Telluride: Pandora raw water and treated water project is moving along nicely

July 27, 2014
Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

The Pandora water treatment project at the east end of the valley is on schedule and should be complete by this fall, ending more than three years of construction.

The project, which fired up in 2011, has been in the works for more than 20 years, and it will pipe water from Upper Bridal Veil Basin to a new treatment facility at the east end of the box canyon. And while there have been many hurdles, including engineering challenges and budgetary issues, the project should be complete by October and stay within the town’s 2014 budget, according to Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud.

“We keep making progress on the building and the water plant itself,” Rudd said. “The building is almost completed. We’re just outfitting the internals. There are aspects of the project that are done. We’ve tied in both the raw waterline coming in from Bridal Veil [Falls] and the treated line that’s going towards town, into the plant.”

Ruud said crews are also working on a physical water diversion out of Bridal Veil Creek as well as a number of other components involved with the diversion. If things go as planned, the plant will go online in early October.

“We haven’t really had any issues,” Ruud said. “We did have fairly substantial soil stabilization right at the treatment plant. That ended up being quite a substantial undertaking. But as of right now we are within the approved budget for this year and we expect the project will be completed with our existing budget.”

The facility will also contain a micro-hydro component that is expected to be operational when the plant goes live, which will boost the town’s generation of renewable energy. But the main purpose of the plant is to boost the town’s water capacity. Telluride’s current system, which relies primarily on the Mill Creek Water Plant, has been strained by high demand and other issues in recent years.

Rudd said construction has been making good progress this summer. With the good weather there have been a lot of people in the area going up to Bridal Veil Falls. But disturbances from construction are nearing an end.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

Lower Dolores study details native fish needs — The Dolores Star

July 24, 2014

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

A conceptual plan for aiding native fish on the Lower Dolores River was approved by the Dolores Water Conservancy District in June. The District has been negotiating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, Forest Service, and conservation groups on ways to improve native fish habitat below McPhee Dam. The result is the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan, focusing on three native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“The plan provides a more coordinated approach for improving native fish habitat, with a focus on additional monitoring,” said Amber Clark, with the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance.

After McPhee Dam was built, small spills, as well as non-spill years from 2001-2004, began reducing the quality and amount of habitat required to meet the needs of native fish. Spring releases from the dam are later in the season, which has reduced the chance for spawning and survival of native fish.

“Protecting the native fish species locally is important because the healthier they are, the less likely they will be seen by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agency as requiring protective status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Working to help these species keeps control of our river at a local level.”

The implementation plan presents known and preferred habitat conditions and lifecycles of native fish within six separate stretches of the river below McPhee dam, four of which are a focus of conservation: Dove Creek Pump Station to Pyramid (Reach 3), Pyramid to Big Gypsum Valley (Reach 4), Slickrock Canyon (Reach 5), and Bedrock to San Miguel confluence (Reach 6) Reach 3 (nine miles)

Roundtail Chub are most abundant in Reach 3 and have a relatively stable population there. Mature roundtail are smaller than in other Western Slope rivers, indicating they are adapting to low flows. Fish counts at the Dove Creek area counted 140 roundtail chub, the highest in 13 years.

Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers are present, but in low abundance. In 2013, eight bluehead and one flannelmouth were counted. Habitat is good for bluehead, a more cold tolerant fish.

Reach 4 (38 miles)

Disappointment enters the Dolores in this stretch, flushing sediment into the main channel.

All three native species are found in this stretch as well as problematic non-natives including the black bullhead and smallmouth bass, a voracious predator.

Studies show that populations shift toward non-native species during prolonged low-flow periods. In 2004, native species made up less than 50 percent of the fish caught. After a prolonged spill in 2005, 84 percent of the fish sampled were flannelmouth sucker or roundtail chubs. Because of silt buildup from Disappointment Creek, improving flows here would especially help native fish beat out non-natives.

In August 2013, flooding showed that Reach 4 below Disappointment caused unnatural silting, causing a significant fish kill.

A lack of water limits critical dilution effects, and there is an unnatural buildup of silt because of infrequent flushing flows. “During a flash flood event on Disappointment, the surge of debris-filled water flows into the Dolores River, but there is no water to help dilute the surge of silt-laden water,” said Jim White, a CPW fish biologist.

Monitoring native species at Big Gypsum will remain a priority as it appears that the population may be sensitive to low flow.

Flows are a big factor. In 2005, when there was a managed spill, biologists found 150 flannelmouth per hectare at the Big Gypsum site. While in 2004 when there was no spill, flannelmouth were counted at five fish per hectare.

In April 2013, a PIT-tag array was installed across the river just above the Disappointment Creek confluence. Fish are implanted with grain-size microchips and can be detected when they move. Only a few fish have been tagged in the lower Dolores, but more implants are planned. Data shows native fish move up and down the river. The cost of the PIT-tag array is about $75,000.

Slickrock Canyon (32 miles)

All three native fish species are found,but in low abundance. This canyon is difficult to survey, and can usually be floated if there is a spill from McPhee reservoir. The last survey was in 2007, but more are needed to determine if the stretch has rearing habitats for native fish. A relatively large number of small native fish was found near the mouth of Coyote Wash, suggesting tributaries play an important role for young fish.

Bedrock to the San Miguel River confluence (12 miles)

There are a lot of unknowns. It is highly affected by natural salt loading through the Paradox Valley. The salinity is a barrier for fish between the Dolores River below the San Miguel and Slickrock Canyon. A salinity injection well is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation here to mitigate the problem. Researchers want to ascertain the levels of salinity. A second PIT-tag array is considered near Bedrock to help figure out how fish move .

Spill management

Mimicking a natural hydrograph for native fish is one goal of the implementation plan.

McPhee stores most of the Dolores River spring runoff, and exports much of the storage to the Montezuma Valley of the San Juan River Basin. The result is a lack of spring flushing flows in the Lower Dolores to move sediment and create natural habitat.

When inflow into the reservoir exceeds capacity, the spill benefits boaters and the downstream fishery. However, a prolonged drought has limited spill years. The reservoir holds a fishery pool of 29,824 acre-feet allocated downstream throughout the year by CPW. Spill water doesn’t count against the fishery pool, but it is subject to shortages in dry years.

The report suggests ways to optimize the fish pool and spills for the benefit of native fish.

Thermal regime management sends water downstream earlier, in March and April rather than in May, to keep water cooler and delay the fish spawn until after the whitewater season.

Biologists have documented that when spill water is released in May, the low flows on the lower Dolores have heated up, cueing fish to spawn early.

“The fry and eggs are washed away in the whitewater, a hit on survival,” White said.

A model indicates that flow volumes of 125-200 cfs on May 1 may be necessary to keep water below 15C at the Dove Creek Pumps. More water downstream may keep water cool enough to delay spawning. A gauge at James Ranch will monitor conditions.

Flushing flows range from 400-800 cfs are important to prepare spawning areas and improve oxygenated flow around eggs.

Habitat flows ranging from 2,000 cfs to 3,400 cfs are necessary for resetting channel geometry, scouring pools, creating channels for fish nurseries. The Bureau of Reclamation urges increasing the fish pool to 36,500 acre-feet a year. A fund of $400,000 is earmarked for buying additional water, but none has been acquired using these funds.

“There has always been a desire for more water for the downstream fishery,” says Curtis, of DWCD. “Before there is a blanket grab for additional water, there needs to be a specific focus on how it will help, and those questions are being pursued.”

The goal of the Implementation Plan is to maintain, protect, and enhance the native fish populations in the Dolores River.

The area is susceptible to being overrun by small mouth bass and affords opportunity for their suppression by removing caught fish.

Managed spills scour the river bottom, and move sediment in ways that benefit native fish and their young.

Blueheads are rarely detected in this stretch.

Biologists see the problem as two-fold:

The Snaggletooth Rapid is in this stretch, making fish sampling a challenge, but regular fish monitoring is encouraged in the report.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Energy Fuels sells the Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

July 14, 2014
Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

From the Denver Business Journal (Caitlin Hendee):

Energy Fuels, which previously had plans to build the nation’s first new uranium mill in 30 years, sold its Piñon Ridge license and several other assets in Western Colorado.

The Toronto, Canada-based company (TSE: EFR) that has an office in Lakewood bought a large quantity of land in the western part of the state almost five years ago.
Colorado in May gave the mill the required “radioactive materials handling” license, but company spokesperson Curtis Moore told the DBJ that Energy Fuels wouldn’t begin construction until “market conditions warrant.”

The company would also need an “air permit” from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to begin the $150 million project.

The mill has been an area of hot debate for environmental activists, who in March sued the U.S. Forest Service to stop the government from allowing the mill to be built near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Energy Fuels instead diverted plans to build it in Montrose County.

But the company said it has entered into agreements to sell the license and the Piñon Ridge mill to a private investor group managed by Baobab Asset Management LLC and George Glasier.

Glasier served as president from 2006 until March of 2010.

The company said the sale also includes mining assets — such as the Sunday Complex, the Willhunt project, the Sage Mine, the Van 4 mine, the Farmer Girl project, the Dunn project and the San Rafael project — all located along the Colorado-Utah border.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill and Assets Set to Be Sold for $2 Million

July 8, 2014

More nuclear coverage here.

Norwood infrastructure upgrades should help with water quality

July 7, 2014


From The Norwood Post (Regan Tuttle):

The Town of Norwood continues to make headway in water quality and availability. This past February, Norwood completed a major upgrade to the water treatment plant.

“We just completed a big project that we did last year. We’ve added a filter to the water treatment plant to help with water quality. That took about a year and was finished in February,” Public Works Director Tim Lippert said.

Lippert has been in service to the Town of Norwood — in public works, Norwood Water Commission and Norwood Sanitation District — for 22 years.

According to Lippert, the EPA, through the Colorado Department of Health, has tightened the standards for drinking water over the years. As a result, Norwood’s previous water treatment system was not in compliance.

Through many grants and low-interest loans, and the hard work of town officials, the water treatment plant is now producing more and cleaner and water than ever before…

The latest addition features a new clarifier system that converts raw water through a chemical and sand filter process to produce Norwood’s best drinking water yet…

Last year, Norwood also completed repair on the Gardner Springs water right. During that process, Lippert and his crew discovered damage to the Norwood Pipeline.

The Norwood Pipeline will now be rehabilitated through grant funding made possible by Southwest Water Conservancy in Durango.

“We had done exploratory digging there to see why it wasn’t producing. The pipe was smashed, and we are now replacing 600 feet,” Lippert said.

According to Lippert, the plastic irrigation pipes may not have been bedded properly. Over the years, the weight of the mud collapsed them.

“We couldn’t get water through it,” Lippert said. “And silting happened also because of restrictions.”

The Norwood Pipeline project will include a flume with control valves for the purpose of measuring water flow. Water from Norwood Pipeline can then be diverted into one of Norwood’s two reservoirs.

“We can then measure flow and divert it where we want,” Lippert said.

More infrastructure coverage here.

April Montgomery elected chair of CWCB

May 11, 2014
April Montgomery via Southwestern Water

April Montgomery via Southwestern Water

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

San Miguel County resident April Montgomery is the newest chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a 77-year-old agency that provides policy direction on water in Colorado.

Montgomery, a longtime Telluride and Norwood resident, was elected to the position in March. She will serve one term. She has served on the board since 2009, helping to protect the state’s water resources by working on watershed protection, stream restoration, drought planning and water project financing.

Montgomery also served as the San Miguel County representative on the Southwestern Water Conservation District for more than 12 years before becoming the representative for the Southwest Basin Roundtable on the CWCB. Though the chair position will only last for one year, Montgomery’s board position is a three-year term, and she said there are many water issues that need to be addressed.

“The Dolores River is something that I think is of interest to people in our region,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lot of work right now trying to figure out how to provide enough water to protect threatened species that are in the Dolores River, and we are looking at in-stream flows for that protection.”[...]

Montgomery said a number of issues will be facing the board this year, including water distribution across the state and developing a draft Colorado Water Plan — part of the state’s effort to create its first-ever comprehensive water strategy.

“The draft plan is due by the end of November, and the full plan will be completed in 2015,” Montgomery said. “This is an unprecedented effort and it requires a lot of effort, from the ground up, on what’s going to be incorporated in the plan with each of the basin roundtables.”

