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.