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

October 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River District coverage here.


Rico: Progress on waterline and wetlands restoration

October 8, 2012

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From the Dolores Star:

Town Manager Michael England gave an update on the water project progress. The pipeline installation is moving forward, but not at the established goals presented by the contractor-BWR. The town has installed approximately 4,000 feet of new 6-inch transmission line as of Aug. 13. BWR has assembled a second crew in the last week to increase installation of the 6-inch pipeline. Franklin Blasting has completed the needed work in the rock areas to keep the crews working in a timely manner.

Karmen King/Grayling Environmental LLC has been on site reviewing the wetlands area construction and reclamation. Ms. King stated the work has been successful and the grass is beginning to grow along with the willows that were planted for replacement. Ms. King will follow up this with the Army Corps and send them a Compliance Certificate. Ms. King will also send photos for their review and approval. The Wetland’s Permit was issued under the name of the Town, which the town is held responsible for the work performed. At this time the town is presenting the need to complete the project as presented and agreed to within the time frame of Oct. 31.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.


Restoration: CPW reintroduces cutthroats to Woods Lake

September 29, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocked the lake with 250 cutthroat trout last week as part of an ongoing project to restore the species to its native habitat. Transporting the fish was done via horseback and truck from a small stream on the Uncompahgre Plateau the same day. The cutthroat will take around two years to create a sustainable population in their new home, according to CPW. The reintroduction plan ultimately calls for more than 2,000 fish to be stocked into the lake and its surrounding tributaries — the next stocking is planned for the spring of 2013. “We’ll do [the spring relocation] to give us multiple age classes of fish and to provide good genetic diversity,” said Dan Kowalski, an aquatic researcher with Parks and Wildlife in Montrose, in a release.

The 24-acre lake is located off of Forest Service Road 618 west of Telluride and was chosen for a number of reasons — mainly its pristine condition and remote location. But its natural barriers also prevent non-native species from gaining access…

In Colorado, there are three species of cutthroat trout in different regions of the state. Colorado River cutthroat trout live in drainages west of the continental divide, Greenback cutthroat trout are in the South Platte and Arkansas River drainages, and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout are found in streams draining into the San Luis Valley, according to Parks and Wildlife.

Efforts to restore the species have been ongoing since the early 1970s, when Greenback trout was listed as endangered. Greenbacks currently have a lesser-threatened classification.

According to Parks and Wildlife, another cutthroat restoration project is ongoing in the upper Hermosa Creek drainage near the Durango Mountain Resort in San Juan County. When that project is completed in about five years, more than 20 miles of Hermosa Creek and feeder streams will be home to native cutthroats.

More restoration coverage here and here.


Public Scoping Continues on Paradox Valley Salinity Control Projects, meetings September 25, 26 and 27

September 25, 2012

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

Reclamation announced today that it will hold three public scoping meetings to solicit public input on a planning report and environmental impact statement concerning the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit, located near Bedrock, Colo. The meetings will be held:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. – Paradox, Colo., Paradox Valley School, 21501 6 Mile Road

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. – Montrose, Colo., Holiday Inn Express, 1391 S Townsend Ave.

Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. – Grand Junction, Colo., Colorado Mesa University, Student Center, 1100 North Ave., Room 221

Historically, the Dolores River picked up an estimated 205,000 tons of salt annually as it passed through the Paradox Valley. Since the mid-1990’s much of this salt has been collected by the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit in shallow wells along the Dolores River and then injected into deep subsurface geologic formations. The deep well injection program has removed about 110,000 tons of salt annually from the Dolores and Colorado rivers.

The current deep injection well is projected to reach the end of its useful life in three to five years under current operations. Reclamation is seeking public input to identify and evaluate brine disposal alternatives to replace or supplement the existing brine injection well. Initial alternatives include developing a new injection well and using evaporation ponds.

The project will be described and questions will be answered at the meetings; comments may be provided at the scoping meeting, emailed to tstroh@usbr.gov or mailed to Bureau of Reclamation, 2764 Compass Drive, Suite 106, Grand Junction CO 81506 by November 26, 2012.

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

The deep brine injection well is projected to reach the end of its useful life in three to five years under current operation, and the Bureau of Reclamation is seeking public comments to identify and evaluate brine disposal alternatives to replace or supplement the existing well. Initial alternatives include developing a new injection well or using evaporation ponds.

Installed in the mid-1990s, the Paradox Valley Salinity Control Unit has removed an estimated 110,000 tons of salt annually from the Dolores River as its waters passed through the Paradox Valley. Much of the salt is collected in shallow wells along the river and then injected deep into subsurface geologic formations.

“From our perspective, this has worked really well,” Bureau of Reclamation public relations specialist Justyn Hock said in an interview last week. “It makes a big impact in reducing the salt content in the river and improves the water quality downstream.”

Since the unit is nearing the end of its lifespan, Hock says the agency is beginning to contemplate its options on how to move forward with a similar injection unit or something completely different altogether.

“This is a unique project and we have been doing this for a while and its worked great,” she said. “Before we decide to do a new project, we are going to make sure this is still the best way to do it or find out if there is a better way. Two of the options we have right now are installing a new well or building evaporation ponds. We are open to other options if people have ideas.”

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


Colorado Water Quality Control Commission: Three Dolores River Watershed creeks get ‘outstanding water’ designation

September 20, 2012

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I believe cutthroats were seen doing backflips celebrating the news. Here’s a report from Caleb Soptelean writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

The Little Taylor, Rio Lado and Spring Creek drainages were selected for protection because they contain Colorado River cutthroat trout. The decision was made on Tuesday, Sept. 11 by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

The Dolores River Anglers were the “movers and shakers” behind the effort…

The Dolores River Anglers notified Parks and Wildlife of the existence of the trout between Dolores and Rico north of Highway 145, said Burkett, who worked with Chuck Wanner on the application. The state agency is taking fry from the creeks and using them for brood stock since they are such a pure strain, [Chris Burkett] said…

The state has given 15 creeks and their tributaries the “outstanding water” designation since 2006, according to Anthony. The largest of these are Hermosa and Rapid creeks. These do not include wilderness areas or national parks.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


Mancos and Dolores projects update — July end of month status

September 17, 2012

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From Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,914 acrefeet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 7,322 acre-feet average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 52/31 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 69 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 260,582 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 315,968average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,301 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 42,398 acre-feet were released for trans-basin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 71/69 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here. More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.


The San Miguel County Commissioners alert the CDPHE to four concerns with respect to the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

September 8, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

The county’s four issues are: Whether the claimed socio-economic benefits of the project would outweigh the negative socio-economic impacts; if the milling and mining would result in the accumulation of airborne radioactive contaminants in the surrounding high mountain basins; if the company would be able to cover the cost of decontamination, decommissioning, reclamation and long term monitoring of the facility and whether the company could protect the public from the hazards of accidents when hauling radioactive yellowcake on Highway 141…

County commissioner Art Goodtimes said air quality is a concern since Telluride and much of San Miguel County is downwind from the proposed mill site. But Goodtimes said the mill itself is not as much of a concern to him as the many mines from which the mill will get its uranium.

“The mill can operate without bringing a large amount of dust into the air, but when you have a lot of different mines, the small outfits may or may not have sufficient controls to control dust,” Goodtimes said. “The regulatory agencies don’t consider that when licensing a mill like this.”