She said everything from future water needs to where the state’s populations are expected to grow will all need to be studied for the plan.

“The plan will provide a road map for Coloradans to use and protect limited water supplies, as well as balance Colorado’s water priorities, including healthy watersheds and the environment, recreation and tourism, municipal water supplies and drinking water, as well as productive agriculture,” she said.

Montgomery was first appointed to the CWCB by former governor Bill Ritter, and later reappointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. She currently lives on Wright’s Mesa and she has lived in the Telluride area for 23 years.

Montgomery works as programs director for the Telluride Foundation. She has a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Virginia and received her law degree from the University of Virginia in 1989, and she is currently a member of the Colorado Bar.

More CWCB coverage here.

Hope for Howard Fork water quality? CDRMS is looking at acid mine drainage mitigation again. #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 2014
Howard Fork via The Trust for Land Restoration

Howard Fork via

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

… the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety is beginning the process of trying to stabilize the mine near Ophir and improve the water quality of streams in the area. The DRMS project aims to see if there is a way to stop water from flowing through the mine, which will also help improve the water quality of Howard Fork, which flows into the San Miguel River. The project is being overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been investigating the water quality and taking samples from the Iron Springs Mining District for a couple of years, according to EPA Site Assessment Manager Jean Wyatt.

“It’s in part to understand the baseline conditions for water quality and understand if something can be done to stop the mine water from passing through the workings of the mine,” Wyatt said. “There are elevated levels of zinc and iron coming out of that mine … We want to understand what the conditions are and who could contribute resources or expertise to increase the quality of the watershed in general.”

DRMS is seeking bids from contractors to reopen the portal and stabilize and rehabilitate portions of the underground workings of the Carbonero Mine. The project will also include the construction of a platform at the portal, construction of water management structures near Ophir Pass Road below the site and re-grading and reclamation of certain areas.

“That’s the goal: to stabilize the mine and enter and see what, if anything, can be done,” said Bruce Stover, director of the DRMS Inactive Mine Reclamation Progam. “This isn’t a final remediation by any means. This is just part of an ongoing investigation.”

Glenn Pauls is the landowner of the site. In the 1980s, Pauls acquired many of the mining claims in the area — he estimates about 1,100 acres in roughly 100 claims at one point — with the intention of making a trade with the Forest Service at some point. His goal, he said is to preserve the Ophir Pass Road and keep it open for Jeep traffic. Pauls said he would like to create a hydroelectricity project at the Carbonero Mine site, once the water quality studies are complete.

“The idea is that we open it up and find out if the water coming in the back end is clean,” he said. “I can’t touch the water until someone gives me the OK.”

A mandatory pre-bid meeting for interested contractors is planned for the site on Ophir Pass Road about a half-mile east of Ophir at 10:30 a.m. June 11. The submission deadline for bids is June 24. For more information about the project, contact Kristin Miranda at the Department of Natural Resources/Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety at 303-866-3567 ext. 8133 or

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014


From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Southwestern Water Conservation District 32nd Annual Water Seminar recap #ColoradoRiver

April 6, 2014


From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

“Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

“About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient…

Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

More Southwestern Water Conservation District coverage <a href="

Snowpack news (% of avg): San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan = 83%

April 6, 2014

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The snowpack in the combined Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins was 79 percent of the 30-year median April 1; however, this week’s storms brought the basins up to 82 percent.

If it’s any consolation, the combined snowpack this April 1 is 111 percent of what it was last year on the same date.

There’s a chance late storms could increase the snowpack for the southern San Juan basins, but it’s unlikely since the maximum level is generally reached in the first week of April.

In other words, it’s as good as it’s going to get for the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins…

Overall, the statewide snowpack is above normal – 115 percent of the median on April 1 and 156 percent of the April 2013 number.

But storms carried less moisture in March than in previous months. As a result, the major basins showed a slight decrease in snowpack.

Only two basins – the Colorado and the combined Yampa, White, North Platte – had snowpack percentages higher than last month.

Storms have provided runoff that improved storage in reservoirs statewide.

Reservoir storage in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins was 82 percent of average, compared with 66 percent at this time last year.

Statewide, reservoirs held 89 percent of their average, compared with 69 percent a year ago.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Michael Bennet):

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to strap on some snowshoes for a short hike on Berthoud Pass with local water managers and staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They were taking a manual reading of the state’s snowpack and checking the automatic SNOTEL measurement device. Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top environmental and natural resource official, and the man who oversees NRCS, also came along.

These snowpack measurement systems, some that date back to the 1900s, are a critical part of the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting program that Colorado water officials rely on to anticipate river flows in the spring when the snow melts and calculate how much water will run off into rivers and reservoirs. Our state’s farmers and ranchers depend on these forecasts to decide how much and what type of crops to plant, while metropolitan leaders use the data to decide how best to meet their needs in the coming years and to prepare for potential flooding.

Beyond Colorado, these measurements are important for states downstream that depend on our watersheds. Colorado contains nine major watersheds, each with its own snowfall patterns and obligations to other states. While some of these water sources may be at 100 percent, in other regions the levels may be less than half of the normal supply. Many of the state’s water rights agreements are predicated on the level of snowpack making the accuracy of these measurements particularly important.

Recently, however, funding for the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program was threatened by budget cuts and sequestration.

Colorado communities from across the state shared their strong concerns that cutting funding to this program would damage the accuracy of the measurements and reduce the effectiveness of this vital planning tool. In response to these concerns, we joined forces with Colorado’s water community, Senator Mark Udall, and Congressman Scott Tipton to urge the NRCS to reconsider the cuts. After working with local

communities, water managers, and the NRCS, we secured funding for the program for this winter. In addition, we secured funding in congress for the next fiscal year.

Old Uravan diversion dam on Tabeguache Creek removed, the San Miguel River tributary is now running free

April 1, 2014
Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

In the 1930s, a 6-foot-tall, 60-feet-wide diversion dam was built in Tabeguache Creek, just upstream from its confluence with the San Miguel River, for the purposes of providing water to the Town of Uravan.

That dam remained for roughly 80 years, even as the uranium mining town was abandoned, declared a Superfund Site and razed in a reclamation project.

When Uravan shuttered, the dam stopped diverting water for human consumption. It continued, however, to block upstream passage to three species of native fish that rely on warm-water tributaries for their spawning grounds.

Until recently, that is. Thanks to a Bureau of Land Management project that was supported by the San Miguel Watershed Coalition and Nature Conservancy, the diversion dam was dismantled earlier this month.

Following two years of research, planning and securing funding, it took crews from Reams Construction a day and a half to pull all of the concrete out of the streambed.

And just like that, Tabeguache Creek was flowing free.

Peter Mueller, who is both the Nature Conservancy’s Southwestern Colorado Project Director and a board member on the Watershed Coalition, said the removal was a great thing to witness.

“One of the things that is so critical for the Nature Conservancy, the Coalition and BLM is that the native fish use these tributaries for spawning,” Mueller said. “And so to be able to remove this diversion structure and open up another eight miles of habitat, with full cooperation of both private landowners and the federal government … we were really excited about it.”

Amanda Clements, an ecologist with the BLM, said the project came about when the agency’s fish biologist was examining Colorado maps for migration barriers.

“He spotted this one,” Clements said.

Through follow-up investigation, Clements said, the BLM discovered that water rights of the dam had been determined abandoned and that removal of the structure would open up a lot of habitat for three species of native fish: Roundtail chub, Flannelmouth sucker and Bluehead sucker. All three are considered “BLM Colorado sensitive species.”

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.

The Spring 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

March 31, 2014
US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

Click here to read the newsletter.

Durango: Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 32nd Annual Water Seminar, April 4 #COWaterPlan

March 29, 2014


From the Montrose Daily Press:

A line-up of water experts on topics including Colorado’s water plan, water banking, and conservation, will speak at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 32nd Annual Water Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel (501 Camino del Rio) in Durango on Friday, April 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Invited speakers include James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board; John Stulp, Interbasin Compact Committee; and John McClow, Upper Colorado River Commission.
Registration is $35 in advance or $40 at the door. To register online, visit Mail-in registration forms are also available on the website. Registration will open at 8 a.m. on April 4.

More Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District coverage here.

2014 McPhee Reservoir irrigation water allocation set

March 20, 2014


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir, forecasts full-service users will receive at least 15 inches per allocated acre of the 22 inches of a full contractual amount.

“It is an improvement from our last prediction of 11 inches,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. “But we will need additional snowpack in the next 6-10 weeks to fill the reservoir and deliver a full supply.”

Water officials emphasize that the 15 inches is the minimum amount expected to be delivered based on current snowpack levels measured at five different locations in the river basin.

According to a March 7 letter sent to irrigators, “If conditions completely dry out, the worst case works out to 70 percent or 15 inches per allocated acre.”

Late summer monsoon rains that recharged the soil is a major factor for the improved outlook.

Instead of soaking into the ground as it did in Spring 2013 due to a extremely dry 2012, snowmelt this year will reach the reservoir more.

“The improved soil moisture will prevent us from totally cratering like last year,” said Ken Curtis, a DWCD engineer.

Last year, full-service irrigators received just 25 percent of their total allocation, or about 6 inches of water per acre. Instead of three cuttings of alfalfa, most farmers harvested just one.

The latest water news is critical for farmers, who begin ordering fertilizer and seed now for the upcoming growing season. Calculations of how much to plow also depend on estimated water supplies.

“If we get a weather build up, it will just improve from the 15 inches,” Preston said…

If the high country received 4-6 inches of snow each week through April, managers predict the reservoir would reach its full irrigation supply.

On the down side, lower elevation snow is lower than normal. Also, because there is no carryover storage from last year’s dry conditions, McPhee reservoir will end very low and lack carry over storage for a third straight year.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here.

San Miguel River: Project to restore the historic Hanging Flume wins the 2014 Steven H. Hart award

February 25, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

An ambitious project to rebuild a historic flume among the cliffs above the San Miguel River south of Gateway was recently recognized for its innovative effort at reconstructing history. The 2014 Stephen H. Hart Award was given to the Western Colorado Interpretive Association, Anthony & Associates, and the Bureau of Land Management — a presentation made by History Colorado, a charitable state agency under the Department of Higher Education.

The project to rebuild the flume was done over five days in 2012. In its day, the flume was essentially an open water chute used to transfer 80 million gallons of water per 24-hour period from the San Miguel River, through 10 miles of wooden flume and earthen ditch, according to the WCIA.

“The Hanging Flume is much more than a marvel of engineering. It is a statement driven in stone – a monument to an era of innovation and ‘can-do’ attitude in the 1880s,” the group said in a press release announcing the award.

The project, they say, was an effort to answer the question of exactly how the original flume builders were able to pull it off. Funding was made available by private funders the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the John Hendricks Family Foundation.

Today the flume is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the longest historic structure in the state, and the most intact flume left in North America, according to the WCIA.

And in 2006, the Montrose Placer Mining Company Hanging Flume was listed as one of the “100 Most Endangered Sites in the World” by the World Monuments Fund.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

Say hello to High Desert Dories: ‘Dories are the inverse of rafts’ — Andy Hutchinson

February 23, 2014
Photo via High Desert Dories

Photo via High Desert Dories

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

An eclectic gang of river runners, Grand Canyon guides, and boating purists take refuge in Dolores during the winter off-season.The amicable group never strays too far from their coveted rivers, skiing backcountry powder that will soon transform into whitewater rapids, and then quaffing pints of craft beer made from the same water at the Dolores River Brewery.

In between, they gather for thousands of hours to talk rivers, play bluegrass, and build custom boats in the shop of local legend Andy Hutchinson, owner of High Desert Dories.

A master craftsman and Grand Canyon guide, Hutchinson’s humble and casual demeanor masks his enthusiastic life passion for building custom dories and piloting them through river country.

“In 1982, I was on a beach at Nankoweap Canyon when I first saw a flotilla of these classic boats coming down the Colorado River,” Hutchinson, 57, recalls. “It was like the heavens called down to me, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.”

Dories are wooden oar boats originally used on the great rivers of the West by pioneers including Civil war veteran John Wesley Powell, who completed the first-ever trip down the rapid-choked Grand Canyon rowing a dory in 1869.

Replaced by less aesthetic plastic and rubber rafts that are more forgiving against river rocks, but also more cumbersome, dories fell out of mainstream favor in the 1970s.

