Click here to read a copy.
More Flaming Gorge Task force coverage here.
From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):
18th Judicial District Judge Paul King’s order on Friday states he followed the letter of a 2008 Colorado law when ruling the board “exceeded its authority” in approving Sterling Ranch’s development plan without requiring the company to prove an adequate water supply for the entire development. He denied the development company’s reconsideration request and denied the motion to remand the case back to Douglas County so it could make the water adequacy determination…
King ruled that the county Board of Commissioners had “exceeded its jurisdiction and abused its discretion” by approving Sterling Ranch’s water plan. His ruling stated Colorado law requires all developers to prove they have enough water to serve the entire development before any construction starts.
His Friday order stated pursuant to the 2008 law (Section 29-20-301), “our legislature has determined that securing an adequate supply of water for development can have a broad regional impact and it is imperative that local government be provided with reliable information concerning the adequacy of a proposed development’s water supply to aid local government in the exercise of its discretion.” He also restated his position that the law defines “adequate” as “a water supply sufficient for build-out of the proposed development in terms of quality, quantity, dependability and availability.”[...]
Sterling Ranch “confessed that they did not submit proof of a water supply to the Board during the lengthy approval process,” Friday’s order stated…
“I didn’t write the law. The judge didn’t write the law,” [Attorney Jim Kreutz] said. “Legislators chose to enact it, so opponents need to hire lobbyists and change the law I suppose.”
More coverage from the Associated Press via the San Antonio Express-News:
A Colorado River District official says a judge’s ruling on the proposed Sterling Ranch community in Douglas County could lead to new legislation. A judge this year reversed the county’s approval of a permit for the Sterling Ranch development, citing a state law that requires counties to first affirm that large new developments have an adequate water supply. County officials had argued they planned to incrementally evaluate Sterling Ranch’s water supply, as construction proceeded in phases.
According to the latest Colorado River District newsletter, district external affairs manager Chris Treese says he expects legislation next year addressing the ruling, though it’s too early to say what direction it could take.
More Sterling Ranch coverage here.
From the Fort Lupton Press:
County residents concerned about the impact from oil and gas drilling on their wells are now able to get free ground-water testing from the county’s Department of Public Health and Environment laboratory.
The lab, according to a Weld County news release, has a new gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer instrument to conduct testing. Chemist Mark Thomas said it’s an exciting addition to the lab. “We are talking about testing parts per billion,” Thomas said. “That is like saying we can measure something that is as small as one eyedropper drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
Thomas said water samples will be analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and a report will tell how prominent they are — if at all — in the water. “We anticipate that individuals in the county who use well-water will want to take advantage of this test so they can have base-line information to which they can compare future tests.”
Before the chromatograph and spectrometer was acquired, residents had to pay private labs or the state for VOC testing. Weld County received a grant from the Federal Mineral Lease Board last spring that made the purchase possible. “Weld County chose to use that grant funding for the purchase of this instrument in order to provide a water-testing service for our residents” said Commissioner Dave Long. The cost of the instrument was approximately $145,000.
More water pollution coverage here.
From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):
In what’s called an amicus brief — which basically means the parties have no standing in the case, but they’ve asked 18th Judicial District Judge Paul King to reconsider his ruling — the chamber said the case and King’s ruling “raises issues of critical importance to the economic strength of the businesses operating in the State of Colorado.” They said his ruling would strip local governments of their ability to control development and landowners of the right to develop their land, and would have negative economic ramifications for entire state…
The chamber, Colorado Contractors Association, Associated General Contractors of Colorado, Northwest Douglas County Economic Development Corp. and Colorado Association of Realtors stated in the amicus brief they “respectfully urge this Court not to disturb the decision made by the Commission, but rather, allow the operations of the Commission, and hence, local governments in the State of Colorado, to provide certainty and economic reality to land use decisions, especially those of the nature of the Sterling Ranch PD proposal, which, in and of itself, brings great economic and social value to the community.”[...]
The brief said King’s ruling, if allowed to stand, “creates procedural and fiscal uncertainty about the finality of a local government’s decision-making process, has a chilling effect on the confidence of Colorado property owners to develop their properties, destroys the opportunity for major developers, and therefore harms the economic future of the State and its citizens.”
Requiring developers to prove availability of water for the entire life of the project, which could take 20 or 30 years, “will result in small-scale patchwork development and unplanned sprawl.”
Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:
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.
From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):
Attorneys for the planned Sterling Ranch subdivision in northwest Douglas County last week filed a motion asking for a judge to reconsider his ruling or at least send it back to the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners. The motion states District Court Judge Paul King erred when he ruled in late August that the commission had improperly approved a zoning changed and approved a development permit. The judge said the developers had failed to show the water supply was adequate for the Sterling Ranch project.
King’s ruling came in the civil lawsuit filed last year by the Chatfield Community Association against the Douglas County commission, challenging its approval of Sterling Ranch LLC’s plan for development.
From email from Jennifer Riefenberg and the Chatfield Community Association:
On August 22, 2012, Douglas County District Court’s Judge Paul King, determined that Douglas County Commissioners abused their discretion in approving both the Sterling Ranch rezoning as well as its controversial water appeal, in May 2011, siding with the Plaintiffs, the Chatfield Community Association, et. al. In his determination, Judge King ruled that “The Board has no authority to approve the application without the Applicant demonstrating the adequacy of the water supply.” Judge King cited “In this case the applicant freely admits that it did not submit proof of an adequate water supply as part of its application.”
