mine without consulting with FWS and addressing the findings of the Desert Rock biological opinion violates the Endangered Species Act,” said Brad Bartlett, an attorney with the Energy Minerals Law Center. “With the ESA consultation demanded by today’s notice letter, BHP’s Navajo Coal Mine will be faced with the same facts that Desert Rock faced in consultation — facts that led FWS to determine that species in San Juan River are in jeopardy because of the toxic legacy being left by the Four Corners’ coal industrial complex.”

“OSM’s permitting decision does not evaluate the hydrological impacts of BHP’s nearly half-century of permanent disposal of over a half-billion tons of CCW at the mine and contribution to mercury cycling in the San Juan environment,” said Anna Frazier, executive director of Diné CARE. “Water is life, water is sacred to the Navajo (Diné) people living in the Four Corners area. Our survival has been dependent on the river for irrigation, for fishing, for watering animals, a place of prayer and offering. The legacy of coal development and waste disposal at the mine threatens our health, our plants and animals, and the very existence of the Diné.”[...]

The Four Corners region near the San Juan River is home to two of the largest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the United States — the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. A third coal-fired power plant originally proposed for the area, the Desert Rock Energy Project, is now on hold. The BHP Navajo Coal Company’s (BNCC) Navajo Coal Mine is located south of Fruitland, New Mexico. It supplies coal to Four Corners Power Plant and is intended to feed Desert Rock Energy Project if it’s constructed. This complex of coal facilities emits CO2, mercury, selenium and other heavy metals into the air and water, which threaten both human health and the survival and recovery of endangered species like the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

Mercury accumulates in rivers through emissions, deposition and runoff. Fish are exposed to mercury through diet; mercury in the water column accumulates up the food chain and primarily affects top predators such as the Colorado pikeminnow. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that impairs the reproductive health of fish via portions of the brain that regulate the production and timing of sex steroids; therefore it primarily affects survival of offspring rather than directly killing exposed individuals.

Selenium accumulates in rivers through erosion of selenium-rich soils, coal mining and energy development, and emissions and discharges from coal-fired power plants. Fish are exposed to selenium through a selenium-rich invertebrate diet. As with mercury, adult fish with diets high in selenium do not experience mortality themselves; instead, they deposit excess selenium in the yolks of developing eggs. Newly hatched fry from these eggs use the yolk as an energy and protein source; it is at this stage that developmental anomalies occur. The deformities are either lethal or cause the fry to be more susceptible to predators or other environmental stressors.

Fish and Wildlife’s draft biological opinion shows that 64 percent of Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River currently exceed mercury contamination thresholds for reproductive impairment; it predicts that number will rise to 72 percent by 2020 with additional pollution. The document also predicts that selenium pollution from agricultural discharges and ongoing coal combustion would cause 71 percent of those fishes’ offspring to be deformed in a way that harms growth, reproduction or survival. Similarly, the opinion predicts that 85 percent of razorback sucker offspring would be deformed by selenium pollution and notes 40 percent of razorback suckers in the San Juan River already meet contamination thresholds for those deformities.

BHP’s Navajo Mine is located on Navajo Nation lands within Chaco Wash, which is connected with Chaco Culture National Park. Beginning in 1971, BHP began accepting approximately 1.9 million cubic yard (“mcyd”) of coal combustion waste (“CCW”) from the Four Corners Power Plant annually for use as “minefill.” CCW consists of fly ash, scrubber sludge and bottom ash. According to the EPA, thousands of pounds of mercury are disposed of in the Navajo Mine annually as minefill.

More coal coverage here.


Proposed southwestern Kansas power plant would effectively export 3.9 billion gallons of Arkansas River Basin water back to Colorado critics say

September 12, 2010

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From the Associated Press (John Hanna):

Sunflower Electric Power Corp., based in Hays, estimates its new plant in Finney County in southwest Kansas will consume 3.9 billion gallons of water a year. Most of the electricity generated by Sunflower’s new plant initially would flow to a partner utility in Colorado, leading critics to suggest Kansas will be, in effect, exporting its water. But as much water as the plant would consume, local officials calculate that it represents less than 1 percent of the existing annual water use in the state’s heavily agricultural southwest corner. Farmers previously held the rights to the water Sunflower would use, and they would have been allowed to consume significantly more.

Ed Quillen calls it an A new twist in an old contention up on the High Country News weblog Range. He writes:

Others point out that even if the water remained in agriculture, it would effectively be exported to other states where the products are consumed. I ran some numbers on this last year. A farm-fresh potato is about 80 percent water, so a ton of potatoes contains about 200 gallons. Every 700-pound yearling steer that leaves my county, and most of them do, is 65 percent water.

So maybe there’s no way around the persistent truth that the two major exports from rural areas are smart kids and water — either flowing, used to make electricity, or contained inside potato skins and cattle hides.