But the dory’s classic rocker shape, turn-on-a-dime maneuverability, and ample waterproof storage compartments always stayed popular for the old-school crowd, and today they are attracting more converts.

“Dories are the inverse of rafts, so they turn easily with a stroke of the oar, but they do not bounce of rocks very well, so you carry a good-size repair kit, or better yet miss the rocks!” Hutchinson said. “What’s nice too is that they’re like giant coolers with lots of compartments to take everything along.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Dolores River: Instream flow right below confluence with the San Miguel River?

February 20, 2014
Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:

A spirited debate before the Colorado Water Conservation Board in Denver in January featured local officials expressing their opinions about a plan to increase flows on the lower Dolores River.

A live Internet broadcast of the hearing presented views for and against appropriating new minimum in-stream flows on a 34-mile section of the river below the confluence of the San Miguel River.

Representatives from the Dolores Water Conservancy District, in Cortez, and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, in Durango, attended the meeting and urged the state board to delay the matter. Local officials say new in-stream flows could threaten agricultural users who depend on McPhee Reservoir, and they want more time for negotiations with local federal agencies about newly implemented river regulations.

But they were rebuffed by the state board and state officials who argued the in-stream flows were a good way to protect struggling native fish and avoid intervention by the federal government moving to list them under the Endangered Species Act…

The proposed in-stream flow on the Dolores is for 900 cfs to flow for 61 days in the summer to aid the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub below the San Miguel confluence.

Eleven organizations commented on the proposed in-stream flow, some for and some against.

Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores district, urged the state board to delay its intent to appropriate the new Dolores in-stream flow.

“These ISFs are intertwined with recent federal actions that add up to create considerable uncertainty and risk for the Dolores Project,” he said. “We ask for the delay to straighten out these issues with federal land agencies.”

The in-stream flow proposal comes on top of recent federal action on the Dolores that elevates two additional native fish, the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers, to a category called Outstanding Remarkable Values.

The values are used to categorize special aspects of rivers like the Dolores that are designated “suitable” for National Wild and Scenic River status.

Creating that official high level of protection would require an act of Congress. But reservoir managers oppose even a hint of Wild and Scenic because if ever designated, those rivers come with a federally reserved water right that could force water from McPhee to be released downstream for the benefit of native fish.

State water board director John McClow said that the in-stream flow was a good solution and questioned why it had so much resistance.

“I’m having a difficult time connecting the dots here,” he said. “We have argued to federal agencies that in-stream flows are a better option than suitability. If we declare intent to appropriate, it lets the federal agencies know that we are serious and are going to do this and provide the protection for these fish.”

After the testimony, the state water board voted unanimously to declare its intent for appropriating the proposed in-stream flows on the Lower Dolores River.

However, to give time for stakeholders to negotiate with the Bureau of Land Management about the possibility of dropping Wild and Scenic suitability, the hearing about the matter was delayed until January 2015.

Here’s a guest column about the proposed instream right and the Dolores Project, written by Mike Preston that’s running in the Cortez Journal:

There is a lot going on these days that could affect the Dolores Project and many recent events have received newspaper coverage. This column is intended to put these events into a broader context that will help those who are interested understand what is going on as this story continues to unfold.

Let’s start with the biggest long term risk to Dolores Project water supplies: A listing of any of the three sensitive native fish species on the Dolores River as Threatened and Endangered. This would put the US Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of the Dolores River resulting in a loss of control by everyone else. What is being done? Local partners including water managers, fishery managers, conservation groups, boaters and county commissioners are working together to put together a science based Native Fish Implementation Plan to evaluate opportunities to address the needs of native fish without putting water supplies as risk.

The next level of risk is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a result of additions to the recently released BLM and Forest Service resource management plans which list the two sensitive native fish as Outstandingly Remarkable Values which Implementation Plan monitoring show to be uncommon and rare above the confluence with the San Miguel River. The federal plans also added flow standards that are unachievable below McPhee Reservoir. What is being done? DWCD and Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD) are actively protesting and appealing these plans with the support of the State of Colorado, Colorado Water Congress, local counties and west slope water entities.

There is also a large instream flow proposed on the Dolores River below the San Miguel confluence. Representatives of DWCD and SWWCD recently appeared before the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and asked that the instream flow proceeding be delayed until risks associated with the federal plans are addressed. The CWCB granted a delay until January of 2015 and pledged State of Colorado support in resolving the federal issues described above. The one year delay also gives local water boards the opportunity to negotiate protections to insure that the instream flow will pose no risks to water stored in McPhee and other water rights within the basin.

Given the need to manage these multiple risks, what can be done to create stability and certainty going into the future? There is a Legislative Subcommittee made up of County Commissioners, Water Managers, and Conservation Groups, grazers and OHV users that is crafting legislation that will eliminate the Wild and Scenic River designation from McPhee Dam to Bedrock, protect water rights and Dolores Project allocations, recognize the Native Fish Implementation Plan as the means of taking care of the fish, while protecting water rights, mineral rights, private property rights and access.

Are we going to be able to succeed in all of these activities designed to protect community water supplies? These efforts are grounded in community level cooperation by representatives of the full range of Dolores Project purposes: irrigation, community water providers, boating, the fishery and the health of the downstream environment. If we all stick together, we will find a way to do what’s right by our community. As this story unfolds we will make every effort to keep you informed.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Say hello to

February 3, 2014 has a new makeover with a ton of photographs. Buy their book to help fund their efforts.

Here’s an excerpt from the Home page:

It isn’t to say that the idea of building a flume was so crazy. Flumes for placer mining were common at the time. Flume construction methods had been used in California for years and required only minimal skills. To cross arroyos and washes, water could be funneled through flume boxes supported by trestles. But in the canyons of the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers, minimal engineering skill was not enough. This flume would have to be ten miles long, and to complete the entire route at the proper gradient, the Flume would have to cling to seven miles of sheer rock walls, at times suspended hundreds of feet above the river.

The Hanging Flume is perhaps one of the most risky and lofty plans in mining history . . . and for the purposes of placer mining, pretty much a complete failure. But as a heritage tourism site, it still holds our attention, long after the memory of its father, the mysterious Nathaniel P. Turner and hundreds of grunt workers have faded. Recent preservation efforts promise that we will enjoy the Hanging Flume for generations to come.

More San Miguel River coverage here and here.

Wild and scenic designation for the Dolores River?

January 14, 2014
Dolores River near Bedrock

Dolores River near Bedrock

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New management plans by the BLM and Forest Service upgrade the status of two native fish, and list new sections of the river as “preliminarily suitable” for a Wild and Scenic designation.

Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist, explained that the suitability status for the Lower Dolores from the dam to Bedrock has been in place since a 1976, and the special status was reaffirmed in a recently released public lands management plan.

“It qualifies because below the dam, the lower Dolores is a free-flowing stream that has outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs),” he said. “A common misconception is that suitability means we can wave a wand and make it Wild and Scenic, but that is not true. That takes congressional action.”

The 1976 suitability study noted that the Dolores is compatible with a Wild and Scenic designation, and “McPhee dam will enhance and complement such designation.”

ORVs are obscure and sometimes controversial assessments that identify river-related natural values. They are an indication that a river could qualify as a Wild and Scenic River in the future. In the meantime, their natural values are protected in management plans.

In their recent management plan, the BLM and Forest Service upped the ante, adding the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers to ORV standard list, which already includes the bonytail chub.

The Colorado Water Conservation board also believes native fish on the river deserve additional help. They propose to issue a new in-stream flow requirement for a 34-mile section of the river from the confluence with the San Miguel River to the Gateway community.

Ted Kowalski, a CWCB water resource specialist, explained that the new instream flow is proposed to improve habitat conditions for native fish.

“In-stream flows are designed to protect the natural hydrographs on the river, and we feel they are better than top-down river management from the federal side,” Kowalski said. “The proposed instream flows on that section of the Dolores are timed to accommodate spawning needs for native fish.”

Required peak flows reach 900 cfs during spring runoff, and then taper off. Most of the water would be provided by the San Miguel River, an upstream tributary…

The Dolores Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation board objected to the changes, fearing the move could force more water to be released downstream. They have filed appeals and protests to stop them.

Even the preliminary Wild and Scenic status on the Dolores is strongly opposed by McPhee Reservoir operators because if officially designated, Wild and Scenic rivers come with a federally reserved water right, which would also force more water to be released from the dam.

Jeff Kane, an attorney representing SWCD, said adding two native fish as ORVs was unexpected and unfair to a local collaborative process working to identify and protect native fish needs…

Accusations that federal agencies and the CWCB hijacked a 10-year-long, grass-roots effort to protect the Dolores were expressed at the meeting, which was attended by 80 local and regional officials…

A diverse stakeholder group, the Dolores River Working Group, is proposing to make the Lower Dolores River into a National Conservation Area through future legislation. As part of the deal, suitability status for Wild and Scenic on the Lower Dolores River would be dropped.

“It is still worthwhile to get our proposal out there,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance. “We should continue to move forward in our collaborative effort despite the concerns about the BLM changes.”

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.

Telluride: Snowmaking upgrade over the summer includes 16,000 feet of steel pipe

December 1, 2013
Telluride Ski Area via Powder Skiing Colorado

Telluride Ski Area via Powder Skiing Colorado

From The Watch (Gus Jarvis):

The ski area, thanks to the mind and work of Telluride Ski and Golf Company’s Director of Snowmaking Brandon Green, has taken some momentous steps this year toward reaching that goal by completing a huge snowmaking infrastructure upgrade which, combined with new snowmaking technology, will enable Telluride to open more runs earlier in the year.

Over the summer, crews replaced decrepit pipe and laid 16,000 feet of steel pipe in the ground as a start to building the foundation of the ski area’s snowmaking future. All of the pipe was painstakingly buried four feet underground, a foot below the frost line. On some portions of the system where wetlands existed, crews bored a hole for the new pipeline without having to touch the surface…

While the new, stronger pipe will eliminate down time due to breakage, the new pipe was laid in a loop system so that if a pipe does burst, the new system can still operate with the help of nearby shutoff valves.

“If something breaks on one spot,” Green said, “we can keep it running operationally and we will be able to maintain it with zero down time, which is ultimately my goal.”

The new pipe infrastructure also has the ability to bring water at a higher pressure, which is needed for the 71 new low energy Snow Logic snowmaking guns the ski area invested in over the past two years.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Increased flows in the Dolores River this summer enable Kokanee spawning

November 10, 2013

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Last year, there was no run because the lake was so low, explained Jim White, a aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In low water years, the river carves a wide channel in the lake bed that is too shallow for the kokanee salmon to make their way to spawning grounds, 5 miles up river at a specially designed fish hatchery.

But deeper water triggered a run this year attracting bald eagles to the valley and a line of people at the traditional November fish giveaway in Dolores…

The kokanee spawning zone on the Dolores River is a system of ponds that drain into a concrete-formed “raceway”, controlled by gates, sieves, and fish cages. The females lay their eggs in the fine gravel, and then go off and die, becoming a meal for eagles, bears, and otters.

Some eggs are harvested by biologists and raised in the Durango fish hatchery to be distributed to other hatcheries and lakes, including back to the Dolores.

From the hatchery, they float down river and into McPhee Reservoir, with most becoming a meal for predator fish. Those that survive, about 5 percent, spend 3 to 4 years maturing and then make their way to where they were born to lay eggs.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.

Energy Fuels plans to permit the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill and then shelve the project for better times

September 11, 2013


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Montrose County officials took heart in Energy Fuels Inc.‘s plans to proceed with permitting its proposed Naturita mill, which it acknowledged to investors won’t go forward until the market improves. “There was no way at the current market price that they could possibly consider” building the $150 million mill, Dianna Reams of Naturita said. “It would be foolhardy at best.”

Energy Fuels leaders told investors last week that construction of the mill would depend on an increase in the price of uranium oxide, currently languishing at $34 a pound. “We are continuing to move the Piñon Ridge Mill forward in permitting,” Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said. “However, we do not intend to build it until market conditions warrant, and the price of uranium recovers.”

The question on prices “is ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ ” Moore said.

The Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance, which has opposed Energy Fuels in court, said it’s clear that Energy Fuels has no intention of building the mill. “It is time for elected officials and community leaders to work towards real and achievable economic opportunities for the West End communities,” Sheep Mountain Alliance Director Hilary Cooper said. “These could include the development of clean, renewable energy, small-scale agriculture and cultural and recreational opportunities which would all provide long-term growth benefits.”