Douglas County has a long-held reputation for approving development which is dependent on non-renewable ground water or other non-sustainable water supplies. The Board of County Commissioners continued this trend when they approved the Sterling Ranch development in May 2011. Yesterday’s decision by the District Court focused on a 2008 revision to state statutes (CRS 29-20) that require “a water supply that will be sufficient for build-out of the proposed development in terms of quality, quantity, dependability, and availability to provide a supply of water for the type of development proposed…” , as well as Douglas County Zoning Resolution.
Water is a critical issue for the citizens and legislature of Colorado. However, Douglas County is currently proposing changes to their own zoning regulations that would make it even easier for development to occur without demonstrating a sustainable water supply. The impact of Judge King’s ruling should thwart this attempt to loosen these regulations..
Chatfield Community Association (CCA) is comprised primarily of citizens living in the Chatfield Basin area. CCA is interested in responsible growth, including clear and reliable evidence that the developer can provide the necessary infrastructure, water and wastewater commitments, density-appropriate plans for protecting sensitive areas, including Chatfield State Park, and protecting the rural way of life in the Chatfield Basin
Here’s a profile of Rancher and water wonk, Bill Trampe, written by Jennifer Bock running in the Grand Junction Free Press. From the article:
Although water is probably more essential to his livelihood than many of us in the Gunnison Basin, Trampe admits that his philosophy on keeping water in the Gunnison Basin has changed over the years.
When Arapahoe County proposed the Union Park project, Trampe recalls that the local sentiment was “not one drop” and no one dared stray from that strict line in the sand.
Today, Trampe thinks that Western Slope interests are “better off at the table than on the menu” when it comes to talking to the Front Range and others about West Slope water. Trampe’s philosophy is tied to real life experience: He has spent the last seven years negotiating with the Front Range to develop the Colorado River Water Cooperative Agreement.
Perhaps characteristic of a rancher’s outlook, Trampe is both hopeful and frustrated when it comes to resolving Colorado’s water disputes.
He believes, as many do, that big, transmountain water projects simply won’t be able to provide enough firm yield to satisfy Front Range interests. In statewide water planning discussions, Trampe has been a proponent of addressing this problem through risk management — the idea that the state must have a comprehensive way to evaluate and guard against the potential consequences of failing to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states as it considers new diversions out of the Colorado River Basin.
Back in 1925 the Upper Colorado River Basin States united to fight the lower basin states over Colorado River projects like Boulder Dam unless the Colorado River Compact was signed. (Click on the thumbnail graphic for a graphic of The Denver Post front page from that time.) Fast forward to 1948 and the upper basin states inked the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. With both compacts signed everyone would be buddy-buddy for all time, right?
Maybe not, here’s a report from Bart Taylor writing for the Planet Profit Report. Here’s an excerpt:
The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that demand on the Colorado River will significantly exceed supply in the coming years, and likely already has. This, along with drought and some rather dire climate change-related impacts, have forced state planners to reassess their Colorado River water supply and demand metrics. The Upper Basin has never fully utilized its full allocation of river water, either collectively or by individual state…
It’s also begun to analyze its options to develop this remaining Colorado River allocation, and to the dismay of some in Wyoming and Utah (and Colorado, as I’ve written), one option involves a pipeline that taps the Colorado from its primary tributary, the Green River, at Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwest Wyoming and northeast Utah.
For its part, Wyoming has also awakened to the tenuous future of its water resources. The Green has increasingly been identified as a river “at risk” – to the effects of drought, climate-change and a competition for water that’s reaching a fever-pitch throughout the region. Wyoming’s residents and politicians are therefore pushing back on what’s perceived by many here to be a water grab by Colorado – reminiscent of the threat posed by Lower Basin interest’s decades ago.
According to my contacts, Wyoming water officials, including the state engineer, were initially neutral on the Flaming Gorge pipeline. Colorado is legally entitled to Green River water, and Flaming Gorge, like lakes Powell, Mead, Navajo and others, was built to implement the terms of the Colorado River Compact. To over-simplify greatly, the huge impoundments make it possible to even-out the distribution of water from wet years to dry for all parties to the agreement. Wyoming administrators initially had little reason (or recourse) to get worked up about the project, though from its source in Flaming Gorge, the pipeline would traverse the I-80 corridor west through Wyoming, then south to Colorado’s Front Range.
Also, since Aaron Million conceived of a Flaming Gorge pipeline and reminded Colorado officials of the state’s right to file on the Green, most, but not all, water observers gave the project little chance of success. Building any water project, let alone a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional, trans-basin project, is daunting.
Now, the political winds in Wyoming seem to blow hard against Flaming Gorge, the state engineer’s (yet unpublished) opinion notwithstanding. Ironically, Colorado water planners may be warming to the idea, again, driven by self-interest motivating all parties to the Compact. Colorado’s the fast-grower in the region and requires more water, even as it is entitled to more than its Upper Basin brethren. The state may simply not be able to turn its back on a huge, new source of water. (More on Colorado’s Flaming Gorge deliberations next time.)
Utah’s perspective may also be changing. Within the last year, the state engineer approved water-transfer that will result in a new and fairly substantial appropriation, also from the Green River. As I outlined before, the premise is similar to that which may also drive Colorado to the Green – an unused portion of its Colorado River allocation.