In anticipation of Piñon Ridge becoming operational, the county has begun collecting snow samples from near Alta Lakes, Ophir and Telluride Ski Resort to get baseline data about radioactive particles in the area.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


San Miguel River: Montrose County water rights application heading to trial

August 30, 2012

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County’s stipulation with several objectors in its water rights case has been accepted by District Judge J. Steven Patrick, court records show. A three-day trial remains set, however, as the stipulation did not encompass all 29 objectors to the county’s filing for water rights on the San Miguel River. The Colorado Water Conservation Board in June had filed a statement of opposition, as well as a motion to intervene in the case “due to information that was not in the (water rights) applications, but was revealed in the engineering report,” unclear language, and proposed actions, such as appropriating instream flow and recreational in-channel diversions, that were not listed in the application.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


San Miguel River: Montrose County water rights application amended, some objectors remain

August 27, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The agreement, which was also signed by the Town of Telluride, allows Montrose County far fewer water rights — both in volume and the ability to build reservoirs — than it originally applied for. The agreement mandates that the county drop its claims for the Marie Scott Reservoir and other facilities, which were proposed to be constructed near Specie and Beaver mesas, and forces Montrose County to select, within six years, one or two of the remaining four proposed new reservoirs to develop and abandon the others. It subjects all the water rights to volumetric restrictions of 3,200 acre-feet, and subjects the county to what are known as need-based reality checks. Under this measure, Montrose County is given a period of time to demonstrate that the predictions it had to justify the water rights applications were valid. If it fails to meet those requirements, its water use limit will be reduced.

The Town of Telluride, which was one of the parties that filed in opposition to the county’s application, signed off on the settlement agreement after determining that it sufficiently protects the water in the river. Town Attorney Kevin Geiger said the town will likely send the judge a fully executed stipulation and proposed decree this week to consider entering as an order to the court…

Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis, meanwhile, said he is happy with the settlement. He feels the agreement is a fair and realistic settlement that provides the county enough water to meet its needs…

Not everyone has given it the OK, however. The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Division of Water Resources remain as objectors; Montrose County Attorney Bob Hill told the Montrose Daily Press this week that the county is working out some details with them. And Telluride-based environmental organization Sheep Mountain Alliance dropped out of the settlement agreement to preserve its right to challenge Montrose County in the future…

Montrose County filed the six applications for water rights in the San Miguel River and its tributaries in 2010. It filed the applications in a bid to get ahead of a planned Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow water rights application, which aims at ensuring minimum flows in the waterway to protect aquatic habitat, and cited a need to supply future industrial, residential and commercial development, including a golf course, uranium milling activity and an anticipated population growth.

In its filings, Montrose County sought to adjudicate diversions of more than four cubic feet per second, six separate reservoirs and reservoir enlargements with a capacity of more than 51,000 acre-feet and potential annual diversions of more than 96,000 acre-feet, and water exchanges to facilitate diversions, storage and water delivery, according to Town of Telluride documents.

The filing raised alarms in the river’s watershed; soon, the Town of Telluride filed statements of opposition, joining several other objectors in the case, including Sheep Mountain Alliance, the owner of Gateway Resorts, San Miguel County and private landowners in the region.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


New public hearing for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

August 14, 2012

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From the Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

In a ruling issued June 13, Judge John McMullen ruled the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s initial issuance of the radioactive materials license was unlawful because a formal, adjudicatory hearing was not properly provided. McMullen ordered a new hearing, which will begin on Oct. 15. At that time exhibits will be offered for admission and written testimony will be filed in order to provide an opportunity for parties to cross-examine expert witnesses.

Public comment will not be received at the Oct. 15 hearing, but the hearing officer will determine when public comment will be received when the hearing is reconvened on Nov. 7, in Nucla.

Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the upcoming public hearing will be different from the public-comment setting of the previous hearing in that it will be more like a trial.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Restoration: Woods Lake fish are going to get a dose of Rotenone to pave the way for expanded cutthroat habitat

August 13, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

Over the past year, the lake and its tributaries — located off of Forest Service Road 618 west of Telluride — have been the subject of a Colorado Parks and Wildlife project to eliminate non-native trout, mainly brookies and browns, to make way for native cutthroats. Though the project was supposed to be complete by this summer, an assessment revealed brooke trout are still living the lake.

“Last year we treated the lake and tributaries and then they went back this summer, and we found mainly young of the year — brooke trout,” said John Alves, a Senior aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It looks like some of them might have spawned before we got the project going last year, so there’s some that we have to go hit again this year, that’s going to happen next week.” The lake will be treated Aug. 14-16 with a chemical called Rotenone. Alves said the treatment will focus on areas of the lake where the brooke trout were found.

Another assessment will be done after the treatment via electro fishing and gill netting. If it is then determined the lake is ready for a transplant of cutthroat, the fish could be transported into the area as soon as this fall. If not, the lake will be left barren until next year…

The transplant will involve at least 2,000 cutthroats a year, which will be taken from different brood stocks and hatcheries around the state. Though no specific source for the fish has been determined, Alves said Kelso Creek in the Uncompahgre National Forest is a likely candidate.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here and here.


Telluride: Engineering report rates the town’s water system as ‘poor’ and the sewer system as ‘fair’

August 9, 2012

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

Engineers from Farnsworth Group presented a review of Telluride’s water and sewer systems to the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday. In their assessment, Engineers Xuehua Bai and Eric Garner reviewed the health of miles of the town’s pipeline based on factors like age and material of the pipe, assigned scores to segments of the system and gave overall ratings. Based on their data, they concluded that the overall rating of the town’s municipal water system is poor, while the sewer system fared better with a rating of fair.

The town’s municipal water system is fed by Mill Creek, and includes the treatment plant at Mill Creek, a backup source at Stillwell Tunnel, three storage tanks and 19.6 miles of pipeline…

The Farnsworth Group concluded that the town needs to replace 14,000 feet of its water pipelines, or 13.6 percent of the total water line. The cost is estimated to be about $1.6 million, although that estimate is based on 2011 prices.

In the sewer system, meanwhile, the engineers identified 5,200 feet of pipeline, or 4.2 percent of the overall sewer line, that needs to be replaced, at a cost of $660,000.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Piñon Ridge Mill: New hearing for proposed mill license to take place in November

August 6, 2012

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The new hearing was scheduled after Denver District Court Judge John McMullen ruled in June that the state’s previous review process was unlawful. Conservation groups and community activists and towns in the area have repeatedly expressed concerns about potential impacts to air and water quality from the proposed mill…

Following the court’s ruling, the parties in the lawsuit negotiated the terms of the formal hearing process, which will allow the public to provide oral or written comments and also allow other organizations and individuals to enter the proceedings more formally with the right to submit evidence and testimony and cross-examine witnesses. The proceeding will be conducted by an independent hearing officer. Under the negotiated agreement, the state will be required to consider all new information before making a decision on whether to grant a new license to Energy Fuels. The final deadline for the licensing decision is April 27, 2013…

The hearing will be held between Nov. 7 and 13, 2012, and a day has been set aside during that week to take public comment, providing the first meaningful opportunity to have the public’s opinions considered in the state process, according to Travis Stills, the attorney representing Sheep Mountain Alliance.

To begin the formal process, CDPHE will issue a public notice on Aug. 7. The public notice will identify the hearing officer for the proceedings, the specific location of the hearing and provide a deadline for interested organizations and individuals to file for formal party status.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


McPhee and Jackson Gulch reservoirs status

August 3, 2012

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From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 6,020 acre-feet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 9,014 acre-feet average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 76/51 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 88 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 299,646 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 343,394 average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,120 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 45,079 acre-feet were released for trans-basin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 70/57 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

Questions can be directed to the Southern Water Management Group, Resource Management Division of the Western Colorado Area Office, Durango.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here. More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.


Illegal Stocking Hits Miramonte Trout Fishery: Rotenone to the rescue

July 30, 2012

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is planning to take action to eradicate smallmouth bass at Miramonte Reservoir where they’ve become established after being stocked illegally.

The agency will utilize an organic pesticide to kill all the fish in the reservoir and then rebuild this renowned trout fishery that attracts anglers from throughout the West. The operation is tentatively scheduled to occur in late summer or fall of 2013.

In the meantime, Parks and Wildlife is implementing an emergency order that removes all bag and possession limits on smallmouth bass at Miramonte Reservoir.

“Killing all the fish in the reservoir lake 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.”

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 still-water 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 contribute $1.5 million to the economy of San Miguel County.

Miramonte is a very productive reservoir, allowing Parks and Wildlife to stock thousands of fingerling trout every year. The trout grow quickly and reach quality size within two years.

“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 warm-water 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 fish in the reservoir.