Energy Fuels has been telling county officials for the last six months that building the mill was untenable at current prices. “It’s all economics,” White said, noting that the price of uranium still could rise. “What we have to remember is that the U.S. does import 94 percent of the uranium it uses” and a breakdown in the foreign supply could force prices back up, White said.

Global uranium prices have been hit with the double-whammy of the rise of natural gas and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Montrose County is considering helping to fund an economic development office for what is known as the West End of the county, including the towns of Naturita, Norwood and Nucla, White said. West End residents are familiar with the market constraints on Energy Fuels, White said. “Mining has been a part of their heritage for 100 years and so they know the ups and downs of the mining industry,” White said.

Energy Fuels has submitted construction plans for the mill, which would occupy an 800-acre site near Naturita, said Reams, whose family is involved in construction and mining. “It does clear way for construction as soon as they are ready to go.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Energy Fuels plans to permit the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill and then shelve the project for better times

September 7, 2013


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Energy Fuels Resources Inc. will keep holding its license to build the Piñon Ridge uranium mill in the Paradox Valley of Montrose County, but it has no plans to act on the license, said President and CEO Stephen Antony.

“We intend to keep that license in a current, valid form, but not move on construction of the mill until market conditions support it,” Antony said.

The statement is old news to uranium experts, but it comes as a surprise to some Coloradans.

The company’s Piñon Ridge website says, “Energy Fuels anticipates starting construction in late 2012 or 2013.” And its plan on file with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment calls for the mill west of Naturita to be operational by early 2017, with construction beginning in 2015.

Warren Smith, a community involvement manager for the state health department, said Energy Fuels has not contacted his department with any plans to deviate from the schedule it has submitted. The license is valid for five years.

But uranium market analysts have known since Energy Fuels bought the White Mesa uranium mill in Utah that the company has put Piñon Ridge on the back burner. In fact, the company said so itself in a little-noticed statement in December 2012. It came in an annual report filed with financial regulators in Canada, where Energy Fuels is incorporated.

“With the recent acquisition by the Company of the White Mesa Mill, the Company no longer needs to construct the Piñon Ridge Mill in order to meet its planned production for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Company does not intend to proceed with construction of the mill at this time,” the report said.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill could be online in 2017

September 4, 2013


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Pinon Ridge Mill has cleared several major permit hurdles and survived court challenges from environmental groups. Its proposed location is in Paradox Valley between Naturita and Bedrock off Colorado Highway 90…

Energy Fuels Resources Corp., a Canadian-based company with a main office in Littleton, Colo., has been working towards building the $150 million plant for the last six years. EF also owns the White Mesa Mill, south of Blanding, Utah, which is currently the only operating uranium mill in the country.

The new Pinon Ridge mill would process uranium ore using an acid leach process to produce yellowcake, a concentrated uranium product that is fabricated into fuel rods for nuclear reactors. The mill is expected to process 500 tons a day of uranium ore from re-opened mines on the Colorado Plateau, Uravan Mineral Belt, and Arizona Strip.

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted EF a permit for the construction of tailings impoundment and evaporation ponds. A radioactive materials license was approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in April for the project…

The company still needs a construction permit from CDPHE before the project can break ground. Pending approval of permits, construction of the mill could be completed by early 2017. Public comments on the construction permit will be accepted. For more information go to

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

Developers opt out of water rights application for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill

August 28, 2013


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Opponents of a proposed uranium mill near Naturita crowed Friday that a judge dismissed the mill’s water-right claim, but the mill’s backers noted that it was they who sought the dismissal.

The Sheep Mountain Alliance fired off a news release after Water Judge Steven Patrick dismissed Energy Fuel’s Inc.‘s petition for rights on the San Miguel River.

Patrick dismissed the case, but he did so in a way that permits Energy Fuels to reapply for the water right if necessary. The environmental organization had sought to prevent the company from refiling for the water.

The company failure to pursue the water rights “clearly indicates the lack of intent to follow through on the construction of the uranium mill.” Hilary Cooper, executive director of the alliance, said in the statement.

“We decided that we did not need this water at this time,” Curtis Moore, Energy Fuels director of investor relations and public relations, wrote in an email. “Keep in mind that we have wells and a water right in the Dolores River basin that should meet most (or all) of our water needs.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Comment period for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill open until September 13, public hearing August 13

August 6, 2013


From The Watch (Gus Jarvis):

A public comment period is open until Sept. 13 on a proposal to build a uranium mill in the West End of Montrose County, with a public hearing set for Aug. 13, from 6-9 p.m., at the Nucla Moose Lodge.

Energy Fuels, Inc., the Canadian mining company proposing to build the first uranium processing mill in the U.S. in 30 years, submitted its construction plan and decommissioning funding plan for the proposed Pinon Ridge mill to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in May. The two plans are in accordance with the Radioactive Materials License Energy Fuels received in April.

If it is approved and built, Energy Fuels plans to operate the uranium/vanadium mill at a rate of 500 tons per day. Energy Fuels’ Construction Plan for the mill is a detailed outline for building and operating the mill facility, administration building, ore stockpile pads, tailings cells, evaporation ponds and surface water control features.

According to the construction plan, Energy Fuels plans to begin State Hwy. 90-access construction in the third quarter of 2015, with the mill’s detailed engineering completed by the first quarter of 2016. The company hopes to begin construction on the mill in early 2016. Mechanical completion of the mill and its commissioning is expected early 2017. During the main period of the mill’s construction, it is expected that approximately 200 people will be employed on the project.

Energy Fuels’ Decommissioning Funding Plan contains the cost estimate for decommissioning the mill, a description of the timing and method for assuring decommissioning funds and a certification by Energy Fuels that funding for decommissioning will be provided in the amount declared in its materials license.

This plan also provides a cost estimate for the long-term care fund and proposes a time of payment based on the import of uranium ore to the project site.

Both plans are available at Hard copies can be viewed at the Nucla Public Library and at the Montrose County Planning and Development office.

From the Associated Press via the The Denver Post:

The Colorado health department is accepting public input on a Toronto-based energy company’s plan to build what would be the first new uranium mill in the United States in more than 30 years.
Representatives with Energy Fuels Resources Corp. said Friday the company has filed documents with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment outlining a construction plan for the Pinon Ridge mill on 880 acres in western Colorado’s Montrose County. The company wants to transform uranium ore into uranium oxide, which would then be sent out of state to be turned into fuel for nuclear reactors.

The mill is expected to process 500 tons a day of uranium and vanadium, which is used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.

Energy Fuels also has submitted a plan to fund maintenance and surveillance of the site after it is decommissioned and turned over to the state or the Department of Energy. The company was granted a radioactive materials license for the proposed mill in April.

Project leaders hope to begin construction of the mill at the beginning of 2016, to begin stockpiling ore later that year and to begin processing it in 2017.

Energy Fuels, which announced plans for the mill in 2007, will primarily process ore from mines in Gateway, Colo., and La Sal, Utah, according to CDPHE documents.

Colorado originally authorized the mill in 2011, but the decision prompted appeals from a handful of activist groups. A Denver judge eventually invalidated that license after finding that the state did not hold formal public hearings. Following new hearings, the license was granted anew this year.

Colorado’s public health department has scheduled a meeting in Nucla on Aug. 13 to gather comment on the plans for construction and funding for decommissioning. It will accept input by email, mail or fax until Sept. 13.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

Montezuma Valley Irrigation and the Dolores Water Conservancy District stipulate out of Cortez’s change of diversion case

July 16, 2013


From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

Last year, a Colorado Water Division engineer discovered the City of Cortez never filed an application to officially change its point of diversion from the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Canal to the Dolores Tunnel. In June of last year, the city filed the change application, but the proposal was met with opposition.

According to court documents, the city’s water rights date back to 1892, when the Sheek Ditch, Illinois Ditch, Giogetta Ditch and Dunham & Johnson Ditch were decreed for the town’s irrigation needs. In 1952 and 1953, the city’s point of diversion was changed to the Dolores River through the Dolores Tunnel, now via McPhee Reservoir, but water court officials never approved the change.

Court records show the application filed by the city last summer sought to officially change municipal water rights from the headgate of the Main No. 1 Canal of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company to the Dolores Tunnel via McPhee Reservoir.

The application met opposition from both Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company and Dolores Water Conservancy District, but an agreement has since been reached, said City Manager Shane Hale…

According to the agreement, the city will continue receiving water diverted via McPhee Reservoir through the Dolores Tunnel. The application and the proposed decree do not change the ability of the City of Cortez to continue to use the full 4.2 cubic feet per second it has historically had access to, Krob added.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.

Colorado State Representative Don Coram plans to shutter and restore four uranium mines

June 12, 2013


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The action follows several years of legal pressure by activists on the state and federal government to shut down the old uranium mines that dot the landscape of San Miguel and Montrose counties.A 2008 state law required all uranium mines to meet a higher level of regulatory scrutiny. State mining regulators are now demanding that all mine operators either submit a detailed environmental-protection plan or shut down their mines and reclaim the land.“Economically, it seemed to be more feasible to me to do a reclamation plan. It was strictly a matter of economics,” said Coram, a Montrose Republican whose district includes Montezuma County. Coram’s company, Gold Eagle Mining Inc., bought the mines in 1998. Three are close to the Dolores River at Slick Rock. The fourth overlooks the Paradox Valley in Montrose County. They have been out of operation almost constantly since the early 1980s. The state has given him until May 2014 to finish reclamation of the sites.

But even as they enter the cleanup stage, the mines remain as controversial as ever. A mining watchdog group called Information Network for Responsible Mining, or INFORM, has been hounding Coram and other mine operators, and the group submitted a harsh objection to Coram’s request earlier this year for an extension of his permit to leave the mines idle.“We will not mince words in criticizing the condition of the Slick Rock mines: They are dangerous to public health, to the Dolores River, to wildlife, and to the ecosystem they actively pollute. These mines represent egregious examples of neglect and mismanagement and have been allowed, for many years, to erode their toxic and radioactive contaminants directly into the Dolores,” INFORM’s objection stated.Coram sharply disputes the charges…

Tony Waldron of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said Coram’s mines are not polluting the Dolores River…

Radiometric readings near the mines show nothing above the natural background levels of radiation.However, stormwater does run off some of the mining waste piles, Waldron said. As part of the reclamation work, Gold Eagle will have to flatten the piles to reduce the risk of tainted water spilling off the site.Other reclamation work includes closing portals, replanting vegetation and removing old buildings.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

San Miguel River watershed: Instream flow right granted in May should keep the river whole from stem to stern

June 10, 2013


From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Handy):

One of the last free-flowing rivers in Colorado, the San Miguel will continue to course through the western slope unchecked by mankind, thanks to a May 20 Colorado Water Court ruling granting it protected status. Granted “in-stream flow protection,” the San Miguel will continue to be a natural habitat for three fish species, as well as fuel the down-stream rafting economy, said John Fielder, a landscape photographer and champion of natural resources preservation. “Like the Yampa (River), the San Miguel is one of the last undammed major rivers in the state,” Fielder said.

The in-stream water rights guarantee that no one can take water out of the river, said Rob Harris, a lawyer for Western Resources Advocates, a resources conservation non-profit. Instead, the San Miguel’s water will be preserved for three native fish: the Roundtail Chub, the Flannel Mouth Sucker, and the Bluehead Sucker, Harris said…

To preserve the fish natural habitat, the Colorado Water Conservation Board applied for in-stream flow protection for the San Miguel in 2011, at the urging of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. The in-stream protection protects a 17-mile segment of the river, which runs west of Montrose near Naturita.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.

Colorado Mining Agency Orders Clean-Up of Four West Slope Uranium Mines

June 9, 2013


Click here to read the letter from the Colorado Mining Agency to Gold Eagle Mining, Inc.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

A mining company with a long history on noncompliance with reclamation requirements has been ordered to clean up four semi-abandoned uranium mines in southwest Colorado.

An attempt by Gold Eagle Mining Inc, to delay closure of the mines for another five years was successfully challenged by a watchdog group. The mines, have been idle for three decades, despite a state law that requires uranium mines to be reclaimed and closed a maximum of 10 years after mining ceases.