From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):
Mary Spencer, who was elected to the board of directors in 2006, sent a resignation letter to district manager Frank Jaeger June 29 that highlighted her growing frustration with the board…
When reached by phone July 16, Spencer said she became tired of her colleagues blaming past boards for a range of issues. Dissenters and “two sitting board members have made a disastrous decision to destroy not only the district but the reputations of past board members,” the letter said…
During the interview, Spencer also sharply criticized a recent decision to fire the water provider’s longtime lobbyists, whom she says have helped kill legislation that would have cost the district, and therefore ratepayers, millions of dollars. Spencer said the $48,000 that was paid annually to the lobbyists was well worth it. She also bemoaned the recent firing of Floyd Ciruli, a public relations specialist and political analyst who was contracted by the PWSD…
Spencer, whose term was set to expire in May 2014, said the decision to leave was difficult because she still believes in the district’s mission, but it was “not worth the stress” to deal with the fallout from the attempted board recall in 2009 and subsequent conduct that has had a “detrimental” affect on the water district.
Here’s a letter from Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the Colorado River Water Conservancy District, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (Thanks to Mark Shively, Douglas County Water Authority, for sending it along in email.):
On behalf of the Colorado River Water Conservation District (River District), I am writing to express the District’s support for the proposed Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Project as described in the Draft Integrated Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement (FR/EIS) for the Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Study recently released for public comment.
The River District is the principal water policy and planning agency for the Colorado River Basin within the State of Colorado. The District is a public water policy agency chartered by the Colorado General Assembly in 1937 to be “the appropriate agency for the conservation, use and development of the water resources of the Colorado River and its principal tributaries in Colorado.” The River District provides legal, technical, and political representation regarding Colorado River issues for our constituents.
The River District has actively monitored the development of the Chatfield Reallocation Project since its inception. We believe this is a much needed and appropriate water supply opportunity for Colorado water providers.
The U.S. ACOE determined that Chatfield Reservoir can safely store an additional 20,600 acre feet of water without jeopardizing the reservoir’s original and authorized flood control purposes. This water is critically needed by various Colorado Front Range water providers. This reallocated storage space will allow several communities in the southern Denver metro area to more efficiently and effectively use existing water supplies and will reduce their current over-reliance on non-renewable groundwater supplies.
With this letter, the River District joins Colorado’s Congressional delegation, the Colorado General Assembly, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and others in support of this commonsense solution to additional water storage for consumptive use in Colorado. We support the Tentatively Recommended Plan in the Draft Integrated Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement on the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project and request that our letter be included in the record of public comments on this draft FR/EIS.
Additionally, we respectfully encourage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete its final review of the project and issue a Record of Decision in a timely manner so that requisite mitigation work can begin and additional consumptive use water can be stored in Chatfield Reservoir.
From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):
Denver District Judge Christina Habas Friday rejected a lawsuit by Powertech, a Canadian-based uranium prospecting company proposing the 7,000- acre Centennial project near Nunn. The lawsuit challenged a list of rules governing the reclamation of mined land and the requirement of public and private comment during the permitting process. Powertech sued the state’s Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, claiming the rules were “arbitrary and capricious.” Habas ruled Powertech’s allegations were baseless…
Powertech is disappointed in the judge’s ruling, said company attorney John Fognani said. The rules are far outside of the board’s powers, he said. “In addition, we are disappointed we didn’t have an opportunity to argue the decision before the judge,” said Fognani, noting Habas made her ruling on her final day as district judge. Powertech may appeal the ruling, he said,
The company, meanwhile, is postponing its work on the Centennial project as it concentrates operations in South Dakota.
From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):
The suit, filed Nov. 1, 2011, argued that Colorado’s Mined Land Reclamation Board overreached its authority when it implemented new rules for mining operations in September 2010. The suit targeted rules governing groundwater protection and public involvement in mining permits…
“We are evaluating the decision and deciding whether to appeal,” Fongnani said. “We are disappointed in the decision because it doesn’t comport with the Administrative Procedures Act and the protections meant to be provided by the act to the regulated community as well as the environmental community.”[...]
“The Colorado uranium mining industry is wrong to keep fighting water quality protections and better public involvement,” Jeff Parsons, an attorney with the Western Mining Action Project who represented local communities that intervened in the case to defend the rules, said in a news release. “The people of Colorado have a right to be heard and will not accept mining projects that cannot protect the water.”
From the Associated Press via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
Powertech attorney John Fognani said Monday the company is disappointed by the judge’s decision.
The company had envisioned having a mine in northern Colorado, where it would pump treated water underground to dissolve uranium and then pump it to the surface. It challenged new state requirements, including that it return the groundwater to its original purity when the process is completed.
Powertech alleged violations of the State Administrative Procedure Act, but a Denver judge on Friday rejected the company’s lawsuit challenging the rules.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):
“Centennial is still a viable project,” said John Fognani, attorney for Powertech Uranium…
Jay Davis, a mine opponent and Centennial Project neighbor, said the future prospects of uranium mining in Northern Colorado appear to be poor after the lawsuit was dismissed.
The state’s groundwater restoration requirements make it nearly impossible for companies to mine uranium using a process called in situ leaching, said Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association.
He said that in situ leaching is very similar to the oil and gas industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing.
“It’s kind of ironic that fracking, which is not completely dissimilar technology, is occurring throughout Northern Colorado, and this one small uranium mining company has had to put the project on hold” because of difficulty seeking a mining permit, he said.