Energy policy — coal: Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants rise recently across the U.S.

March 21, 2010

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From The Denver Post (Renee Schoof):

Many coal- fired power plants lack widely available pollution controls for the highly toxic metal mercury, and mercury emissions recently increased at more than half of the country’s 50 largest mercury-emitting power plants, according to a report released Wednesday. Five of the 10 plants with the highest amount of mercury emitted are in Texas, according to the nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project. Plants in Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Michigan also are in the top 10. The report, which used the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, found that mercury emissions increased at 27 of the top 50 plants from 2007 to 2008. Overall, power- plant emissions of mercury decreased 4.7 percent in that period, but that amount was far less than what would be possible with available emissions controls, the report said. No Colorado plants were among the top 50 cited.

More coal coverage here and here.


Pueblo Board of Water Works agrees to supply new Black Hills Energy power plant

March 16, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The agreement will mean $5.6 million in revenues to the Pueblo water board, as well as construction of water lines and a backup pumping station at Black Hills’ expense. The water board is expected to approve the agreement at its meeting today. Black Hills plans to have the plant running by June 2011, but there are provisions in the agreement that could lead to some sales of water later this year. Water is used for steam and cooling in electric generation. By 2012, the water board could be realizing more than $1 million a year in revenue for water service to the plant. The initial term of the contract is 20 years, but there are provisions for two 10-year extensions. “We don’t know yet what the demand will be,” said Terry Book, deputy executive director of the water board. Black Hills could take up to 2,530 acre-feet a year under the contract, but would be obligated to “take or pay” for 1,440 acre-feet, Book said. There would be a reservation fee as well for the full amount in case it is needed…

The water used in the Black Hills operation will be fully consumable, either from transmountain supplies or sources within the basin where the consumptive use has been transferred from agricultural purposes.

More coal coverage here.


Colorado to release 303d list on Tuesday

March 7, 2010

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Anderson):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Tuesday will adopt a lengthy list (pdf) of Colorado waters it has deemed impaired.

Despite the city of Grand Junction’s attempts to reverse the decision, the list likely will include Juniata Reservoir on Grand Mesa, which provides a majority of Grand Junction’s drinking water. The city temporarily closed the reservoir to visitors and fishermen before opening it again in late February, when the Health Department told the city the closure would not get the reservoir off the impaired-waters list…

Steve Gunderson, director of the state Health Department’s water-quality division, said most items on the list have water-contamination problems, but some areas get listed just for having active fish-consumption advisories, such as the one Juniata has…

City Attorney John Shaver said the city likely will offer suggestions to the Health Department staff about changing the methodology for listing bodies of water on the impaired list so the list would reflect water, and not fish, contamination.

More mercury pollution coverage here and here.


Energy policy — coal: Colorado scores $7.3 million for coal mine cleanup

December 23, 2009

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From the Associated Press via KRDO.com:

The grant announced Tuesday is part of a total $369 million going to 28 eligible coal-producing states. The reclamation program is financed through fees on coal production and the grants are based on each state’s past and current production.

More coal coverage here.


EPA Study Reveals Widespread Contamination of Fish in U.S. Lakes and Reservoirs

November 12, 2009

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As a nation we’re rapidly polluting our sources of fresh water. Here’s a release from the EPA:

A new EPA study shows concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish tissue from lakes and reservoirs in nearly all 50 U.S. states. For the first time, EPA is able to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs nationwide that have fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as mercury and PCBs.

“These results reinforce Administrator Jackson’s strong call for revitalized protection of our nation’s waterways and long-overdue action to protect the American people,” said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “EPA is aggressively tackling the issues the report highlights. Before the results were even finalized, the agency initiated efforts to further reduce toxic mercury pollution and strengthen enforcement of the Clean Water Act – all part of a renewed effort to protect the nation’s health and environment.”

The data showed mercury concentrations in game fish exceeding EPA’s recommended levels at 49 percent of lakes and reservoirs nationwide, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in game fish at levels of potential concern at 17 percent of lakes and reservoirs. These findings are based on a comprehensive national study using more data on levels of contamination in fish tissue than any previous study.

Burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, accounts for nearly half of mercury air emissions caused by human activity in the U.S., and those emissions are a significant contributor to mercury in water bodies. From 1990 through 2005, emissions of mercury into the air decreased by 58 percent. EPA is committed to developing a new rule to substantially reduce mercury emissions from power plants, and the Obama Administration is actively supporting a new international agreement that will reduce mercury emissions worldwide.

The study also confirms the widespread occurrence of PCBs and dioxins in fish, illustrating the need for federal, state and local government to continue efforts to reduce the presence of these harmful chemicals in our lakes and reservoirs and ensure that fish advisory information is readily available.