Three of the mines are located in Slick Rock, directly adjacent to the Dolores River. A fourth mine is located on the slopes above the picturesque Paradox Valley. Multiple documents relating to the mines, including copies of inspection reports and warning letters from the state, are posted here.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Western Resource Advocates: Historic Protection Approved for San Miguel River

May 25, 2013


Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

A major portion of the San Miguel River will be permanently protected under a precedent-setting water right after a Colorado Water Court ruling this week. In a ruling signed on May 20, the Water Court for Division 4 ruled in favor of an application for “in-stream flow” (ISF) protection that permanently safeguards a large section of the San Miguel River west of Montrose, Colo. The protection was sought by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and Western Resource Advocates and The Wilderness Society intervened in support of the Board’s application.

“The San Miguel River is one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in Colorado, and this water right will help ensure that it stays that way for generations to come,” said Rob Harris, Senior Water Attorney with Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and the lead counsel representing WRA and The Wilderness Society. “The Colorado Water Conservation Board recognized early on that this is an incredibly significant protection, and the Board did a great job of working with a diverse community to negotiate an outcome that is truly in the best interests of both the surrounding area and the entire state.”

The Water Court for Division 4 approved the dedication of an in-stream flow protection of up to 325 cfs (cubic feet per second), which amounts to one of the largest river protections in the history of the state—exceeded only by similar protections afforded the much-larger Colorado River (A typical ISF protection accounts for less than 10 cfs). The San Miguel ISF recognizes the importance of keeping water ‘in the stream’ to benefit the natural environment. Healthy rivers also benefit recreation, local communities, and the economy.

“We’re pleased to secure permanent protection for this scenic river in Colorado’s Red Rock Canyon country,” said Harris. “This really is a tremendous accomplishment, and we are incredibly proud to have played a part in the process.”

The CWCB and the Colorado Attorney General’s office amicably concluded negotiations that satisfied nearly every interested party to the case, including the Board of County Commissioners of Montrose County and Tri- State Generation and Transmission Association. Barring an appeal of the Water Court ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, the May 20th decision concludes a process that began with an ISF application on Oct. 31, 2011.

The location of the San Miguel River protection is west of Montrose, near the town of Nucla.

More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.

Telluride’s water system upgrades $500,000 over budget this year

April 29, 2013


From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Council had originally budgeted $6.5 million for the 2013 portion of the ambitious project, which aims to provide a state-of-the-art water distribution and treatment system to ensure a reliable, high-quality water supply for the Town of Telluride. This number, however, did not incorporate the so-called Falls Crest Diversion outlined in the Comprehensive Settlement Agreement which the town and Idarado entered into late last year. The agreement brought a 20-year legal battle over water rights between the two entities to an end.

The elaborately engineered Falls Crest Diversion brings one source of water from Bridal Veil Basin via pipeline across the cliff face directly below Bridal Veil Power Station to tie into the tailrace (where another source of water comes out of the turbine). The water then flows into a collection system vertically down toward Black Bear Road, eventually reaching the Pandora Water Treatment Plant currently under construction. The CSA calls for Idarado to contribute about a quarter of the cost for the Falls Creek Diversion – roughly $125,000 – with the Town of Telluride picking up the rest of the tab.

Also not included in original cost projections for 2013 were the “zero-discharge” processes that are an essential part of this project as it has been negotiated in the CSA. Initially, Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud explained, the design for the water treatment plant included a discharge component that would release some untreated water into Marshall Creek. The CSA’s zero-discharge requirement scuttled that plan. “There won’t be anything coming out of the plant except clean water,” Ruud explained. “This did add considerably to the expense of the plant.”

Beyond the cost overruns for construction in the current year, council also discussed the fact that the overall construction cost for the project (including the small hydro component) is estimated to come in at around $15 million – significantly more than the $10 million bond approved by Telluride voters to pay for the project in 2005. This money, mobilized in 2010, has gone toward improvement of complicated diversion and conveyance infrastructure over the past two years that is intended to get the water from Bridal Veil Basin to the site of the new Pandora water treatment plant. Last fall, the Telluride Town Council approved an additional $2 million transfer of Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) funds from the Capital Improvement Fund to the Water Fund to cover additional costs for the project through 2013…

Despite of the Pandora Water System Project’s hefty and ever-mounting price tag, council generally agreed in the end that it was a price worth paying. “I am thankful that past council members made the decision to get us started,” said Councilor Ann Brady. “Imagine if we were just starting this project, with the climate change we are facing now. Thank goodness the people before us took the step (of securing the $10 million bond). Even though it was skimpy, at least it got us started.”

Clifton echoed Brady’s sentiment, adding, “This will bring the town well into the future in terms of our domestic water supply.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill will be the first new plant in US in 30 years

April 26, 2013


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

With a major regulatory hurdle out of its way — again — Energy Fuels Resources Corp. is now looking to the uranium market for the signal to move ahead with construction of a mill. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reissued the radioactive-materials license Thursday after officials culled though six days’ worth of testimony, much of it under oath, taken in Nucla late last year.

The license comes, however, as uranium prices have tumbled to lows not seen since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, acknowledged Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels. The $150 million project will go forward “when market conditions and our production requirements warrant it,” Moore said. The company remains bullish on the long-term prospects of the mill, Moore said, noting that the same number of reactors, if not more, are being planned now as before Fukushima.

The decision sparked a rebuke from the Sheep Mountain Alliance, which filed suit originally to have the license revoked, contending among other things that the state agency failed to conduct appropriate public hearings and that the weight of evidence showed the mill as an environmental threat. “We are extremely disappointed that the state opted to ignore the scientific and technical evidence against the mill,” Director Hilary Cooper said in an email. “And further we are shocked that the state, through this decision, is strongly encouraging Energy Fuels to build a radioactive waste dump on the Dolores River.”

By green-lighting the mill at a time when uranium prices are low, state officials “are operating well outside the mission of public health and safety,” Cooper said.

The mill, which would be built near Naturita, “is not on the Dolores River,” Montrose County Commissioner David White said. “It’s seven miles from the river and sitting on thousands and thousands of feet of collapsed salt dome and rock” that no leak from the mill would be able to permeate and travel through to the river. Montrose County supported the mill and issued a conditional-use permit for the project. Residents of the Nucla-Naturita-Norwood area are “excited, to say the least,” said White, whose commissioner district includes the three communities. “They’ve needed a good shot of optimism for a long time.”

In the decision, the Health Department noted at one point that radiation, while dangerous, is “what sustains life on Earth and is probably responsible for the evolution of life on the planet.”

Despite boom-and-bust economic cycles, facilities such as uranium mills tend to hold some level of employment, the department noted. It concluded, “The failure of the project is a risk that is borne primarily by Energy Fuels Resources Corp. and the potential benefits of the project appear to outweigh the costs across all segments of the larger community.”

If built, the mill would be the first uranium mill to be constructed in the United States in three decades. The last mill, White Mesa in Blanding, Utah, is owned by Energy Fuels, which obtained it in a merger with Denison Mines Corp. last year.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Energy Fuels Inc. is fulfilling contracts for uranium at well above the current spot price, but it’s waiting with the rest of the industry to see that price nearly double before investing in new projects. “Right now, we’re trying to hunker down a little bit and watch our pennies,” Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels, said Wednesday.

Energy Fuels is fulfilling contracts with utilities for about $56 a pound, well over the current spot price of $40.90 a pound, according to “We’re pretty well shielded from spot prices” with the company’s contracts, Moore told the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce energy briefing.

While the company is pursuing construction of the Pinyon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita, the price of uranium will likely have to clear the $70-per-pound threshold before construction begins, Moore said. That’s also the marker for reopening the eight mines the company owns on the Colorado Plateau, he said. That could take some time. “We see spot prices in the high 40s by the end of the year,” Moore said.

Once demand for uranium heats up, Energy Fuels will need the Pinyon Ridge mill when the company’s White Mesa mill in Blanding, Utah, can no longer keep up with demand, he said.

A decision is due this week from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Energy Fuels’ application for a radioactive materials-handling permit for Pinyon Ridge. A Denver district judge had invalidated the permit and ordered the Department of Public Health and Environment to reconsider it after seeking public comment and a recommendation from an administrative law judge. Energy Fuels is anticipating additional legal opposition to the Pinyon Ridge mill, Moore said.

It will cost about $150 million to construct the mill, he said.

Energy Fuels, which now bills itself as “America’s leading producer of conventional uranium,” now supplies about 1 million pounds of uranium oxide per year to utilities, or about a quarter of the 4 million pounds of domestic uranium used in the nation. In all, the United States uses about 50 million pounds of uranium per year to generate 20 percent of its electricity.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill gets state license #ColoradoRiver

April 25, 2013


Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radiation Program today announced Energy Fuels Resources Corp. has met all the regulatory requirements for a radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in western Montrose County, Colo. State law requires the department to approve applications when such requirements are met.

The license was required before Energy Fuels could construct its planned 500-tons-per day uranium/vanadium mill approximately 12 miles west of Naturita, Colo., in the Paradox Valley.

The mill will process uranium ore from mines in the region to produce uranium oxide, which requires additional processing outside Colorado to become fuel for nuclear reactors. The mill also will recover vanadium, a metal used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.

The license imposes a number of conditions on Energy Fuels involving construction of the mill; the receipt, possession, use and transfer of radioactive materials; and procedures to minimize risks to property and public health and safety, and to prevent loss or theft of radioactive material. Notably, the license requires an enhanced groundwater monitoring plan, subject to annual review.

A separate settlement agreement between Telluride and San Miguel County with Energy Fuels sets up additional protections related to the transportation of radioactive materials, blowing dust and water quality monitoring. In addition to the approximately $13 million financial surety established by the state, this agreement increases Energy Fuels’ total surety to an amount not less than $15 million.

Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the department, said, “With the approval of the license, our work is not done. We will continue to work with the community members and officials to keep them informed of progress.”

During construction and operation of the Piñon Ridge facility, the department’s oversight will continue, including regular inspections and an annual review of the financial assurance. The department expects to have at least one staff member whose primary assignment will include monitoring and inspections of the facility.

Ron Henderson, chairman of the Montrose Board of County Commissioners said, “An exhaustive process has been followed and validated with the approval of this license.”
Montrose Commissioner David White said, “This validates the science behind the application, design and potential construction of the mill. It is a state-of-the-art facility and will benefit the citizens of Montrose County, the state of Colorado and the United States for decades to come.”

The license application was submitted by Energy Fuels on Nov. 18, 2009, and has undergone a thorough technical and regulatory review. Prior to its approval of the license, the department and the applicant conducted eight public meetings in 2010 in Nucla, Naturita, Paradox, Montrose, Telluride and Ophir. And in November 2012, the department held a six-day hearing in Nucla to allow cross-examination of witnesses and to solicit additional public comment. All of the information was thoroughly reviewed by the state’s Radiation Program prior to the decision to grant the license.

The administrative record includes comprehensive reports and comments by engineers, scientists, environmental and business groups, government officials from western Colorado counties and towns, and regulators. Anyone interested can view the department’s Decision Analysis and Environmental Impact Analysis, which includes a copy of the license and the department’s responses to public comments.

Dr. Urbina said, “From the beginning, we have listened carefully to the public and worked with Energy Fuels to minimize risks to public health and the environment. Today’s engineering standards – and strict environmental regulations – far exceed those in place when the last such mill was constructed more than 25 years ago. We are confident these standards and regulations will ensure the safe construction and operation of the facility.”

From the Associated Press (Alexandra Tilsley) The Denver Post:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued Toronto-based Energy Fuels a radioactive materials license, clearing the way for the creation of the Pinon Ridge Mill in western Colorado’s Montrose County…

That doesn’t mean construction is imminent. Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the company is waiting for the price of uranium to rise. Currently, Moore said, uranium is priced at about $40 per pound, down from about $72 per pound before the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Plant in 2011. The spot price of uranium was more than $135 a pound when Energy Fuels announced plans for the mill in 2007…

Energy Fuels also plans to open or reopen a number of Colorado mines, Moore said. Those mines are all small—perhaps a few hundred acres in size—and are mostly in areas that have been mined previously. “These are historic mines, historic mining districts. These are not pristine wilderness districts,” Moore said…

Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of CDPHE, said importing radioactive waste is not allowed under the license. He notes that waste produced by the mill will be stored in underground cells designed to last at least 200 years. The license carries a number of other environmental safeguards, including requirements that Energy Fuels monitor groundwater for contamination and install fences and wires to keep wildlife away from areas that might have radiation…

Montrose County Commission David White said that most area residents seem assured that the plan is environmentally sound and are excited about the economic possibilities. Once constructed, the mill is expected to create at least 85 jobs, with up to 400 jobs generated by opening additional mines and increasing economic activity, according to Moore.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

Remediation work has been unsuccessful at Silver Bell Mine tailings site

April 9, 2013


From The Watch (Gus Jarvis):

A settlement was reached late last month between Sheep Mountain Alliance and PacifiCorp that obligates the company to investigate and take further remediation actions on the Silver Bell Tailings located near the Ophir turn on U.S. Hwy. 145.