More coverage from Collin McRann writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:
The ruling holds up different rules and regulations put in place by decades of Colorado legislation. According to Parson, some of Colorado’s stricter mining laws have been influenced by studies and reviews of the Summitville Gold Mine and Superfund site in Rio Grande County. The mine went out of business in 1992 leaving masses of heavy metals and acids in soil and water supplies. The mine was listed as a Superfund site in 1994.
The state’s mining rules and requirements also apply to all types of uranium mines in terms of clean-up and contamination prevention.
From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):
Opponents of the in-situ technique, including the advocacy group Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, say it threatens groundwater and would have health, environmental and economic impacts on Northern Colorado.
“The Colorado uranium mining industry is wrong to keep fighting water quality protections and better public involvement,” Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project said in a statement. “The people of Colorado have a right to be heard and will not accept mining projects that cannot protect the water.”
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
“There was a great deal of negativism in the first meetings, but at the last meeting we had a bit of a turnaround because we realized that we had not considered any of the positive things that would happen if we built Flaming Gorge,” Betty Konarski told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday. Konarski, a task force member who represents El Paso County on the roundtable, said the task force has been so busy trying to identify problems that it has neglected the other side of its mission: to evaluate the potential benefits of a new supply of water. The task force was formed to evaluate competing plans by Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million and the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.
More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
In its lawsuit against the state, Powertech Uranium Corp. claimed that the Colorado exceeded its legal authority and that adoption of the rules was arbitrary and capricious.
By dismissing the lawsuit, the court also ensured that local communities will have a chance to be involved in the permitting of uranium mines.
“The Colorado uranium mining industry is wrong to keep fighting water quality protections and better public involvement,” said Western Mining Action Project attorney Jeff Parsons, who represented local communities that intervened on the side of the State in defending the rules against the Powertech lawsuit.
“The people of Colorado have a right to be heard and will not accept mining projects that cannot protect the water,” he said.
The lawsuit challenged a list of specific rules, each designed to ensure ground water protection as well as require public and local government involvement in the mine permit process. The rules were crafted over a two-year process and were supported by a diverse range of groups, including Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (C.A.R.D.), Environment Colorado and other conservation groups statewide, Denver Water, multiple local governments and affected communities.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
The analysis, presented Wednesday by the Boulder-based consultancy Western Resource Advocates, determined that the amount of water pumped into the ground for drilling wells and for hydraulic fracturing to coax out oil and gas is between 22,100 and 39,500 acre-feet each year. That’s enough for up to 296,100 people — or to meet most needs in Douglas County. “We’re already having trouble meeting our demands. Especially in a dry year like this, if this water is going to go into oil and gas wells, there’s going to be a loser,” said engineer Laura Belanger, author of the study. “Where’s this water going to come from? Municipalities? Agriculture? Are we going to have to make new diversions from rivers on the Western Slope?”
State regulators have estimated that fracking requires 13,900 to 16,100 acre-feet a year. State officials and industry advocates compare this with total water consumed in Colorado and emphasize it is less than 1 percent — due to the huge amount used to produce food. But drilling’s share is growing rapidly and now exceeds water diverted for ski area snowmaking.
More coverage from Kirk Siegler writing for KUNC. From the article:
For perspective, according to the group, 20-40 thousand acre feet is similar to the amount of water consumed in a year in a city the size of Fort Collins.
“In dry years like this one, and overtime as our populations grow, fracking water use will compete with municipal use,” said Laura Belanger, the report’s author.
Some cities in booming Weld County have been leasing their excess water to fracking companies; a move that’s generated hundreds of thousands in revenue in some areas.
Western Resource Advocates (WRA) today released a new report on the amount of water needed for hydraulic fracturing in Colorado, providing the most comprehensive numbers available on the subject. In Fracking Our Future: Measuring Water and Community Impacts from Hydraulic Fracturing, researchers examined available data on water and fracking using Colorado as an example, and found that fracking requires enough water to otherwise serve the residential needs of the entire population of some of the state’s largest cities.
“It’s clear that we need to take a step back and make sure we aren’t over-allocating our most important natural resource one frack job at a time,” said Laura Belanger, Water Resources & Environmental Engineer with Western Resource Advocates and the lead author of the report. “While we need natural gas to transition to a cleaner energy future, we must have water to survive.”
Based on figures compiled from government and private industry sources, Fracking Our Future calculates that the amount of water used annually for hydraulic fracturing in Colorado (22,100 to 39,500 acre feet) is enough to meet the yearly residential needs of up to 296,100 people—more than the population of cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; or Orlando, Florida.
“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and has grown increasingly concerned about fracking near residential areas.
The report notes that it is particularly important to properly manage the amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing because fracked water is 100% consumptive. Whereas 90-95% of indoor residential water returns (from uses such as showers and washing machines) eventually makes its way back into streams, frack water contains potentially harmful chemicals that must be disposed of in underground wells or pits.
From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Aguilar):
Water use by the oil and gas industry has come under greater scrutiny of late as the number of wells drilled in and near cities and towns in the state has exploded, prompting several municipalities to enact moratoria on new drilling activity. In 2010, there were more than 43,000 active wells in the state.