“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 native fish downstream. 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 and competition 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, that 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 local communities,” DelPiccolo said.

Draining and treating a reservoir is also expensive and takes money away from other important aquatic habitat projects. The Miramonte operation will cost more than $100,000, not including staff time. The reservoir will be drawn down to a small pool and the chemical Rotenone will be applied to the remaining water and feeder streams to kill all 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.

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.

For more information about fisheries management in Colorado and aquatic nuisance species, see: http://wildlife.state.co.us/FISHING/Pages/Fishing.aspx.

More restoration coverage here and here.


Plateau Creek: The Dolores Water Conservancy District is moving on a pumpback hydroelectric project

July 17, 2012

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The paperwork filed by the local water district is a competing proposal, a response to a similar application filed by Bellevue, Wash., engineering firm INCA Engineers. DWCD’s permit application, filed on May 10, seeks “municipal preference” for feasibility studies over the out-of-state company, which filed application paperwork with FERC on Nov. 30, 2011.

DWCD hopes its historic water rights and involvement in local water issues will win the day when permits are awarded, according to district manager Mike Preston. “DWCD holds the water rights on McPhee and certainly Plateau Creek is a tributary to McPhee Reservoir,” Preston said. “We want to maintain local control over this issue. We believe we have municipal preference because we are what is call a municipal provider, and we think we are very likely to be granted the permit.”

The local water conservancy district already operates two hydropower plants owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, Preston said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


Telluride water system update: Raw water pipeline construction has started

July 15, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger was happy to report last week that work on the raw water pipeline near the Bridal Veil Hydroelectric Power Plant has commenced, and once completed it will be the final piece of pipeline infrastructure needed to transport fresh water from Blue Lake, above Bridal Veil Falls, down to the two-acre site below the falls where the Pandora Water Treatment Facility will be located.

Crews will install a new horizontal water pipeline along with new trestles about 250 feet away from the Bridal Veil plant and then install vertical pipe that will transport the water to the bottom of a cliff. At that point, the line will be connected to a raw water pipeline that was installed last summer, just below Black Bear Pass Road, that runs to the water treatment facility site.

While the water pipeline infrastructure inches toward completion, Geiger said construction of the actual water treatment plant will start soon, as well.

“Most of the infrastructure is in from Blue Lake to the power house,” Geiger said. “A little segment, which will be difficult and challenging, needs to be completed and then actual construction of the water treatment plant needs to be completed. We think we will be breaking ground on that later this summer or fall.”

More infrastructure coverage here.


The San Miguel Power Association inks deal to buy power generated by the drop at Bridal Vail falls #CORiver

July 7, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch:

As of May 1, SMPA will buy the hydroelectric energy produced at the Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Power Plant previously purchased by Colorado’s investor-owned Xcel Energy.

The 500-kilowatt plant will generate approximately 2,000 megawatt hours a year – enough electricity to power about 2,000 average American homes, according to SMPA.

“We’re very excited to bring this power back to our local members,” said SMPA General Manager Kevin Ritter. “Telluride has a rich hydro-electric tradition, but up until now we weren’t able to keep that power local.”

The Bridal Veil Hydro Plant is one of the nation’s oldest hydroelectric facilities. It was constructed in the late 1800s to supply power to a Smuggler-Union Mine. It sits atop at 400-foot cliff overlooking Telluride. The water source for the power plant originates at Blue Lakes and eventually tumbles over the cliff as Bridal Veil Falls.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


San Juan Mountains: Acid rock drainage predated mining activity by millennia, mining made it worse

July 6, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

The report, titled “Natural Acid Rock Drainage Associated with Hydrothermally Altered Terrane in Colorado,” was recently given an award by the Geological Society of America as the best environmental publication of 2011. The report identifies a number of high-country streams in Colorado, including Red Mountain Creek, where surface water is acidic and has high concentrations of metals upstream of historic mining.

“Of course, the mining made it much, much worse,” commented Don Paulson, a former chemistry professor who is now curator of the Ouray County Historical Museum. Paulson has followed efforts to identify sources of stream pollution and the remedial measures undertaken to improve water quality in the Uncompahgre River and its tributaries.

There was a big push to clean up the water affected by mine waste (and the role it plays in the inability of high country waterways to support aquatic life) in the 1980s. At that time the Colorado Department of Health (now Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) first sued under the Superfund Act, then negotiated with Idarado Mining and its parent company, Newmont Mining, substantial cleanups on both the Telluride and Ouray sides of the mountain. The Telluride side saw improvements to the water quality of the Upper San Miguel River. But the acid pH and the levels of zinc and other minerals in Red Mountain Creek has not changed significantly despite Idarado’s remediation in the area of the Treasury Tunnel.

More water pollution coverage here.


San Miguel River: Tri-State and Montrose County approve water deal

July 1, 2012

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From the Montrose Dail Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Monday, commissioners inked an agreement with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. The agreement calls for cooperation “in order to further common objectives in appropriating and developing water rights and water resources.” Tri-State withdrew its opposition to the county’s filing on in-stream flow rights on 17 miles of the river. In exchange, the county agreed to provide water to Tri-State, pending need and availability, at a rate to be set by the county. The county moved last year to file its in-stream flow application in advance of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s application. County officials cite a need to secure water rights on the West End for development and growth.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


San Miguel River: Montrose County water rights filing denied as speculative

June 29, 2012

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From the Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick issued a summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs/opposers Sheep Mountain Alliance in a case involving water rights on the Johnson Ditch. The county applied for the rights in 2010, it stated, to support industrial and residential growth anticipated to accompany the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill. Sheep Mountain’s attorney’s argued that Montrose County’s uses for the water were speculative, and the judge agreed…

In the just-dismissed case, the county had filed on water belonging to the Uravan Water Trust, rights that were held as part of the “decommissioning of milling activities at the [defunct] Uravan mill.” According to court documents, “Upon termination of the Trust, the water rights will be conveyed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).” Montrose County’s filings on the San Miguel River were made, in part, to beat an instream water rights filing by the CWCB to protect habitat and recreational uses on the Lower San Miguel.

Opposers to the Johnson Ditch filing claimed the “applicant must demonstrate . . . that its intent to appropriate is not based upon speculative sale or transfer . . .” And Judge Patrick concluded Monday that Montrose County failed to establish standing to seek the water right and that “the Applicants’ intent in the Johnson Ditch water rights is too speculative as a matter of law to satisfy the ‘can and will’ test.”

From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County did not establish the standing necessary to secure water rights on the Johnson Ditch, a judge ruled Tuesday, dismissing its 2010 application for those rights…“I think it’s great news,” SMA attorney Jenny Russell said. “I think it supports our claim that Montrose County’s applications are speculative.”

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.


Denver District Court rules that the CDPHE must hold an administrative hearing for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill

June 18, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

The ruling from Judge John N. McMullen dismissed 10 of the environmental, health and safety claims brought against the Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment concerning the issuance of the materials license. It did, however, determine that the CDPHE failed to offer the opportunity to the public to request a public hearing before it issued the environmental report and draft license for the project to Canadian company Energy Fuels, Inc. The ruling mandates that that such hearing take place.

The claims were first filed in Denver’s district court in February 2011 by Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance; the Towns of Telluride and Ophir later joined the suit. Opponents challenged the CDPHE’s decision to issue the license on the basis that it violated certain federal Atomic Energy Act rules by not allowing required vetting opportunities by the public, among other things.

Energy Fuels and the CDPHE, meanwhile, countered that they performed a rigorous and exhaustive review process, went through all the steps required of them and included the public.

The case has been in court for months now, with final responses filed late this winter.

“It’s not 100 percent of what we wanted, but it’s 95 percent of what we wanted,” said Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels. “So we’ll keep moving forward.”

Though nothing has been scheduled, the hearing must be held by the CDPHE within 75 days of July 5. During the hearings, both sides will be given time to present their arguments and even cross examine each other.