Since 1998, PacifiCorp has taken voluntary steps to cap, stabilize and clean the mine tailings deposited by the Silver Bell Mill in the 1950s. For the past two years, that completed remediation work on the tailings have been in a monitoring stage. So far, the remediation work has been unsuccessful in keeping the Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality standards for the San Miguel River at acceptable levels.

Roughly one year ago, when, according to Sheep Mountain Alliance Director Hilary Cooper, the organization was “combing” through EPA water data from the San Miguel River, downstream from the tailings, “alarming” records they believed to be Clean Water Act violations turned up.

SMA eventually brought a citizen Clean Water Act lawsuit against PacificCorp , alleging liability due to years of illegal discharges of heavy metals, acidic drainage and other pollutants from the impoundment. All of those mine contaminants, the lawsuit alleged, were flowing out of the Silver Bell Tailings impoundment and into the Howard Fork of the San Miguel River, despite the remediation work that had been completed on the site.

The lawsuit eventually led to a mediation process between SMA and PacifiCorp, resulting in a settlement and a consent decree announced March 21. In the settlement, both parties agreed to use a third-party expert to analyze and recommend a way forward that both parties could agree on. PacifiCorp has agreed to embark on four-step monitoring process of the tailings that will determine where the specific source of the contamination is located; once that is found, PacifiCorp will come to the table with a proposed correction.

“What we believe is that it will lead to a replacement of the tailings cap,” Cooper said. “But this way, with an in-depth analysis of the contamination sources, we think a new cap will be engineered in a way that will have a higher chance at success than what is there right now.”[...]

In addition to the management plan action, PacifiCorp has also agreed to pay $150,000 to the San Miguel Watershed Coalition. Under federal law, polluters found accountable under the Clean Water Act are required to pay funds in lieu of civil penalties toward local watersheds. The funds will be applied to the restoration of the Priest Lake reservoir.

More water pollution coverage here.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife prepares to reclaim Miramonte Reservoir in SW Colorado; bag, possession limits removed

April 9, 2013


Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Illegal stocking of smallmouth bass in Miramonte Reservoir will force Colorado Parks and Wildlife to partially drain the lake and treat it with an organic pesticide to kill all the fish early this fall. Restocking will occur shortly after the treatment is completed.

The good news for anglers is that as of April 1 all bag and possession limits will be removed for smallmouth bass and trout until the treatment begins.

“This emergency public salvage will allow licensed anglers a unique opportunity to catch and keep these fish prior to the treatment,” said Eric Gardunio, aquatic biologist in Montrose.

Miramonte Reservoir is located in San Miguel County about 10 miles south of Norwood in western Colorado. The reservoir is one of the most productive stillwater trout fisheries in the state and people travel from throughout the West to catch the rainbow and brown trout that regularly grow to quality size. The lake is also a popular destination for crayfish enthusiasts. Miramonte accounts for about 20,000 angler days every year which contributes $1.5 million to the economy of San Miguel County.

The illegal stocking of smallmouth bass has threatened the trout fishery and crayfish, as well as native fish downstream in the San Miguel and Dolores rivers, prompting action by Parks and Wildlife.

During the salvage anglers must have a 2013 Colorado fishing license and only hook and line methods of take will be permitted. The use of explosives, toxicants, firearms, seines, nets, snagging or electricity is prohibited. Signs will be placed at access points around the lake to notify anglers of this temporary regulation change.

“The trout fishing following ice-off around April 1 should be productive and anglers should take home good numbers of the pink-fleshed Miramonte trout,” Gardunio said.

As the reservoir is drained beginning in May, angler access may become difficult due to exposed mud flats. Boat access will be limited as ramps will eventually become unusable as the water level drops. Interested anglers are encouraged to utilize the fishery early in the year to avoid access issues later in the season.

This emergency salvage is a part of an effort by Parks and Wildlife to maximize angling opportunities in the short term while rebuilding the trout fishery at Miramonte as soon as possible.

“Treating the reservoir is something we wish we didn’t have to do, but we know we must,” said Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager in Montrose. “People who illegally move fish into lakes, ponds and rivers are not only committing a criminal act, they are endangering native species, stealing a resource and recreational opportunity from thousands of anglers and negatively impacting the local community.”

The chemical treatment, using Rotenone, is scheduled for early fall and the reservoir will be opened for fishing until that time. The date of the treatment will be announced late in the summer. During the treatment the reservoir will be closed for public safety. The reservoir will be drawn down and Rotenone will be applied to the remaining water and feeder streams to kill all of the fish. Rotenone breaks down quickly in the environment and poses no threat to vegetation or non-aquatic species.

Biologists will restock the lake with fish as soon as the pesticide has dissipated; a quick recovery of the trout and crayfish fisheries is expected.

“Miramonte is a very productive fishery where trout can grow ten inches or more in a single year,” Gardunio said. “We expect the catchable and sub-catchable trout we stock following the treatment to be up to quality size within a year of re-stocking.”

“This reservoir is managed as a put-and-grow trout fishery and that management strategy will not change,” explained John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for the southwest region for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Under this management strategy we can provide an excellent angling opportunity at a low cost to anglers.”

Smallmouth bass, which are a warmwater predator fish, were illegally stocked in the reservoir sometime before 2011 and reproduction has been documented. A recent survey showed that in one year smallmouth bass have increased in abundance from 5 percent to 44 percent of the fishery.

“The bass are now a top predator in the lake. They compete with trout for food and space, and consume trout and crayfish,” Alves said. “If left alone, the bass could eventually devastate Miramonte as a trout fishery. Furthermore, the habitat, prey base and water temperature will not support a quality bass fishery in the long term. So, once an illegally stocked fish population has become established, the only recourse is to start over by using a fish pesticide to kill all the fish in a lake.”

In addition to impacting a renowned sport fishery, the smallmouth bass also pose a threat to downstream native fish. An agreement between the state of Colorado, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and neighboring states restricts stocking of non-native warm water fish without a permit because of the danger they pose to native and endangered fish.

Miramonte Reservoir is located above the San Miguel and Dolores rivers which support important populations of three native fish species that biologists are working to protect: the roundtail chub, the bluehead sucker and the flannelmouth sucker. These native fish are found only in desert rivers of the western United States. Changes in the river system such as dams, pollution, water withdrawals, competition and predation from non-native species have caused these fish to decline in range and numbers.

“Native species are needed to help maintain the natural health and balance of any ecosystem. If a species is lost it affects the health of other plants and animals, and changes a natural ecosystem forever,” Alves said.

CPW aims to maintain healthy native fish populations not only for the benefit of native ecosystems and the people of Colorado, but also to prevent unwanted federal management of these species under the Endangered Species Act.

“Illegal stocking carries serious consequences that can have long-lasting negative effects on both fisheries and local communities,” DelPiccolo said.

Anyone who has information about illegal fish stocking at Miramonte Reservoir or at any other water in Colorado should contact the Parks and Wildlife office in Montrose at 970-252-6000, or call Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648. Tips can be made anonymously and cash rewards are possible.

To read a full fisheries management report about Miramonte Reservoir, see:

For more information about fisheries management in Colorado and aquatic nuisance species, see:

San Juans: Just two dust on snow events so far this winter #codrought

March 11, 2013


From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

One of the leading local climate research entities in the state is the Silverton Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, which has been conducting research on local precipitation and snowpack for more than a decade. Over the years, the center has accumulated reams of data about the snowpack, and on Friday a researcher presented some of the center’s findings at the monthly EcoAction Roundtable at the Wilkinson Public Library to a crowd of more than 15 people…

Though a lot of climate change research is focused on increasing temperatures, there are many side effects of warmer temperatures that could have a profound impact locally. One of those is dust on snow, which the center has been studying for years. Since 2004, the center has been gathering data on the amount of sunlight radiation reflected from the snowpack at sites in Beck Basin. When the snow is clean it reflects more heat and melts slower, but when covered in dust it melts faster. [Researcher Kim Buck] said almost all of the dust on snow in Colorado comes off of the Colorado Plateau. She said once the dust blows in and gets on the snow, it can speed up the melt dramatically — by an entire month in the spring…

Locally, there have been two dust blow-ins this winter, but they were mild compared with dust storms of the past few years, notably 2009, Buck said…

The center’s and NOAA’s snowpack data shows that this year’s snowpack is lower than last year at this time. According to NOAA information, the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basin is around 85 percent of normal. Last year it was slightly higher. Buck said it could be bad news this summer.

“It is extremely unlikely that we’re going to catch up on precipitation,” Buck said “Last year the state was just coming off of that great big water year, so reservoirs were full. This year reservoirs are low and then we’re getting another low snow year back to back. So I think the cities in the Front Range will have a pretty hard time in the summer.”

San Miguel River: Montrose County stipulates out of CWCB in-stream flow case

March 6, 2013


From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County has given up its objection to a state filing for in-stream flow rights on the San Miguel River in exchange for the Uravan Trust’s water rights when those become available. County commissioners on Thursday approved a stipulated agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board concerning the board’s application for in-stream flow rights.

After a separate and heavily contested 2010 filing, the county obtained water rights on the San Miguel last summer and must meet several benchmarks, including constructing at least one reservoir to capture the water.

More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.

CDPHE is moving ahead with permit for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill

March 2, 2013


Here’s the letter and order from Chris Urbina at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

Attached is my signed decision regarding the matter of Energy Fuels radioactive materials license and the pending appeal by Sheep Mountain Alliance. It is a legal document. On January 14, 2013, Judge Richard Dana decided that the hearing conducted was sufficient to meet the requirements of the Colorado Administrative Procedure Act. These decisions clear the way for the department’s final decision regarding the pending radioactive materials license application to be issued in April 2013.

Even though the Sheep Mountain Alliance appeal is being denied, the department will give serious consideration to the testimony provided in this hearing as the department decides whether to issue the license and what mitigation, if any, to include if the license is granted. We have listened, and will continue to listen, to diverse and comprehensive testimony from all interested parties regarding this application, from community members impacted by the potential licensing of the mill; from people who want jobs that would be created by a new mill; from environmentalists who want to know that public health and the environment will be protected; and from industry that wants to develop natural resources.

While there is a disagreement on the nature of this hearing process, there is no disagreement that it helped the state acquire additional information and perspectives useful to the department’s decision.

The license, if approved, will protect public health and the environment. The department’s decision will be based upon an extensive review of the application, and associated documents and testimony, including documents and testimony submitted in the November hearing, and a consideration of the short- and long-term impacts of the proposed mill, including radiological and non-radiological impacts to water, air and wildlife, as well as economic, social
and transportation-related impacts.

From The Denver Post:

Urbina’s executive order clears the way for a final decision on Energy Fuels request for a radioactive materials license for a proposed uranium and vanadium mill near Nucla. That decision is expected in April.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A state official on Thursday rejected an environmental organization’s appeal of a license for a uranium mill near Naturita, but stopped short of issuing a new permit.

The Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance last year appealed a decision by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a Denver District judge invalidated the license. As part of the ruling, the department was required to conduct hearings in which witnesses could be cross-examined, a process that was undertaken over several days last year in Nucla.

The decision by Dr. Christopher Urbina, executive director of the Health Department, leaves the question of whether to issue a radioactive materials-handling permit to Energy Fuels Inc. That decision will be taken up by the department’s radiation-management program, which is to make a decision in April on whether to reissue the permit.