Reliance on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at those well sites has put even more strain on the water supply. Fracking involves injecting a water-sand-chemical mixture deep into the ground to force out pockets of natural gas trapped in tight rock formations.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the industry trade group, says fracking a typical vertical well requires up to 1 million gallons of water, while a horizontal well can require up to 5 million gallons. A spokeswoman for the group didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the report this morning.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
The case is one of the first major decisions facing newly appointed Division 2 Water Judge Larry Schwartz. “We think the state engineer has exceeded his statutory authority,” said Richard Mehren, attorney for the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. LAWMA, along with the Amity Mutual Ditch Co., District 67 canals and TriState Generation and Transmission Co., filed the complaint last week in water court. It asks Schwartz to require the Super Ditch to file in water court in order to operate its pilot program…
The lawyers who filed the complaint say the Super Ditch transfer program have effects that would persist longer than five years — the return of groundwater to the Arkansas River. Mehren pointed out that the Super Ditch engineering shows this and LAWMA had to account for its own lagging return flows in a court case. Super Ditch engineers say recharge ponds would be put in place to account for the timing of return flows, and Wolfe agreed to the engineering design under a lengthy list of conditions. Several farms were eliminated from the plan because they could not meet recharge requirements, and in fact the pilot project’s scope was cut in half for that reason. Opponents also say the one-year pilot program sets a precedent, giving them little time to respond to claims made from one year to the next. They also point out the program could be renewed annually for another four years.
“We have an interest in keeping the water we think we have,” said Colin Thompson, a farmer on the Amity. “We’re out real money when we can’t irrigate, and we believe the burden of proof should be on the Super Ditch.” “LAWMA gets hurt in two ways,” said Don Higbee, manager of the well owners’ group. “We’re very cautious that our water rights won’t be depleted, but we also must make up flows at the state line.”
More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.
Here’s a guest column written by Wyco Water and Power, Director of Business Development, Nathaniel Budd, running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the column:
Colorado has water available under the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement among seven Colorado River basin states governing allocation of water rights for the Colorado River. Until Colorado’s apportionment is fully developed, the Lower Basin (California, Nevada, and Arizona) will benefit at the detriment of Colorado. For 90 years, our region has over-delivered to the Lower Basin, largely because the infrastructure does not exist to utilize the water supply available to this state. The water belongs to Colorado, not California…
Rather than develop waters allocated for the state’s beneficial use nearly 100 years ago, opponents of the Regional Watershed Supply Project would prefer to stunt economic growth and endanger the Upper Basin’s future water supply. If Colorado’s forefathers had been of this mindset, the eastern slope communities and the multi-billion-dollar agricultural base that supplies open spaces, preserves western culture, and provides innumerable environmental benefits would not exist as we know them today.
Meanwhile, here’s a report about FERC’s latest rejection of the pipeline’s preliminary permit, from Mary Bernard writing for the Vernal Express. From the article:
Aaron Milllion’s hydropower and water supply project, renamed the Wyco Power and Water Project was denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on May 17. That’s the second refusal of the project’s preliminary permit request from FERC, preceded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ termination in 2011. FERC refused a rehearing on the decision saying, Million’s arguments were unsupported and no preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project would be issued…
The project has received widespread resistance from the private sector throughout the tri-state area. Formal opposition from Daggett and Uintah Counties, the Wyoming communities of Green River and Rock Springs, Sweetwater County, Wyo. and Moffatt County, Colo.
Local fly fishermen openly opposed the water project saying it would draw down reservoirs and destroy world class fisheries on the Green River and Flaming Gorge. High Desert Anglers president Jeff Taniguchi warned that the “Million Project would absolutely decimate one of the most beautiful places in Utah, and compromise every downstream user of water on the Green.”
Western Resource Advocates filed objections representing itself, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
From the Castle Rock News-Press (Rhonda Moore):
he 481-page summary was an indication of the job at hand for councilmembers tasked with one of the town’s most important financial decisions in years. “This is the first step in the process,” Town Manager Mark Stevens said. “This will involve multiple other meetings and opportunities for public input. This is a lot of information for everybody to start wrapping their arms around.”
The information included cost projections on full-scale, scaled-back and hybrid proposals from providers Renew Strategies, Stillwater Resources, United Water and the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency project. Town staff enlisted the help of a team of water attorneys and engineers to help analyze the proposals from the four providers to arrive at a comparative analysis, said Ron Redd, utilities director.
The goal to find a renewable source of water is part of the town’s effort to wean itself of its groundwater supply and become 75 percent reliant on renewable water at the town’s anticipated buildout, Redd said.
From email from United Water and Sanitation District (Robert Lembke):
Castle Rock recently released a 425-page “Legacy Water Projects” report comparing the renewable water systems of the four applicants chosen by the town to submit proposals in August 2011. The Town’s consultants identified United as the only water system that is technically and legally capable of providing the town with 6,000 acre-feet of renewable water in a manner that is economically reasonable for its residents.
The report further confirmed that, by the year 2019, the United system becomes less expensive than the South Metro/WISE/Denver/Aurora proposal. The United system remains less expensive than WISE thereafter in perpetuity.
Under the United proposal, Castle Rock will possess ownership rights to 6,000 acre-feet of renewable water and water infrastructure while the South Metro/WISE/Denver/Aurora proposal leases the town only 3500 acre-feet of renewable water and infrastructure. Castle Rock’s report highlighted that Denver and Aurora would likely maximize their water deliveries to the town in the first few years of each decade, leading to the possibility of “no deliveries for 24 consecutive months” or “no significant deliveries during 35 consecutive months.”