It is important that women of child-bearing age and children continue to follow the advice of EPA and the Food and Drug Administration on fish consumption as it relates to mercury. This study is also a strong message to state and local governments to redouble their efforts in looking for opportunities to reduce mercury discharges, as well as developing fish advisories, especially to reach those in sensitive and vulnerable populations.

Results from the four-year National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue show that mercury and PCBs are widely distributed in U.S. lakes and reservoirs. Mercury and PCBs were detected in all of the fish samples collected from the nationally representative sample of 500 lakes and reservoirs in the study. Because these findings apply to fish caught in lakes and reservoirs, it is particularly important for recreational and subsistence fishers to follow their state and local fish advisories.

EPA is conducting other statistically based national aquatic surveys that include assessment of fish contamination, such as the National Rivers and Streams Assessment and the National Coastal Assessment. Sampling for the National Rivers and Streams Assessment is underway, and results from this two-year study are expected to be available in 2011. Collection of fish samples for the National Coastal Assessment will begin in 2010.

More information: http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishstudy

More information on local fish advisories: http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish/states.htm

More water pollution coverage here.


Energy policy — coal: Electrical generation water consumption

September 15, 2009

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Here’s a report from last Wednesday’s meeting of the Arkansas Basin roundtable, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“One of the trends we’re starting to see in the West and Colorado is a lot of ag-to-industry transfers,” Stacy Tellinghuisen of Western Resource Advocates told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday. Tellinghuisen led a team that studied Arkansas Basin water needs for future power supplies in a project funded by the National Renewable Energy Lab. Western Resource Advocates is a 20-year-old group dedicated to preserving the environment in the West.

The group makes recommendations that it claims could reduce consumptive use for municipal water systems by up to 44,000 acre-feet per year and power generation up to 20,000 acre-feet per year by 2030. It specifically mentions the acquisition of one-half of the Amity Canal in Prowers County by the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the power needs of the Southern Delivery System in the report. Western Resource Advocates represented Environment Colorado, which settled its lawsuit on Tri-State’s Water Court case involving the Amity shares in March, with Tri-State agreeing to a $1 million study of energy efficiency among its 44 cooperatives in four states…

[The Southern Delivery System], a $1 billion project by Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain and Pueblo West designed to provide water to meet future population growth, would require large amounts of power to move water uphill. “If these new energy demands are met with water-intensive forms of energy generation, like coal power, they will further increase water use in the basin,” Tellinghuisen said.

More coal coverage here.


USGS: Mercury in fish widespread

August 23, 2009

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Here’s the abstract from the study:

Mercury (Hg) was examined in top-predator fish, bed sediment, and water from streams that spanned regional and national gradients of Hg source strength and other factors thought to influence methylmercury (MeHg) bioaccumulation. Sampled settings include stream basins that were agricultural, urbanized, undeveloped (forested, grassland, shrubland, and wetland land cover), and mined (for gold and Hg). Each site was sampled one time during seasonal low flow. Predator fish were targeted for collection, and composited samples of fish (primarily skin-off fillets) were analyzed for total Hg (THg), as most of the Hg found in fish tissue (95–99 percent) is MeHg. Samples of bed sediment and stream water were analyzed for THg, MeHg, and characteristics thought to affect Hg methylation, such as loss-on-ignition (LOI, a measure of organic matter content) and acid-volatile sulfide in bed sediment, and pH, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and dissolved sulfate in water. Fish-Hg concentrations at 27 percent of sampled sites exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency human-health criterion of 0.3 micrograms per gram wet weight. Exceedances were geographically widespread, although the study design targeted specific sites and fish species and sizes, so results do not represent a true nationwide percentage of exceedances. The highest THg concentrations in fish were from blackwater coastal-plain streams draining forests or wetlands in the eastern and southeastern United States, as well as from streams draining gold- or Hg-mined basins in the western United States (1.80 and 1.95 micrograms THg per gram wet weight, respectively). For unmined basins, length-normalized Hg concentrations in largemouth bass were significantly higher in fish from predominantly undeveloped or mixed-land-use basins compared to urban basins. Hg concentrations in largemouth bass from unmined basins were correlated positively with basin percentages of evergreen forest and also woody wetland, especially with increasing proximity of these two land-cover types to the sampling site; this underscores the greater likelihood for Hg bioaccumulation to occur in these types of settings. Increasing concentrations of MeHg in unfiltered stream water, and of bed-sediment MeHg normalized by LOI, and decreasing pH and dissolved sulfate were also important in explaining increasing Hg concentrations in largemouth bass. MeHg concentrations in bed sediment correlated positively with THg, LOI, and acid-volatile sulfide. Concentrations of MeHg in water correlated positively with DOC, ultraviolet absorbance, and THg in water, the percentage of MeHg in bed sediment, and the percentage of wetland in the basin.

More mecury pollution coverage here and here.


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