As of late this week, SMA project coordinator Jennifer Thurston said the group’s lawyers were reviewing the 20-page court ruling. However, she said the SMA is looking forward to the hearings.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Judge John N. McMullen tells the CDPHE that it’s time for a do-over on the radioactive license for the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill

June 15, 2012

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The Sheep Mountain Alliance (@sheepmtn) sent out this tweet yesterday morning:

Victory for @sheepmtn in our lawsuit to stop the Piñon Ridge #Uranium Mill

They were kind enough to link to the judge’s order on Scribd. Here’s an excerpt:

The Court, having found unlawful CDPHE’s action in issuing the License, sets aside that action, invalidates the License, and remands the case for further proceedings consistent with this Order

From the Montrose Daily Press:

The CDPHE has been ordered to convene a hearing within 75 days of July 5, and to notice that hearing. “This hearing will be a substitute for the Feb. 17, 2010 public meeting,” the ruling says. The CDPHE must remake its licensing decision by following statutory procedures. The body has 270 days from July 5 to approve or deny Energy Fuels’ application. Until such decision is made “Energy Fuels Resources may not proceed with any activity on the site formerly permitted by the license.”

The company, can, however, take reasonable action to protect the public and the environment, and to prevent economic waste as long as doing so does not endanger the public or environment. Such actions have to be taken under the supervision of the CDPHE.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Judge John N. McMullen ruled June 13 that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment erred by issuing the license to Energy Fuels without public hearings required under the regulatory process.
Pinon Ridge would be the first new rock-crushing uranium mill to be built in the U.S. in 25 years. Communities in the area said they were concerned that lapses in state’s approval process prevented a thorough evaluation of potential and water quality impacts. “We asked for an opportunity to have meaningful public participation and we got it,” said attorney Richard Webster, who represented the towns of Telluride and Ophir in the lawsuit.

Another concern for the towns was the issue of bonding against potential future cleanup costs, as well as the spread of pollution from radioactive dust, Webster said, adding that the lawsuit focused on the regulatory process rather than those substantive issues.

Federal nuclear regulators appeared to agree with the local challenges. In a March 6 letter to environmental attorney Jeff Parsons, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also said that the state didn’t fully meet legal requirements for public involvement.

From the Denver Business Journal (Neil Westergaard):

Denver District Court Judge John McMullen on Wednesday invalidated the mill’s license, citing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for not following state and federal rules guaranteeing public input into the licensing process. McMullen, however, upheld the department in all of the other claims brought in the case by Public Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, that acted on behalf of the towns of Telluride and Ophir…

The health department reserved comment, but in a statement, noted that the court ruled in the department’s favor in 10 of the 11 issues before it in the case. “The court ruled against the department only on the 11th claim, based upon a conflict in the Colorado Radiation Control Act and state radiation regulations,” the department said in its statement. “In doing so, the court rejected all arguments about how to reconcile the conflict and instead fashioned its own remedy. The court also rejected the plaintiff’s claim, raised for the first time in the plaintiff’s opening brief, that the department’s administrative record filed with the court was defective…

Energy Fuels said last year that it expects to spend $140 million reopening the uranium mill. The mill would employ about 85 people. Another 200 would work at the company’s two uranium mines in Colorado and Utah, which already have been permitted.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Cortez: Colorado Water 2012 events include a tour of the water treatment plant

June 4, 2012

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From the City of Cortez:

Through a statewide program called Colorado Water 2012, the Cortez Public Library, in partnership with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, The Colorado State Library, the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Cortez Water Plant are offering this educational opportunity to learn about state and local water. At 10:00 AM on June 28th, there will be a presentation by Mike Preston, of the Dolores Water

Conservancy District and Don Magnuson of Montezuma Valley Irrigation at the overlook at the end of the McPhee campground. Last, on the same day at 1:00 PM, there will be a tour of the Cortez Water Plant, hosted by Bruce Smart. Maps and directions are available at the Library.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


Norwood and Montrose County are closing in on an IGA to develop a 50 year water supply

May 28, 2012

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From The Norwood Post (Ellen Metrick):

In other town business, the Town of Norwood Board of Trustees, in a joint meeting with the Norwood Water Commission (NWC) on May 1, agreed to support the NWC in entering an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with Montrose County. The motion passed unanimously with four of the five trustees present. The Water Commission, also with a unanimous vote, also with four of its five members present, to enter into the IGA with Montrose County “to enable both parties to work together to secure a 50-year water supply plan,” according to the meeting minutes.

For more town information, agendas, town calendar, and other documents, visit http://www.norwoodtown.com, or stop by Town Hall on Naturita Street.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


The Dolores River below McPhee is part of Interior’s ‘America’s Great Outdoors Highlighted River Projects’

May 24, 2012

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Here’s the link to the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors Highlighted River Projects webpage. Here’s the link to the Dolores River release. Here’s an excerpt:

The Dolores River Partnership was formed in 2008 and is a two state, citizen driven partnership with the goal of restoring approximately 200 miles of the Dolores River from McPhee Reservoir to its confluence with the Colorado River in Utah. Project goals include improving public safety, the removal of tamarisk and other noxious weeds, improving fish habitat, the development of education and stewardship opportunities, and expanding opportunities for youth employment.

This citizen driven project is focused on restoring riparian vegetation through the removal of tamarisk and other invasive species along the Dolores River and the planting of native cottonwoods and willows. Youth groups will assist with invasive species control and native species planting. Tamarisk removal and native vegetation plantings will reduce the risk of wildfire, increase in-stream water flows, and improve stream bank stability thus improving habitat conditions for native fish species.

Thanks to KUNC (Emily Boyer) for the heads up.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


McPhee Reservoir operations update:

May 14, 2012

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

“Everybody can rest assured that we’re going to meet all our allocations this year,” said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. Due to a good amount of water being stored from last year, Preston is confident there will be enough water for irrigation, drinking and industrial use this year.

Now the focus is shifting to the coming winter and the 2013 water year. Preston said a below average winter this year could lead to shortages next year. An average winter this year would barely meet allocations, while an above average winter would be required for a whitewater boating spill on the lower Dolores River…

As of Thursday, the reservoir elevation stood at nearly 6,915 feet, compared to a full elevation of 6,924 feet. This translates to 190,187 acre feet of active capacity water compared to a maximum active capacity of 229,182 acre feet…

Up-to-date information on reservoir levels, river flows and canal flows is available on DWCD’s website: http://www.doloreswater.com/

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


San Miguel River: New storage on the river is a long way off

April 29, 2012

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From the Montrose Daiy Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

In support of water rights it has filed against an instream flow, the county earlier this week released expert reports prepared by Deere & Ault Consultants Inc. and related documents from GEI Consultants and Economic & Planning Systems. Montrose County wants to secure water rights to meet future anticipated needs in the West End. It has identified six possible sites where reservoirs could be built to capture the water. But securing the rights — a bid that is contested by Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance and other objectors — would be only part of the battle.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


Energy Fuels Corp announces a merger with Denison Mines Corp: Will they build the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill now?

April 22, 2012

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The merger with Denison Mines Corp. also gives Energy Fuels an operating uranium mill in Utah and raises the prospect that it might not build the Montrose County mill. Denver-based Energy Fuels wants to build the Piñon Ridge uranium mill in the Paradox Valley, outside the town of Naturita. It would be the first new uranium mill in the United States in 30 years.

Colorado’s health department approved Energy Fuels’ permit to build the Piñon Ridge mill, but opponents have sued to stop it. The company has spent $11 million on getting the mill permitted and is committed to securing approval to build it, Energy Fuels CEO Steve Antony said on a Tuesday conference call. But whether Piñon Ridge actually gets built is another question altogether. “We intend to complete the defense of the license, and at that time, depending on market conditions, any kind of decisions to go forward with actual construction will most likely be market-driven and based on market opportunity,” Antony said…

Denison runs the country’s only operating uranium mill, the White Mesa mill near Blanding, Utah. The merger gives Energy Fuels access to a mill right away, instead of waiting for the regulatory and legal process to be settled with Piñon Ridge, Moore said. Denison milled only ore from its own mines at the White Mesa mill, so Energy Fuels did not have a place to process uranium from the mines it owns before the merger…

Energy Fuels plans to acquire Denison in a stock deal worth about $107 million based on Monday’s share price. The deal is set to close June 30, Moore said. Denison shareholders, led by Korea Electric Power Corp., will own about two-thirds of Energy Fuels stock once the deal is completed. Denison lost $71 million last year as the uranium market plunged after the power plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan…

Earlier this month, Energy Fuels completed its merger with Titan Uranium, which nearly tripled the Denver company’s uranium reserves. The purchase of Titan gave Energy Fuels the “critical mass” it needed to acquire Denison, Moore said.