The consultants also concluded that Denver and Aurora’s water delivery schedule under the WISE proposal could require South Metro to obtain up to 73,000 acre feet of storage in Rueter-Hess Reservoir in order to provide reliable water supplies to its members. Although Castle Rock already owns 8,000 acre feet of storage in the reservoir, the town would need to purchase an extra 17,550 acre feet of storage to survive the Denver/Aurora non-delivery years at an estimated additional cost of $87,775,000 – $140,400,000.
Finally, Castle Rock’s water attorneys and engineering consultants expressed serious reservations about any purchase of water from either Renew Strategies, L.L.C. (Lost Creek Basin water) or Stillwater Resources, Inc. (Box Elder Basin) due to significant issues related to the long-term reliability of the systems, lack of existing infrastructure, and poor water quality.
Copies of the Town’s engineering and legal reports discussing these matters in greater detail can be found on the United website.
More South Platte River basin coverage here.
118 West Slope businesses sent a letter this morning to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, expressing their opposition to the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline. The businesses are members of Protect the Flows, a coalition of over 500 small business owners in the seven state Colorado River region (AZ, CA, CO, NM, NM, UT, WY) who depend upon flows in the Colorado River and its tributaries that are adequate to support the recreation economy.
In the letter…Protect the Flows asks that the administration cease devoting state resources to studying the Flaming Gorge pipeline upon conclusion of the state’s special task force examining the project’s feasibility. As the task force has deliberated, troubling facts about the pipeline have continued to emerge, opposition to the pipeline has continued to grow, and federal agencies have continued to deny all permit attempts for the pipeline. Protect the Flows indicated that they would welcome a dialogue on water that welcomes and fosters ideas beyond the proposed pipeline and adequately accounts for the economic interests of the recreation and tourism industry. The task force, known formally as the Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee, is funded by a state grant issued by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is scheduled to continue discussions through the end of 2012.
“The state’s task force is focused only on one increasingly controversial idea — the Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal,” said Molly Mugglestone, Coordinator for Protect the Flows. “But to come up with the most effective solutions on future water usage we must apply a broader, more inclusive framework, like the one that was applied in achieving the newly completed agreement between Denver Water and West Slope interests.”
Protect the Flows recently released a report showing that the Colorado River and its tributaries support a quarter million American jobs and generates $26 billion annually in total economic output. In Colorado alone, the Colorado River supports about 80,000 jobs and about $9.6 billion in total economic output.
The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline puts that economy in harm’s way. The plan would siphon 80 billion gallons each year from the Green River (a Colorado River tributary), which was recently declared the second most endangered river in America by American Rivers, for shipment to the Front Range. Moreover, the State of Colorado estimates that construction costs for the pipeline could reach $9 billion. An economic study by Western Resource Advocates indicated that the pipeline would take nearly a quarter of the Green River’s flow, which would result in a $58.5 million dollar annual loss to the region’s recreation economy. That same study reported that the water delivered to the Front Range by the pipeline would have to be sold at a price that is the most expensive in Colorado’s history (up to 10 times more than any existing project) because of the pipeline’s steep construction and operation costs.
“Construction of this pipeline would be devastating to the entire Colorado River System,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, President of Adventure Bound River Expeditions in Grand Junction, which employs 30 people. “The significant loss of flows in the Green River would dramatically impact the quality of river recreation and affect tourism for everyone downstream all the way to Mexico.”
Protect the Flows has committed to spend 2012 reminding Governor Hickenlooper and state officials that public resources would be better spent on more affordable solutions that support recreation industry jobs, such as improving water conservation efforts, water reuse and recycling, and better land-use planning and growth management.
It looks like Aaron Million will have to pony up the big bucks for engineering and attorney’s fees to flesh out his application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Here’s a report from Ben Neary writing for the Associated Press via the Fremont County Ranger. From the article:
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday refused a request from Aaron Million of Fort Collins, Colo., to reconsider its February denial of his permit. In denying Million’s application in February, FERC said it was premature and lacked specifics about the proposed pipeline…
His plans have drawn opposition from Gov. Matt Mead as well as county and local governments in southwestern Wyoming and downstream states. “I continue to oppose this particular proposal and continue to believe that FERC is not the regulatory body to review Mr. Million’s proposal,” Mead said Thursday. “I am glad that FERC denied the request for a rehearing.”[...]
“We anticipated that they would not change the direction from the original response, part of the request frankly had to do with a clarification of issues related to their original decision,” Million said. “And indeed, they did clarify several things, and we now understand the rationale, in essence. They said the application was too broad.”
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water Inc., “presented no information in its permit application or its request for rehearing to indicate that the planning, routing or authorizations for the water conveyance pipeline are in progress or reasonably foreseeable,” FERC’s order said. Until Wyco can do that, the order said, there’s no point in issuing a preliminary permit…
Million said he expected this rejection and learned from the process. “They need some more specifics,” he said, estimating $5 million has been invested so far. “We’re pushing ahead. FERC will be involved at some point because they permit hydropower.”
From the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):
FERC deemed the application from Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water Inc., inadequate in February but Wyco returned the next month asking the agency to reconsider. “We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project,” the commissioners wrote in their decision. “Therefore, we affirm the February 23 Order and deny Wyco’s request for rehearing.”
Here’s a release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today re-affirmed its decision to deny a rehearing on a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. This is now the third time (in less than a year) that a federal agency has rejected plans for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline.
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been rejected more often than a freshman before prom,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, Water & Energy Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates. “It doesn’t matter how you try to alter the proposal, or whose name is on top. You can change the wording. You can change the font. You can print it on a different color paper. It’s still too expensive, too harmful to the environment, and just not necessary for meeting future water demands.”