Energy Fuels is planning to build a $150 million mill, the first to be built in the United States in three decades, near Naturita.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A favorable action by state regulators has the backers of a planned uranium mill in Montrose County saying that long-term economics also augur well for the mill.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is to decide in April whether to issue a radioactive materials-handling permit to Energy Fuels Inc., but on Thursday it rejected an appeal of a previous license by an environmental group. The decision, however, requires regulators within the department to consider comments made over several days last fall before an administrative law judge, Richard Dana. The ruling is “another step forward in the process,” Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said, noting that the company expects continued opposition from environmental groups.

The Sheep Mountain Alliance was pleased that the agency is required to consider evidence raised at the hearing in the fall. “In light of this damning evidence on the potential impacts of the Pinon Ridge Mill and the lack of a thorough and independent review process by the state, we believe they have no other option than to deny the license after a second more professionally conducted review process,” Director Hilary White said.

Environmental groups are “free to do what they wish,” Moore said, but “it seems to me they are wasting their members’ money and resources when they could be solving real environmental issues.”

Energy Fuels remains committed to constructing the $150 million mill, Moore said, noting that while the current market for uranium is “soft,” or about $43 a pound, the medium- to long-term economics of uranium “look better now than they even did pre-Fukushima.”

A tidal wave in 2011 swamped a nuclear reactor in the Fukushima province of Japan, stoking fears of nuclear power around the world and causing the price of uranium to fall dramatically.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Norwood and the Lone Cone Ditch Company settle with Telluride over San Miguel water rights application

December 27, 2012


From The Norwood Post (Patrick Alan Coleman/Katie Klingsporn):

The Town of Norwood along with the Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company reached a settlement with the Town of Telluride over Telluride’s opposition to applications for water rights on the San Miguel river. Norwood’s application, which came as a response to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) filing for increased in-stream flow to protect fish habitat, was meant to ensure water for 50 years of future growth along the 85 miles of line in the Norwood Water Commission (NWC) district.

The settlement reduces the proposed 16,300 acre-feet of water in five reservoirs proposed in the original cases filed. That amount was based in part on water commission studies suggesting how much water would be adequate for two percent growth in the NWC district up to the year 2060.

Under the proposed settlement, the Norwood Water Commission will withdraw claims for two of the five reservoirs — the Upper Gurley and Huff Gulch reservoirs — as well as the J&M Hughes Ditch enlargement. The NWC will also accept an overall storage capacity limitation of 2,250 acre-feet and a use limitation of 1,000 acre-feet annually. NWC must also select, within 12 years, one of the alternate reservoirs or a combination of them to develop, with a cumulative storage capacity of no more than 2,240 acre-feet, and abandon storage rights for the reservoirs not selected. In addition, the NWC will have to abandon reservoirs for which construction has not begun within 24 years, and forfeit water for which actual uses do not develop by 2060.

The Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company, meanwhile, will limit its use of water stored in the Lone Cone Reservoir enlargement to 1,750 acre-feet, and not sell its stored water allocation to NWC…

According to Norwood Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer, much of the reason for settling with Telluride was due to the expenses that would have likely been incurred by fighting the municipality in water court…

The water fight began shortly after the CWCB announced that it would be filing for increased in-stream flows in 2010. The announcement had counties and towns along the San Miguel river scrambling to file additional rites on streams, tributaries, and storage along the river in order to ensure that their rights would not be junior to those of the CWCB.

Initially affected parties joined together with the Southwestern Water Conservation District who had completed a study detailing how much water would be needed by the communities in the watershed as they grew into the future.

At that time the Town of Norwood was meeting and working in tandem with a coalition that included Nucla, Naturita, their Montrose county representatives and representatives from San Miguel county. The initial plan was for the parties to file for water in conjunction.

In September of 2010, both Montrose county and San Miguel county pulled out of the endeavor due to legal questions and vagaries of the proposed group filing. While Montrose county continued to support its municipalities by pursuing rights for future water, the dissolution of the initial partnership left the town of Norwood on its own with just one month to file before the CWCB.

More San Miguel River coverage here and here.

The Telluride Town Council approves Bridal Veil settlement between the town and Idarado

December 16, 2012


From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

The agreement shores up Telluride’s ability to develop a new municipal water supply high above town in Bridal Veil Basin, and streamlines its path toward constructing the new Pandora Water Treatment Plant at the foot of Black Bear Pass.

Idarado, meanwhile, gets assurances that enough water from Bridal Veil Basin will continue to flow into the San Miguel River during low-flow winter months to dilute the zinc discharged by the historic Treasury Tunnel, thus enabling the mining company to adhere to strict state-imposed environmental obligations.

Council also unanimously passed on second reading a related ordinance authorizing the conveyance of certain remedial and residual water rights back to Idarado.

Witnessing the occasion were Larry Fisk, the vice president of Idarado Mining Company, and Jay Montgomery, a Boulder-based water rights attorney who for two decades has captained the town’s complicated legal skirmishes with Idarado.

Telluride obtained extensive water rights in Bridal Veil Basin from the Idarado Mining Co. in the 1992 settlement of a lawsuit arising out of the contamination of wells in Town Park. Over the course of years of legal wrangling, the town won the approval to convert those historic industrial water rights to municipal use.

More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.

Crystal River: Momentum building for Wild and Scenic designation

December 3, 2012


Here’s an analysis of efforts to protect the Crystal River under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for The Aspen Daily News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Thirty-nine miles of the Crystal River are already “eligible” for designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Now four organizations are building local support to determine if much of the river is also “suitable” for protection under the act.

Passed in 1968, the act allows local and regional communities to develop a federally backed management plan designed to preserve and protect a free-flowing river such as the Crystal River, which runs from the back of the Maroon Bells to the lower Roaring Fork River through Crystal, Marble, Redstone and Carbondale.

Wild and Scenic status, which ultimately requires an act of Congress to obtain, prevents a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on a Wild and Scenic-designated river.

And that’s one big reason why Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and American Rivers are exploring Wild and Scenic status for the Crystal — because it would likely block a potential dam and reservoir from being built at Placita, an old coal town between Marble and Redstone.

The West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District are fighting to retain conditional water rights that could allow for a dam across the Crystal and a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir.

The river district says such a reservoir could put more water in the often parched lower Crystal River in the fall and could also provide hydropower…

Chuck Wanner, a former Fort Collins city council member, said at the meetings that it took 10 years to get sections of the Cache La Poudre River on the Eastern Slope designated under Wild and Scenic.

Today, that’s the only river in the state that carries the designation and no river in the vast Colorado River basin is officially Wild and Scenic.

When asked about that via email, Ely of Pitkin County said he thought Colorado had only one designated river because of the “lack of information as to the benefits and restrictions of the designation, and the time and dedication it takes to get it through Congress.”

Another reason may be that once a river is designated Wild and Scenic, the federal government becomes a stakeholder on the river and has a chance to review potential changes to it, such as any new water rights. Some may feel that Colorado water law is complicated enough already.

And then there is the fact that designation eliminates the possibility of federal funding for future water projects, which can dampen the enthusiasm of most cities, counties and water districts.

Whatever the reasons for scarcity in Colorado, Pitkin County is ready to lead a Wild and Scenic process for the Crystal River.

“I think the Crystal has the potential to be a nice clean straightforward effort because there are no out-of-basin uses yet,” Ely wrote. “If there is interest in going forward, we’re happy to be the laboring oar and do that work.”[...]

While today only the Cache la Poudre River has stretches that are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the BLM is preparing a suitability study on a number of area river stretches.

A final EIS is expected to be released in early 2013 by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office followed by a record of decision in 2014 for the following rivers and river sections:

• Abrams Creek

• Battlement Creek

• Colorado River — State Bridge to Dotsero

• Colorado River — Glenwood Canyon to approximately 1-mile east of No Name Creek

• Deep Creek — From the BLM/Forest Service land boundary to the Deep Creek ditch diversion

• Deep Creek — From the Deep Creek ditch diversion to the BLM/private land boundary

• Eagle River

• Egeria Creek

• Hack Creek

• Mitchell Creek

• No Name Creek

• Rock Creek

• Thompson Creek

• East Middle Fork Parachute Creek Complex

• East Fork Parachute Creek Complex

For more information on regarding Wild and Scenic suitability on these rivers, search for “Colorado River Valley Draft Resource Management Plan,” which will lead you to a BLM website that contains the draft EIS document.

The BLM is also reviewing a number of stretches on major rivers in Colorado, either for eligibility or suitability, including:

• Animas River

• Dolores River

• San Miguel River

• Gunnison River

• Colorado River

• Blue River

In all, according to Deanna Masteron, a public affairs specialist with the BLM in Lakewood, the BLM is currently analyzing more than 100 segments in Colorado through various land-use plans. The Forest Service also has the ability to analyze rivers for Wild and Scenic designation.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here and here.

Idarado and Telluride find their way to a settlement agreement

November 24, 2012


From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

If council approves the settlement agreement, which it anticipates doing at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11, it will put an end to a decades-long legal battle between the town and Idarado (Idarado’s parent company is the Newmont Mining Corporation) over the town’s water supply, and streamline the path toward constructing the new Pandora Water Treatment Plant, ensuring Telluride a plentiful municipal water supply well into the future…

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger described the process of reaching the settlement agreement as “one of the more intensive engineering and legal efforts the town has ever undertaken…

The agreement addresses ways in which the Bridal Veil Water System can be improved and enhanced so that yield can be increased for the benefit of the Town of Telluride and Idarado.

One of the key issues it resolves is the timing of how the town can operate its projected Pandora Water Treatment Plant to meet the its demands and still be sensitive to environmental concerns Idarado continues to address with the State of Colorado, including keeping zinc levels in the San Miguel River at acceptable levels.

Basically, the town has agreed to take less water (.8 cubic feet per second, or about a half-million gallons per day) from Bridal Veil Basin in the winter months. This amount of water can be supplemented with water from its current municipal water treatment plant at Mill Creek, which has a maximum capacity of 1.5 cfs.

If the town’s demand is still not met, it retains the right to go back to Bridal Veil Basin to satisfy the rest of its demand. In the winter months, peak demand in Telluride currently spikes at about 1.1 cfs so the town would still be drawing 70 to 80 percent of its water out of Bridal Veil Basin…

Idarado, meanwhile, has given the town greater flexibility to draw basically as much water as it needs out of Bridal Veil Basin to meet its summer demand which currently peaks at 1.9 cfs.

One of the benefits Idarado is offering the town in exchange for the timing restrictions is a million dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements to maximize the efficiency of the historic Bridal Veil Water System, some components of which date back to the 1880s. Idarado has also agreed to assume full responsibility for maintenance of upper reaches of the system above the Bridal Veil Powerhouse.

Idarado is also allowing the town to incorporate a hydroelectric element into its new Pandora Water Treatment Project. Previously, the company did not consent to the proposed hydro design. Now, under the terms of the settlement agreement, Idarado has given a thumbs-up to hydro as a permitted use, and has also given authorization to combine its own water with the town’s, to double the amount of water going through the system and generate more electricity at no cost to the town.

The term of the agreement is 20 years, but after year 10, there are mechanisms in the settlement agreement to increase the town’s draw on water if it experiences a spike in demand. These mechanisms are not tied to Idarado’s zinc compliance issues…

The crown jewel of the Bridal Veil Water System is Blue Lake, a pristine mountain lake that is 330 feet deep and holds 6,000 acre feet of water. The water flows into the Bridal Veil Hydroelectric Plant via a network of historic pipelines, diversion and conveyance structures associated with the senior water rights that Idarado and the town now share at a ratio of about 60/40.

Telluride obtained extensive water rights in Bridal Veil Basin from the Idarado Mining Co. in the 1992 settlement of a lawsuit arising out of the contamination of wells in Town Park. Over the course of a decade of legal wrangling, the town won the approval to convert these historic industrial water rights to municipal use. These senior water rights, which include a portion of the tremendous water storage capacity of Blue Lake, enabled Telluride to eventually develop the Pandora Water Treatment System now under construction which is capable of delivering pristine mountain water to its citizenry.

More coverage from Katie Klingsporn writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. Here’s and excerpt:

The water dispute is rooted in a long history of settlements, environmental mandates, water rights and expansion plans.

In the late ‘80s, the state of Colorado brought a lawsuit against Idarado related to environmental issues left from its past mining activities. In a settlement reached in that case, Idarado was required to perform certain environmental remediation activities and keep the water in the San Miguel River to certain standards.