More coverage from Katie Klingsporn writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

The merger would mean that Energy Fuels would acquire the White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah — the only conventional uranium mill currently operating in the U.S. — as well as four working uranium mines in the area. The working mines include the Beaver Shaft and Pandora mines near La Sal, Utah, as well as the Daneros Mill west of Blanding and a mill in northern Arizona. Denison’s assets also include 11 mines in the Colorado Plateau region that are not currently producing uranium, according to Energy Fuels. Denison Mines Corp. is a uranium and vanadium producer with projects in the U.S., Mongolia, Canada and Zambia…

“This transaction is transformational for Energy Fuels and reshapes the landscape of the uranium sector within the U.S.,” [Steve Antony, President and CEO of Energy Fuels] said, adding that the move will combine the asset of the only operating uranium mill in the U.S., White Mesa, with a significant resource base that can feed it. “The result is an unmatched production growth profile and the opportunity for both Energy Fuels and Denison shareholders to benefit from the clear operational synergies that result from this transaction,” he said. “I look forward to working with Denison’s U.S. team to maximize the benefits of this important combination.”[...]

Moore said the transaction is largely unrelated to the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill, and said Energy Fuels will continue to defend the licensing process in court and pursue the project…

Moore added that the deal will allow Energy Fuels to evaluate opening two of its mines, the Energy Queen and Whirlwind, in order to accelerate the economic development Energy Fuels wants to get started in the region. According to Denison Mines’ website, the White Mesa Mill, which is located six miles south of Blanding, is licensed to process of average of 2,000 tons of ore per day. In full operation, the mill employs approximately 150 people…

Energy Fuels also recently acquired Titan Uranium Inc., which includes the Sheep Mountain Project in the Crooks Gap District of Wyoming. Energy Fuels announced an updated Preliminary Feasibility Study for Sheep Mountain on March 1.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


The Bureau of Reclamation has released end of year operations reports for McPhee and Jackson Gulch reservoirs

April 15, 2012

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From the Cortez Journal:

Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,703 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 4,492 acre-feet average (1980-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 11/0 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 15 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.

McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 289,298 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 270,692 average (1986-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 1,835 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 2,958 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 31/30 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here. More Mancos River watershed coverage here and here.


State releases NRC letter confirming federal government will not intervene in Piñon Ridge radioactive materials license decision

April 14, 2012

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Warren Smith):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment yesterday filed in Denver District Court its reply to Sheep Mountain Alliance in the alliance’s ongoing litigation challenging the state’s approval of a radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in western Montrose County. The state’s filing included a letter from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the department’s Executive Director Dr. Chris Urbina, dated April 4, confirming the federal government has neither the authority nor the intention to intervene in the state’s licensing decision.

Mark Satorius, director of the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs at NRC stated in the April 4 letter, “The NRC’s February 27, 2012, letter [to the department] was intended to further a dialogue between the NRC staff and CDPHE staff regarding the compatibility of certain Colorado regulations. In retrospect, our letter was not clear, as it was not the NRC staff’s intent to intercede in the pending litigation related to the Piñon Ridge uranium license issued by the CDPHE.”

Satorius’s April 4 letter also noted the commission’s Feb. 27 letter “should not be taken to mean that the NRC has formed a conclusion with respect to the validity of any individual Colorado licensing action.”

Dr. Urbina said, “We are grateful the NRC has clarified its position and confirmed the commission did not intend to involve itself in litigation in Denver District Court regarding the radioactive materials license.

“We stand by our Piñon Ridge decision, which was based on a thorough and rigorous technical review featuring an open public process that far exceeded the requirements of Colorado law,” Dr. Urbina said. “We are eager to work with the NRC through the Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program, which is the appropriate forum in which to resolve any programmatic concerns.”

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials on Tuesday still questioned whether Colorado’s regulations go far enough to give the public the right to request an adjudicatory hearing on major licensing decisions.

“This issue will be addressed in our normal agreement-state consultations scheduled for this month,” NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.

The NRC had said a proper public hearing should be held on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s decision last year to grant a permit for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill. However, in an April 4 letter, NRC officials clarified their position, saying it “was not the NRC staff’s intent to intercede in the pending litigation” related to the permit.

CDPHE officials say the NRC would not have the authority to overturn the state permit — issued for what would be the first uranium-processing facility in the U.S. since the Cold War.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


San Miguel River: 48 feet of the historic hanging flume has been restored

April 14, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for an aerial shot of the San Miguel River canyon. The hanging flume, before the restoration, is along the cliff wall in the middle of the photo. Here’s a report from Dann Cianca writing for KJCT8.com. Click through for his video report with shots of the reconstruction. Here’s an excerpt:

“It’s a work of art, it really is,” said Kent Diebolt, team leader from Vertical Access, a company working to reconstruct part of the flume.

The Hanging Flume was built between 1889-1891 to assist in gold mining operations. Located in the canyon carved by the San Miguel River just before it meets the Dolores River, the flume was a canal of sorts to transfer water to the gold mining operations. The miners used the the water, assisted by gravity to separate gold from other minerals. The waterway stretched for ten miles along the San Miguel River and existed in part as a ditch but also as a hanging wooden trough, known as a flume. While the miners found gold, after a few years of mining, it was realized that the operation was not economical. Eventually, the flume was no longer being used and its pieces were scavenged.

“The flume was built with about 1.8 million board feet of timber and people would walk through the flume box and dismantle the side boards and the floor boards and that ended up in some of the communities around this area,” said project manager Ron Anthony.

For years afterward, the flume sat untouched, slowly being weathered by the environment until people realized that it should be preserved. Since then, groups have come together to discover the history of the flume and protect it. Thanks to private donations by the JM Kaplan Fund, the Hendricks Foundation and more along with the support of the BLM and Western Colorado Interpretive Association, part of the original flume is being reconstructed.

“This effort on this project is to reconstruct a segment about forty eight feet long that has the flume box, (the floor boards and side boards) that will allow people to see from below what was here when the flume was operational,” Anthony said.

Builders are using the same type of timber to reconstruct the flume as well as some of the original methods. But it takes a special type of worker to take part in the project. The flume is suspended half-way up a two hundred foot cliff! Builders have to repel into work, not to mention the effort it takes to make sure building supplies can get to where they need to be.

Click here for a photo gallery from HangingFlume.org.

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More coverage from The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

Those who keep returning to measure, survey, photograph and examine the mysterious structure known as the Hanging Flume call it “flume fever.” The afflicted wake in the middle of the night to puzzle over how enterprising but misguided gold seekers pinned a 10-mile-long wooden water chute to a sheer cliff to create a hydraulic gold separator.

They spend years in faraway city offices calculating angles and load factors and building mini models.
Finally, on this blustery week, about a dozen of them — engineers, scientists, archaeologists, industrial riggers, carpenters and historians — gathered at a cliff edge that locals like to say is “50 miles from nowhere” to remake history.

“The fascination with this thing is beyond belief. It’s a window into the way people thought in those days,” said Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Glade Hadden.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.


Southwest Basin Roundtable non-consumptive needs workshop April 11

April 4, 2012

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From email from the Colorado Watershed Assembly:

There will be an Non-Consumptive Needs Workshop next Wednesday, April 11th from 11:30-2:30 at the Dolores Water Conservation District offices in Cortez. This workshop is hosted by the Non-Consumptive Needs Subcommittee of the Southwest Basins Roundtable and the State.