In July 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers terminated its review of the pipeline proposal, prompting Million to shift his application request to FERC. On February 23, 2012 FERC denied a preliminary permit application for the pipeline proposal, and on March 23 Million requested a “rehearing and clarification.” In a decision released this morning, FERC stated:
We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project. Therefore, we affirm the February 23 Order and deny Wyco’s request for rehearing.
Said Robert Harris, Staff Attorney with Western Resource Advocates: “Enough is enough. This is a strong signal to the State of Colorado to focus more time and attention on proposals that — unlike the Pipeline — are more ripe for serious consideration.”
Million had been seeking a federal permit from FERC to review his ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) proposal to pump 81 billion gallons of water a year for more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates (WRA) filed objections to the application in representing itself, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC); in total, more than 5,000 objections were filed in December 2011 to Wyco’s proposal.
Opposition to the Flaming Gorge Pipeline has continued to grow since December. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has formally objected to the proposal, as have numerous local governments in both Colorado and Wyoming (such as Grand Junction, CO and Laramie, WY).
Here’s a release from Earth Justice (McChrystie Adams):
Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) closed the door on what will hopefully be the last attempt to permit the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. FERC denied a request for rehearing from Aaron Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water, Inc.—an attempted “do-over” on FERC’s earlier denial of a preliminary permit. The Colorado developer has spent several years, and a claimed $5 million, attempting to launch this ill-conceived boondoggle. His proposal has been met with stiff opposition from conservation groups, individuals, and local communities and businesses. Now, FERC has provided a point-by-point refutation of Wyco’s application and rehearing request, and left no doubt that this pipeline remains a pipe dream.
FERC’s order recognized that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal is poorly defined, and the approval process would be “difficult and lengthy” due to the opposition and controversy surrounding the project. As a result, FERC states that it would be premature to issue the permit for the project at this time. Importantly, FERC also made clear that it would not license the entire 501-mile water conveyance project. FERC is now the second agency to reject Mr. Million’s attempts to review and approve the Pipeline, following the Army Corps of Engineers’ termination of its review of the project in 2011.
McCrystie Adams, staff attorney for Earthjustice, had the following statement on FERC’s action:
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most expensive, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States. FERC got it right when they dismissed the permit application, and got it right again today when they denied Mr. Million’s rehearing request. We hope this will finally put an end to Mr. Million’s attempt to profit at the expense of one of the West’s last great rivers and the fish and wildlife, as well as the local economies, which depend on it.
“This project—and any similar, large-scale transbasin diversions—is the worst way to meet Colorado’s water challenges. Such a project is unnecessary and distracts us from the important work we must do to build a secure water future. Unfortunately, we cannot be confident that this project is dead until Mr. Million and those who might follow his path abandon this futile scheme. We will continue to work to ensure that the Green River is protected and that this and other assaults on the West’s rivers do not succeed.”
The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a massive transbasin water supply project that would annually take approximately 81 billion gallons (250,000 acre-feet) of water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River and pipe it more than 500 miles over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range and southeastern Wyoming. This diversion would have devastating impacts on the native fish and wildlife in the Green and Colorado Rivers, batter regional recreational opportunities and jobs that depend on river flows, and potentially be a fatal blow to one of the West’s last great rivers. The plight of the Green River and the impacts of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline were highlighted this week when American Rivers declared it #2 on its list of “most endangered rivers” in the United States.
After an attempt at permitting through the Army Corps of Engineers was rejected last year, Aaron Million’s new company Wyco Power and Water, Inc. turned to the FERC. In February, FERC, acting well within its discretion and following its governing regulations, dismissed Wyco’s preliminary permit application as “premature.”
FERC, in its review of the preliminary permit application, rightly found that Wyco would be unable to gain the many authorizations and the design certainty necessary to file a license application within the three year permit term. Again failing to take “no” for an answer, Wyco then requested a rehearing, yet failed to provide any meaningful evidence or arguments that FERC got it wrong the first time. FERC’s ruling today upheld its earlier finding and left it clear that Wyco’s application is without merit.
Earthjustice had intervened in FERC’s preliminary permit review and filed papers urging the agency to deny the rehearing request. Earthjustice represents a coalition of ten conservation groups with interests throughout the Colorado River Basin: Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, and Utah Rivers Council.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
The controversial Flaming Gorge pipeline (formally known as the regional water supply project) was initially under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but partway through that process, proponent Aaron Million switched gears and asked the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission to review the proposal as an energy generating project.
FERC rejected the application once and Million subsequently appealed that decision under an administrative procedure. This week’s FERC ruled denies his appeal and appears to put the project on hold, at least for now.
The proposal garnered widespread opposition from businesses that rely on recreational flows in regional rivers and streams, collectively represented by Protect the Flows.
“The thousands of people in our region whose jobs depend upon a strong Colorado River system dodged another bullet today, but it’s time to move beyond this threat once and for all,” said the group’s coordinator, Molly Mugglestone. “Enough time and public money has been spent fixating on this one controversial idea, it’s time to bring people together to come up with a smarter way forward.”
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):
FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said in a statement Thursday that the order “confirms that it is premature to issue Wyco a preliminary permit for its seven proposed hydropower developments.”
Miller said Wyco presented no information in its permit application or its appeal to show that Wyco has permission from landowners to build the pipeline across their property.