Around the same time, the town noticed pollution in Town Park wells and also asserted claims against Idarado. In 1992, the town and Idarado entered into a settlement agreement. In an effort to put to bed the potential town lawsuit and to seek the town’s approval of the settlement with the state, Idarado offered to provide the town water rights and water structures in Bridal Veil basin as an alternative municipal water supply.

In 2005, the two parties entered into another agreement. This time, Idarado offered to convey a two-acre site near the Pandora Mill to the town, which the town is planning to use for the site of its new water treatment plant. The plant is part of a years-long plan to ensure that the town has a enough water to meet its future needs.

But around 2007, Idarado began expressing concerns about how the town’s proposed water draws for the treatment plant would impact its ability to comply with the state’s water quality standards. The water draw, according to Idarado, could adversely impact its compliance, triggering significant and costly obligations for the company.

That issue has been at the center of the town’s negotiations with Idarado. And after two years of extensive talks, the two parties have chiseled out a settlement…

“It basically sets up a priority system,” [Town Attorney Kevin Geiger] said.

More San Miguel River Watershed coverage here.

Piñon Ridge uranium mill hearing recap: Energy Fuels updates their expert witness list, public comment today

November 12, 2012


From email from the Sheep Mountain Alliance (Hillary White):

SMA experts Ann Maest and Connie Travers from Stratus Consulting and Dr. Thomas Powers, a socioeconomic expert, took the stand Friday. Instead of getting into the details of their solid and rather technical testimony, raising significant issues with the analysis done by both EF and the State, I’ll highlight the scramble to respond. After months of preparation and discovery by all parties to establish the grounds for this hearing, EF opted to only bring Frank Filas, their on and off environmental project manager as their expert. Now, based on the first few days of testimony, EF and the State have updated their expert list. They apparently see the need to address a growing number of unanswered questions.

Following Monday’s public comment session starting at 8:30am, the hearing will continue to Tuesday…

The purpose of this hearing is to establish a record – for Energy Fuels, a record of the completeness and adequacy of the application, and for SMA and opposing parties a record of an incomplete and scientifically and technically unsound application.

The more specific you can make you comments the better. Comment time is unlimited, but please remember that there may be many people who would like to say something and that Judge Dana has been listening to testimony eight hours a day for four days.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Piñon Ridge uranium mill hearing recap

November 10, 2012


From email from the Sheep Mountain Alliance (Hillary White):

After opening statements by all the parties kicked off the proceedings on Wed., Frank Filas, Environmental Project Manager for Energy Fuels took the stand and remained there through most of today. Mr. Filas’ testimony generally covered the entire length of the application submitted by Energy Fuels and set up the opportunity for SMA’s experts to point several deficiencies during the next few days. Matt Sandler for Rocky Mountain Wild conducted his cross examination today focused on wildlife impacts and NEPA and ESA adherence.

After Mr. Filas the focus turned to air quality impacts. Dr. Craig Little, a health physicist and radio ecologist who did the air dispersion modeling for Energy Fuels took the stand. It was a rather technical discussion and seemed to leave more questions than answers. Main questions surrounded the type of modeling used and if it could adequately address long distance impact determinations.

Next, Nancy Chick who works for the State in the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) was called. As an aside, the APCD has been processing Energy Fuels air quality permit, a necessary part of the license for several years. The department has sent data and modeling back to Energy Fuels several times and analysis is ongoing but somewhat on hold according to the department. Ms. Chick testified to the data she has considered to date…

During the first 2 days there have been many strong comments helping SMA establish that record. We know the residents of the West End deserve good jobs and a healthy economy, but if they want a uranium mill to provide that for them we much know the cost of that mill not only to their communities but to the surrounding ones as well. Without the real costs and analysis of real impacts no one can make an informed decision.

More coverage from Gus Jarvis writing for The Telluride Watch. From the article:

Two days before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began a new public hearing process over Energy Fuels, Inc.’s application for a radioactive materials license to build the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, a group of residents who live near the Cotter Uranium Mill/superfund site in Cañon City sent a letter to Judge Richard Dana over concerns about the state’s ability to provide adequate over a new uranium mill.

The letter from the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste group, a nonprofit organization, was sent to Dana on Monday. Dana is presiding over the hearing, which began in Nucla Wednesday evening.

The members of the group, who live near the Superfund site in Cañon City, stated in their letter that their concerns about the new Piñon Ridge mill stem from years of experience in dealing with CDPHE regulators on the Cotter Mill cleanup, which has been managed by the state since the late 1980s.

“Our biggest concern is that our state does not have the staff or the resources devoted to regulating a site like this, and that is where a lot of problems will come from,” the group’s co-chair Sharyn Cunningham said in a telephone interview Monday. “If the mill is built, and once they find contamination – and they will – our concern is whether or not the people living nearby will be protected by the state agencies.

“I do not believe they will be protected.”

More coverage from Heather Sackett writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

About 25 audience members filtered into the wood-paneled room for the last hour of the hearing, which had been set aside for public comment. Placerville resident Dan Chancellor said his father’s home near Grand Junction had been built on a pile of mine tailings. At age 58, his father died of a type of lung cancer associated with radioactive materials, he said.

“Will you fail again to protect me and my family?” Chancellor asked. “There is no guarantee about jobs.”

But Ayngel Overson, a lifelong resident of Nucla, echoed a point of view held by many in the economically depressed West End. She said her grandfather was a uranium miner, and that the mill opening represents jobs in the rural area. She choked up as she described a community in decline and how graduating classes at Nucla High School have dwindled to around a dozen. She addressed her comments to those opposing the mill.

“For five years we have been waiting for jobs,” Overson told the crowd. “We can’t make it anymore … Right now, this is all they’ve got. Uranium doesn’t scare us. It’s something we’ve learned to live with. You are stopping people from surviving.”

But the aim of the four-day hearing, which continues through Monday, is not to argue the merits or dangers of the proposed mill. The purpose of the long-anticipated hearing, held at the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge in Nucla, is for Toronto-based Energy Fuels, Inc. to supplement its application for a radioactive materials license and to give those with party status the opportunity to cross-examine the company’s representatives.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

CDPHE: Hearings for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill on Wednesday

November 5, 2012


From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

The hearings are set to begin Wednesday morning and could run through Nov. 13. They will be held each day at the Moose Lodge in Nucla from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with public comment set to start at 4 p.m. The hearings are the result of a lawsuit filed against the state agency that issued the licence, and represent another chapter in the divisive issue of uranium development in the region…

Parties will be presenting verbal arguments for and against the mill’s license to Richard Dana, who is the appointed hearing officer on the issue. Dana has been chosen by the state to act as an independent party between the different interests involved with the Piñon Ridge uranium mill project. The hearing format will consist of arguments and cross-examination from lawyers representing different parties of interest, statements from industry specialists and other experts as well as a section for members of the public to make their points…

Following the hearings, Dana will submit his recommendations and findings on whether or not the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment should issue the license. But the CDPHE will make the final decision on the license next spring with a final statement due by April 27.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here. More nuclear coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: A look at the basins of Southwestern Colorado

October 31, 2012


Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:

Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.

This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.

The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.

Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Restoration: Cutthroats were recently seen doing backflips from joy in their restored habitat at Woods Lake

October 20, 2012


From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

Once the population is established at Woods Lake, the habitat will provide the broodstock, which will eventually assist in cutthroat conservation efforts throughout the Dolores and Gunnison river basins. To make sure a healthy population of cutthroats survive at Woods Lake, Kowalski said, biologists will go back to the lake in the summer of 2013 and release several thousand fry, which, along with the spawning adults released in 2012, will make for a healthy and diverse population.

“We’ll do that to give us multiple age classes of fish and to provide good genetic diversity,” Kowalski said. “The biggest thing for us now is getting the population built up, so there’s plenty of fish for anglers to catch. The cutthroat should do great in this habitat. The lake has been fishless for two years and the aquatic invertebrates have exploded, so the lake is full of food for them. Essentially we have taken these fish confined to a tiny little stream and placed them into a wide, open habitat with no competitors.

“They should have excellent growth up there.”

Kowalski said anglers can expect to start catching cutthroat trout in the summer of 2013 from Woods Lake, but it will be a couple of years before there are large numbers of older-age fish to catch. Anglers are encouraged to release all fish they catch for the next couple of years to allow the population to grow. Fishing in the lake and streams above is restricted to artificial flies and lures only.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Telluride and San Miguel County settle lawsuit over the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

October 16, 2012


Update: From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The settlement includes provisions that town and county officials say address their utmost concerns about the mill’s potential impacts to air and water quality and the health of the region’s denizens. It sets out rules that Energy Fuels — the Canadian company proposing to build and operate the mill — would have to follow regarding trucking its ore, allows the town and county inspection rights of Energy Fuels’ facilities and will clear the way for a water monitoring system that gives the local governments the power to force Energy Fuels into corrective actions if findings dictate so.

“At least for the issues that were the most central to our concerns, which were water and air quality in eastern San Miguel County, we feel that we have addressed those concerns,” said Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger. “We’re prepared to move out of the way and let the process proceed.”

The Telluride Town Council formally approved the signing of the agreement this week; the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners has authorized the signing, and plans to formally ratify it at its meeting on Wednesday.

Both the town and county are maintaining their party status in the upcoming court-ordered hearings over Piñon Ridge in Nucla, though officials say they don’t anticipate participating in a formal role.

Update: From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

a judge has given three conservation groups formal standing for the hearings, which means that environmental advocates will be able to introduce evidence, testify and cross-examine witnesses.
The Piñon Ridge mill is proposed for the Paradox Valley, in southwestern Colorado near the Dolores River. The three groups — Rocky Mountain Wild, Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity — will join the towns of Telluride, Ophir, and San Miguel County in voicing concerns about the proposed mill’s threats to air, water, wildlife and tourism…

The upcoming proceedings will give towns, counties, scientists, conservation groups and the public a chance to challenge the application and make sure that all public health, safety and environmental concerns are addressed.

Based on the promise of jobs, there is some support for the mill among residents of some of the hardscrabble towns in the region, but conservation groups and tourism-dependent communities are dead-set against the mill.

Along with health and environmental concerns, there are fundamental question about the economics of uranium mining, as the mill proposal is seen as a speculative play based on as-yet undeveloped uranium resources.
The battle over the mill is symbolic of the larger struggle in the region, as energy companies look to make every play they can, while conservation advocates strive to protect pristine lands.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The company planning to build a uranium mill near Naturita settled with Telluride and San Miguel County in a lawsuit aimed at halting construction of the mill.

“This gets us part of the way there,” Curtis Moore, spokesman for Energy Fuels, said of the agreement, which removes two of four plaintiffs in the case brought originally by the Sheep Mountain Alliance. The alliance is not involved in the settlement.

The agreement with Telluride and San Miguel County requires Energy Fuels to take several actions once the mill is built, ones that Moore said are intended to reassure residents of San Miguel County that they won’t be affected by the mill.

Among the issues included in the settlement:

■ Energy Fuels will participate in a monitoring program for the watershed above Telluride;

■ New standards and restrictions will be placed on trucks passing through San Miguel County, including requirements that trucks have the company name and are numbered so that authorities can be contacted if spills occur;

■ Town and county officials will be allowed to inspect the mill and mines that feed it so any spills can be traced;

■ Bonds will be increased from about $12 million to $15 million.

“This will give people the peace of mind that our studies and our plans will indeed not affect the watersheds,” Moore said.

The Telluride Town Council has approved the settlement and the San Miguel County Commission will vote on it next week…

The settlement doesn’t affect an administrative hearing set to begin next week in Nucla, in which an administrative-law judge will consider whether to reinstate the radioactive-materials-handling license issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. A Denver District judge revoked the license this summer and ordered the administrative hearing.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

All objectors have stipulated out of San Miguel County’s water rights application

October 12, 2012


From the Montrose County Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

District Judge J. Steven Patrick on Wednesday signed an order approving stipulations between the county, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state and division engineers. Patrick must yet issue a formal decree, which is expected soon.

The county filed in 2010 for water rights on the San Miguel River and said it acted quickly so that its application could come in ahead of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s. Initially, the county wanted up to six reservoir sites and several thousand acre-feet of water. Controversy arose after environmental groups questioned the overall plan as a “water grab” and others raised questions about eminent domain.

More San Miguel River Watershed coverage here and here.


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