The full Roundtable meeting is at 3pm.

Please RSVP to Wendy McDermott (wendy@sanjuancitizens.org) for the workshop by COB this Friday. Lunch is provided by the CWCB!

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Telluride, Ophir and the Sheep Mountain Alliance file final briefs in lawsuit over the permit for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

April 2, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

The towns and SMA filed final briefs, known as “reply briefs,” in Denver District Court this week. Barring a request for an exemption from CDPHE or Energy Fuels, these briefs will be the last filed to the court, which will take up the case and may or may not schedule oral arguments. In the reply briefs, the towns and SMA continue to contend that the CDPHE violated federal and state laws and ignored dangers to Colorado’s air and water when it issued the permit to Energy Fuels. Both briefs urge the court to vacate the license and remand the application back to CDPHE, which would force the process to start anew. “The hearing procedure was deficient, it did not comply with either federal law or Colorado law … and therefore the process needs to be reset,” said Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger…

Much of the argument put forth by SMA and the towns hinges on a claim that the CDPHE failed to offer the public an opportunity to request a public hearing — as required under the Atomic Energy Act — after the agency issued its environmental report and draft license on the project. This public hearing, they say, is meant to provide a legal process involving testimony under oath and cross examination, not merely a meeting open to the public. The state and Energy Fuels claim that federal law does not in fact apply to its licensing of the mill, but the towns and SMA contest that assertion.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Durango: The Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 30th annual water seminar April 6

March 29, 2012

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From the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District (Jane Maxson) via the Pagosa Sun:

The Southwestern Water Conservation District will hold its 30th annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, at the Doubletree Hotel, 501 Camino del Rio, Durango.

This year’s theme is “2012“ — Water Through the Looking Glass,” and we have a lineup of notable speakers who will address water history in Colorado and water issues in the West. Invited speakers include a political analyst, the state’s climatologist and a water policy consultant, among others.

Registration is $30 in advance and $32 at the door, per person. This fee includes morning and afternoon snacks and a buffet lunch.

Registration on April 6 begins at 8 a.m. The seminar will conclude approximately 4:30 p.m.

Registration forms and a draft agenda can be found at our website, http://www.swwcd.org/.


San Miguel River: Montrose County files for diversion rights for the nascent uranium boom ahead of Colorado in-stream flow program

March 27, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

water supply along certain parts of the San Miguel River isn’t guaranteed during certain parts of the year. That’s why the Colorado Water Conservation Board began moving in 2010 to preserve in-stream river flows by filing water rights claims with the 7th Judicial district Court. Montrose County wasted no time filing water rights claims along the San Miguel River — before CWCB filed its claims — aimed at securing water to supply a uranium boom its officials see coming on the county’s West End.

The proposed water development project — for which Montrose County has already had preliminary engineering and analysis done — calls for 6,400 acre-feet of water per year to supply West End uranium milling and its associated economic growth.

More significant, perhaps, is that the water would be stored in a number of new reservoirs — one of the larger ones to be sited in San Miguel County, in a canyon near Wright’s Mesa once slated for the development of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Marie Scott dam — holding more than 25,000 acre-feet of water, according to court water rights application documents….

Nearly 20 different entities — including San Miguel County, the Town of Telluride, Sheep Mountain Alliance, several ranchers, Discovery Channel and Gateway Canyons Resort owner John Hendricks and even the state engineer — have formally objected to Montrose County’s filings, contending that its uranium development projection is speculative, and therefore in violation of state water laws.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


CPDHE cries foul over NRC’s findings with the permit process for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

March 23, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

In responding to that NRC finding, Dr. Christopher Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer at the CDPHE, stated in a March 16 letter to the NRC that his department has not received any formal notification on needed “corrective actions” from the NRC. He went on to say that these claims by the federal agency at this stage of the approval process, and during litigation, is unwarranted.

“The department conducted a robust public process, including two public hearings and six additional public meetings,” Urbina stated. “For a federal agency to come along at this late date and appear to muddy the waters is an outrage to all the community members, stakeholders and others who took the time to participate in the public process regarding the radioactive materials license.”

In its letter to the NRC, the CDPHE requested a retraction or clarification to mitigate any damage done by the distribution of this mischaracterization to the press…

CDPHE Community Involvement Manager Warren Smith said during the most recent NRC review, his department raised the issue as to whether or not the state’s public hearing process follows federal regulations, and up until the March 6 letter, CDPHE understood that its processes were in line with federal standards.

“The NRC has been stunningly inconsistent on the public hearing issue,” Smith said in a statement obtained by The Watch. “We raised the issue with NRC on several occasions around the application process and 2010 program review. As recently as the October 2011 NRC review of the Colorado statute and regulations, no incompatibility or corrective action was identified. Later, we believe federal officials flip-flopped and said they were reconsidering their answer.”

The first time the CDPHE heard of any issue with its public hearing process, according to Smith, came on Feb. 27 when NRC officials sent a letter to the radiation program of the CDPHE’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division that “misstated” our previous conversations with them on the issue, giving the department until the end of March to respond.

“We asked for clarification on March 7, only to learn the NRC already had announced its predetermined decision in the March 6 letter without communicating this information directly to the state,” Smith said.

More coverage from Katie Klingsporn writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

Late last week, the radiation program of the CDPHE responded with a letter to the NRC rebuking the federal agency for interjecting itself into ongoing litigation to which it’s not a party. The letter, signed by CDPHE’s Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christopher Urbina, urges NRC officials to retract or clarify the March 6 letter.

“Given that the NRC is not a party to this litigation and has no regulatory jurisdiction over the Energy Fuels license issued by the State of Colorado … it is inappropriate for the NRC to have interjected itself in this ongoing state litigation,” the letter reads…

[CDPHE’s Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christopher Urbina] also wrote that despite what the NRC wrote, no determination has been made that “corrective action” is required because the CDPHE is in compliance with the Atomic Energy Act. He noted that NRC’s letter “materially mischaracterized the CDPHE’s discussion with the NRC staff.”

Finally, he expressed disappointment that the CDPHE found out about the letter through third parties and after it was shared with the press.

It was unclear on Wednesday how this response will affect licensing process.

But the claim of a flawed public hearing process is a key part of the lawsuit filed by Sheep Mountain Alliance, Towns of Telluride and Ophir against the CDPHE. Litigation for that case is ongoing.

Hilary White, SMA’s executive director, said that the CDPHE failed to offer the public an opportunity to request a public hearing — as required under the Atomic Energy Act — after the agency issued its environmental report and draft license on the project.

“If Energy Fuels and the state really believe that they followed every appropriate procedure and took comment … why not have an official public hearing like they are required to do?” she asked. “Why not let their science and their technology stand on its own? All we’re asking for is a fair venue for our science and our technological information to be considered against theirs, and let the best science win.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Piñon Ridge Mill: CDPHE officials ‘failed to subject themselves to the exacting scrutiny’ — Travis Stills

March 17, 2012

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“We’re not challenging the license itself. We’re questioning the process under which they issued it. We’re just asking them to explain to us how they’re going to hold a public hearing and make sure that in any future licensing actions they will hold hearings,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman David McIntyre said. “That’s all we’re asking. Not much.”

The NRC officials restaked their position after digesting a five-page letter from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment director Chris Urbina that accuses the NRC of interjecting itself inappropriately into a legal battle between the state agency and project opponents. “For a federal agency to come along at this late date to muddy the waters is an outrage to all the community members, stakeholders and others who took the time to participate in the public process regarding the radioactive materials license,” Urbina said in a prepared statement after sending the letter to NRC deputy directors in Washington, D.C.

The dispute arose after NRC officials conducted an inquiry and substantiated a complaint from the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance alleging CDPHE failed to hold formal public hearings on its decision to grant the license to Energy Fuels Resources last year…

“Invalidating the offending license and sending it back for the agency to hold formal hearings, as opposed to three-minute comment sessions, is the proper course” because CDPHE officials “failed to subject themselves to the exacting scrutiny” that federal law requires, attorney Travis Stills said…

“I’m not sure what else the NRC would have us do,” Energy Fuels attorney Curtis Moore said. “The process was extremely open and transparent. Most members of the public were happy to see the license issued.