“Until Wyco is able to do so, there is no point in issuing a preliminary permit for the hydropower developments because Wyco would be unable to study the feasibility of, and prepare a license application for, a project whose location has not been sufficiently narrowed,” the statement said.
From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):
The application for Wyco to study the feasibility of the pipeline — described officially as the Regional Watershed Supply Project — lacked concrete information such as the route or if any authorizations from land managers had been sought, according to the FERC decision. Also incomplete were details about the locations of its proposed hydropower stations. Aaron Million, a Fort Collins, Colo., entrepreneur who is pushing the project, said trying to provide that kind of detail this early in the process is premature — it needs more research…
Wyco has 60 days to file an appeal of Thursday’s decision with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
Million on Friday said the latest ruling has given his team a better understanding of what it must include in its formal application. “We’ll address the issues and keep heading through the permitting process,” he said.
Large engineering construction firms involved in the project remain interested, he added. He declined to name them, citing confidentiality agreements. The pipeline would help meet the water needs of Colorado, which faces a water supply shortfall, Million said. It also would bolster flows in the Poudre River.
Finally, Chris Woodka talked to Aaron Million. The entrepreneur remains focused, according to Mr. Woodka’s report. From the article:
“We plan to move forward and will submit a more complete application,” Million said. He added that he is continuing to secure financing for the project.
From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):
Tracy Hutchins (2,714 votes), Bill Wasserman (2,572) and Kelly McCurry (2,591) were all voted to the water district’s board of directors May 8. Hutchins and Wasserman have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the board’s way of doing business.
Kelly McCurry, who has been in the water and sanitation industry for 22 years, believes his expertise could help guide the agency into the future, but also says that spending could be reined in. He said water bills could potentially be lowered through a change in oversight. McCurry said he is frustrated with the seeming lack of transparency while he tried to conduct research…
“We are really going to work on governance and accountability to the customers,” Hutchins said. “We’re going to do a top-to-bottom analysis of the organization as a whole and do same thing on the financial side.”[...]
Wasserman, who got involved in a recall election when the district tried to raise rates by 28 percent in 2009, said public input will be a large part of going forward. “Looking at the election results last night, it was a clear mandate from the populace: they want change,” he said.
From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):
Tracy Hutchins, who served on Parker Town Council for eight years, has turned her attention to what she believes is negligence by the water district’s top authorities. She is decrying, among other dealings, the $7.7 million investment in farms and water rights in the Sterling area because she says the district has no way to transport the water back to Rueter-Hess Reservoir, a $105 million project that PWSD officials say is vital for storing water for Douglas County’s future. Instead of relying on underground aquifers that are rapidly being depleted, Parker Water planned Rueter-Hess as a mechanism to store water from wet years for use during times of drought. PWSD customers voted in 2004 to approve a bond issue that would use tap fees from ongoing development to pay for the reservoir construction. Hutchins says many Parker residents don’t know that when the real estate market crashed, the ratepayers were suddenly on the hook for the tab, which now stands at $97 million.
“In the bond election, we said we would use all means and methods necessary, including a tax increase in the event we could not make payments,” said Jim Nikkel, project manager and assistant district manager for PWSD. The quasi-governmental agency raised its mill levy for the 2011 tax year. Nikkel says water rate increases offset rising utility costs and don’t pay for the reservoir debt.
Hutchins says poor planning has saddled Parker’s water customers with debt, and the reservoir, which was officially opened in March, has only a puddle of water in it.
The State Engineer can approve a substitute water supply plan if certain conditions are met. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch pilot project is good to go this water year now that the SEO has blessed the scaled-back plan. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
“Many people said we’d never get this far in 20 years, but we’ve managed to do it in just four years,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is funding Super Ditch program. “This will be a benefit to every farmer in the Lower Arkansas Valley.” The transfer is seen as a test case for a much larger program that would move larger amounts of water from as many as seven ditches east of Pueblo. Under Super Ditch, water could be leased by farmers to cities, the state or even farmers on other canals without selling water rights…
Wolfe rejected an assertion by Tri-State Generation and Transmission that a water court filing must precede the substitute water supply plan, saying he has statutory authority to issue a permit as long as all conditions are met. He also rejected Tri-State’s claim that some of the return flows from the transfer will lag more than five years. The Super Ditch plans to build ponds to return water to the river over multiple years, just as the water historically would have run off the fields. The pilot program follows accepted ways to return flows to the river, Wolfe said.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):
Owing about $1.8 million on two Fort Coll-ins properties, water project financier Aaron Million’s two Fort Collins homes are listed in foreclosure, which includes a West Oak Street home listed as the business address for Wyco Power and Water, according to Larimer County Assessor and Colorado Secretary of State records…
Larimer County property records show a home owned by Million Agricultural Investments Ltd. at 1436 W. Oak St., was listed in foreclosure in February with a scheduled sale set for June 6. The property is listed as a home and business address by Million with the Colorado Secretary of State. County records show Million is delinquent in his payments on the property, for which Million Agricultural Investments owes $553,814 to Verus Bank of Commerce. The home, he said Monday, is a personal residence owned by a partnership with his parents, who have fallen on hard financial times. Knowledge of the foreclosure, which is public record and has been published in legal ads in at least one other regional newspaper recently, “has effects on my kids and my family,” Million said. “This is completely isolated from everything we’re doing on the business side.”[...]
Million’s 9,900 square-foot-home on Stargazer Court in northwest Fort Collins also is listed in foreclosure, with a scheduled sale date of Oct. 31.