More Piñon Ridge Mill coverage here. More nuclear coverage here and here.


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission tells the proponents of the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill to start over, CDPHE process failure

March 14, 2012

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could force Energy Fuels to start the application process from scratch.

“How we read it is, it’s back to square one. There are some pretty clear requirements in this process,” said Travis Stills, with Durango-based Energy & Conservation Law. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment opened itself up to scrutiny by failing to meet those public hearing requirements, Stills said.

“They need to let the public come in and raise the questions, put the technical claims in the application to the test,” he said. “It’s their burden, not just as a legal matter, but as a practical matter, to show they can do it safely, to where it won’t impact water quality,” he said, adding that there are multiple concerns about environmental impacts that have not been closely looked at.

“The air quality impacts have been repeatedly glossed over, and they never did do any serious analysis of what it could mean for deer and elk in the area,” Stills said. “The CDPHE just kind of brushed away the public concerns,” he said, adding that the CDPHE’s Radioactive Materials Licensing Department has a questionable history of managing radioactive sites. All the documents relating to the proposed Piñon Ridge mill are online at this state website.

In its March 6 letter to attorney Jeff Parsons, the NRC said, “The NRC has substantiated your concern that the CDPHE did not provide an opportunity for a public hearing or notice for public comment on the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill proposed license … the NRC staff does not believe that the licensing of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill provided the public with an opportunity for comment or an opportunity for a public hearing (as required by federal law).”

The letter goes on to say that the CDPHE has agreed to modify its regulations to clarify public hearing requirements and “will work with Energy Fuels to provide an opportunity for a public hearing regarding the issuance of the new license” for the mill.

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

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger told members of the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday that the concerns of the town and opponents of the mill appear to be “substantiated” by the federal government.

“They are very concerned about the public hearing components and made a finding that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did not follow the proper procedures under federal law,” Geiger said.

Geiger cautioned members of council on further speculating on what the decision means but said it could lead to the reopening of a public hearing. The Town of Telluride along with Ophir and the Telluride-based environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance have challenged the licensing of the uranium mill, with the legal services of Public Justice, a national public interest law firm. The litigation challenges the state’s licensing of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, which was granted in January 2011. According to Geiger and Public Justice, possible impacts were given little or no consideration by the state in its review process. 
Colorado is an “Agreement State” under the Federal Atomic Energy Act, which gives the state ultimate authority to license and approve radioactive projects. The NRC decision apparently concludes that the state did not follow federal guidelines.

“We have said all along that the state needed to conduct public hearings, they did not,” Sheep Mountain Alliance Executive Director Hilary White said on Tuesday. “They needed to conduct a transparent application process, they did not. They piecemealed all off the things necessary to make an approval and that approval was based on a flawed process.

“The NRC gives the authority to the state to process applications under the Atomic Energy Act,” she continued. “Colorado is an agreement state but it still has to follow the law and they didn’t.”


More coverage from Katharhynn Heidelberg writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

What this actually means for the mill Energy Fuels hopes to build in the Paradox Valley depends upon whom you ask. Sheep Mountain Alliance’s attorneys say the NRC clearly found the state’s review process was flawed, while Energy Fuels contends the letter has little bearing because the NRC delegated its authority over uranium mills to the state.

Complicating the matter: The state Department of Public Health and Environment says it has not received the March 6 letter, which was directed to the complaining party, Jeffrey C. Parsons. Parsons is an attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, and represents Sheep Mountain Alliance.

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


Dolores: McPhee Reservoir and Dolores Project operations meeting March 21

March 11, 2012

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From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:

The Bureau of Reclamation will host a McPhee Reservoir and Dolores Project operation meeting on March 21 at the Dolores Community Center at 7 p.m. Topics of discussion will focus on anticipated water releases to the lower Dolores River and an overview of the Dolores Project.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


Colorado Environmental Coalition: Volunteers needed to plant willows along the Dolores River

February 15, 2012

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Here’s the announcement from the Colorado Environmental Coalition:

Date: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Time: 10:00am – 3:00pm
Where: Meet at the Gateway Community Center, 42700 Highway 141

This project is taking place on February 25th, 26th, 27th, and 28th. Volunteers are still needed for weekday sessions (Monday the 27th and Tuesday the 28th). Please RSVP (see below) to secure your space!

Join Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and Bureau of Land Management on any or all of the upcoming restoration days and take advantage of the opportunity to:

- Learn how to identify, cut, transport, and plant willows.
– Spend a fun winter day(s) with other volunteers.
– Enjoy the beautiful scenery and delightful surroundings of the Dolores River from red rocks to riverside plant communities, and who knows maybe even a bald eagle! Click here for more information about area resources!
– Enjoy a complimentary lunch provided by Gateway Canyons Resort.

Please dress appropriately in winter work clothes (dress in layers, wear insulated boots and gloves, and a hat) as this is a dirty, muddy job! Children ages 12 and over, accompanied by a parent, are welcome!

Space is limited so please RSVP to Fran Parker at afparker@blm.gov or 970-244-3031.

More Dolores River coverage here.


Airborne electromagnetic survey of Paradox Valley will ultimately support a 3D numerical model of groundwater flow and brine discharge to the Dolores River

February 13, 2012

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:

Over a seven-day period in October 2011, an aerial geophysical survey was conducted by SkyTEM Surveys in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey in an area over the Paradox Valley, Colo., and a small area in San Juan County, Utah. The purpose of the survey was to obtain geophysical measurements to map the subsurface structure of the rocks and the amount of salinity in the area’s groundwater. This survey was conducted using a low-flying helicopter with time-domain electromagnetic instruments suspended below that measure the electrical resistivity of subsurface areas at different depths and provides detailed, high-resolution data for mapping.

Measurements over the Paradox Valley were obtained in a 3 to 4.5-mile wide by 15-mile long area, from southeast of the Dolores River to the northwestern end of the valley, and in a 2.5-mile wide by 4-mile long area around Buckeye Reservoir, immediately northwest of the Paradox Valley.

The lowest resistivity area was located northeast of the town of Bedrock, Colo., near the area in which brine discharges to the Dolores River. Once all the data from the survey have been fully evaluated, it is anticipated to provide a better understanding of the three-dimensional subsurface distribution of various rock types and the quantity of salinity in the fluids they contain. Results from the analysis may also define locations where underlying salt is being dissolved and the depth to the freshwater-brine interface.

Ultimately, the results from this geophysical survey will support a three-dimensional numerical model of groundwater flow and brine discharge to the Dolores River that the USGS is preparing for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Electromagnetic survey methods have been used effectively in many groundwater studies and particularly for mapping water quality. Because the electrical properties of most rocks are primarily dependent upon the amount of water in the rock, the salinity of the water, and the distribution of the water in the rock, electromagnetic methods are well suited for investigating the subsurface distribution of brine in the Paradox Valley.

The Paradox Valley is formed by a collapsed salt dome. Groundwater in the valley comes into contact with the top of the salt formation, where it becomes nearly saturated with sodium chloride. Saline concentrations have been measured in excess of 250,000 milligrams per liter, by far the most concentrated source of salt in the Colorado River Basin. Groundwater then surfaces in the Dolores River. Reclamation studies show that the river picks up more than 205,000 tons of salt annually as it passes through the Paradox Valley.

More Dolores River basin watershed here.


American Strategic Minerals Corp. hopes to get the stateside uranium industry moving

February 7, 2012

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Nucla-based American Strategic Minerals Corp. hopes to soon operate eight mines in the Uravan Mineral Belt and eastern Utah. Two of the mines are located in western Montrose County, where Energy Fuels has been fighting to build a uranium and vanadium mill.

AMICOR generated more than $5.3 million in startup costs from gross proceeds of its common stock by selling more than 10.6 million shares at 50 cents per share. The company also has an option agreement with Sagebrush Gold Ltd. for more uranium-producing assets. Sagebrush has properties in California, Wyoming, Arizona and North Dakota and received AMICOR shares in exchange for the uranium assets.

Historic drilling data from the eight mine sites here and in Utah leave Glasier hopeful he can help rebuild the uranium industry in the U.S.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Cortez: Wastewater plant process primer

January 24, 2012

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Here’s a look at the wastewater treatment plant that came online in 2006 from Reid Wright writing for the Cortez Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

At the head works of the Cortez Sanitation District’s sewer treatment plant, Jay Conner pulls back a metal hatch, revealing a trench through which the raw sewage sloshes — fresh from the district’s more than 60 miles of pipes serving many of the Cortez area’s more than 8,400 people. “We’re on the front line,” Conner said of the plant and its workers. “It’s probably one of the best environmental protections you can have.”

The trench was covered by panels after neighbors complained of the smell. A rake and auger system picks out larger debris and garbage, all of which is taken to its rightful home in the county landfill. Too much garbage, such as plastic wrappers and feminine hygiene products can gum up the plant’s pumps, Conner said. These items should be thrown in the garbage.

A second process removes smaller items, such as rocks, sand and eggshells. The gritty mixture also contains a fair amount of corn.

Petroleum products, paint, paint thinners, herbicides and kitchen grease are also harmful to the system, Conner said, and should not be dumped down the drain.

More wastewater coverage here and here.


San Miguel River: Nathaniel P. Turner’s hanging flume on the canyon wall is slowly being stabilized and preserved

January 16, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for photos of the canyon wall and the flume.

Here’s the link to HangingFlume.org for the history. Here’s an excerpt:

The Flume was constructed using earthen and wooden canals, wooden bents and a wooden box that were secured together by iron rods and fasteners. Without photographs, engineered drawings or written accounts of the Flume’s construction, experts can only speculate on how it was built. In 2004, a group of scientists set out to unravel a complex and fascinating story with dimensions that went far beyond ordinary technical questions. It is estimated that 25 men worked on the flume and used local materials. The iron rods were custom shaped on-site by hand. The wood for the beams and trestles was logged from nearby Pine Flats in Utah and Carpenter Ridge in Colorado.

To reach the water pressure necessary to adequately mine the placer deposits, the Hanging Flume had to achieve a .17% grade – that’s only a 90 foot drop over the near 10 mile long Flume. Without today’s sophisticated equipment, we can only speculate that they used triangulation to stay on track. Many mysteries remain, and investigation continues into the wonder that is the Hanging Flume.

Here’s a report about a January 24 slideshow and lecture about the flume, from the Telluride Watch. From the article:

The Hanging Flume once carried 23 million gallons of water a day to a placer mining operation on Mesa Creek Flats between Gateway and Uravan, along what is now Hwy 141. It took three years to build, starting in 1889, and only functioned for three more years, when eastern investors gave up on the fine alluvial gold, and the flume, an engineering marvel for that (or any other) time, was left to history.

Flume expert Jerald Reid will try to the put the historical pieces together Tuesday night Jan. 24 (at 7 p.m.) with a talk and slide show at the KAFM Radio Room in Grand Junction.

Reid was born in Oklahoma and lived most of his life on the Western Slope. He was a machinist for 40 years in the Grand Valley. He and his wife Margaret, both outdoor enthusiasts, became interested in the Hanging Flume but found frustratingly little information about it. That started them researching and documenting it.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


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

December 25, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


San Miguel River: CWCB instream flow right filing prompts Montrose County to make a defensive water rights filing on the river

December 21, 2011

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

To protect future growth, Montrose County needs to secure water rights against an instream flow claim on a 17.4-mile stretch of the San Miguel River, officials say…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board determined it’s in the state’s interest to file for the instream flow. Its study determined there is enough water for appropriation on the river between the Calamity Draw Confluence, a few miles west of Nucla, and the confluence of the Dolores River to “preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree without limiting or foreclosing the exercise of valid, existing water rights.”

The county is not so certain of that, at least, not when it comes to future needs.

Montrose County was able to file in December 2010 for rights ahead of the CWCB’s Oct. 31 filing this year, thanks to the board’s decision to delay its own application. The county wants approximately 25,600 acre-feet per year. There are ongoing costs associated with the filing — about $476,000 between this year and last. Its claim is being heard in water court.

More San Miguel River coverage here and here.


Cortez: Water rates going up January 1

December 17, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

For the water fund, [City Public Works director Jack Nickerson] asked for a 25 cent increase in the residential base rate for water service from $13.50 to $13.75 per month. A 10 cent increase is proposed to the additional usage rate from $1.65 per 1,000 gallons to $1.75. He said the increase is necessary to keep up with the rising costs of water treatment chemicals and replacement projects. He cited the recently completed South Broadway waterline replacement project costing approximately $700,000 and approximately $25,000 still needed for water tank repairs.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Sheep Mountain Alliance Initiates Citizen Enforcement, ‘We filed suit to protect the San Miguel River’

December 16, 2011

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Here’s the release from the Sheep Mountain Alliance via The Telluride Watch:

Sheep Mountain Alliance (@sheepmtn), a grassroots citizens organization, initiated a citizen enforcement suit against PacifiCorp in federal court last Monday, Dec. 12 that asks the Oregon-based utility corporation to stop discharging pollutants into the San Miguel River and violating the Clean Water Act.

The suit alleges that PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company owned by Berkshire Hathaway, violated the conditions of its federal discharge permit at the Silver Bell tailings site, allowing contaminants to enter the Howard Fork of the San Miguel River for the past five years. PacifiCorp, which owns the Silver Bell tailings site and has financial responsibility for its cleanup, began remediating the site in 1998. Citizens are allowed to file enforcement actions under federal law as a means of holding polluters accountable if their permits are not being enforced by regulators.

“Unfortunately, PacifiCorp has failed to meet the standards of its federal discharge permit at the Silver Bell site, and over the past five years PacifiCorp has repeatedly allowed excessive pollutants to enter the Howard Fork of the San Miguel,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “These problems could have been fixed but they haven’t been, and PacifiCorp needs to be held accountable for these violations.”

The types of pollutants reportedly being discharged into the Howard Fork include acid drainage, suspended solids, heavy metals, and excessive iron. Typically associated with hard rock mining contamination, these pollutants enter streams and wetlands and degrade overall water quality in the San Miguel basin as well as contribute to localized problems that can harm fish and aquatic life.

In October, SMA had notified PacifiCorp that it would file suit in 60 days if the company did not take action to correct the problems at the Silver Bell site. Although the 60-day notice period is intended to provide the responsible company time to address Clean Water Act violations without legal penalty, SMA’s suit alleges PacifiCorp has not fixed the problems.

“The pollution of the San Miguel from this site has been going on for years,” White said. “Sheep Mountain Alliance wants to make sure that PacifiCorp not only complies with the law, but fixes the problem permanently. The health of the San Miguel River is too important to ignore and we have to be vigilant in holding them accountable.”

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


Dolores River: The Colorado Court of Appeals affirms Montrose County permit for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

December 14, 2011

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

“This is an important project for western Colorado, and is going to mean an awful lot of job opportunities in a depressed part of the state,” said Gary Steele, an investor relations officer for Energy Fuels, Inc., the Canadian company slated to develop the project.

In order to obtain the permit from Montrose County, Energy Fuels had to agree to 18 conditions, which covered everything from the quality of uranium processed in the mill to the amount of water it can use. The conditions also include a 500-ton per day processing limit, plant footprint restrictions and a water quality monitoring requirement. The company has seven years to commence construction of the mill before having to go through the permitting process again.

“While those conditions aren’t adequate in our opinion, they’re better than no conditions at all, and they help protect the San Miguel River,” said Jennifer Thurston, a project coordinator with Sheep Mountain Alliance. In the wake of Energy Fuels’ recent triumph, Thurston said that SMA has not yet decided if they will attempt to have the case heard again by the appellate court, or try to push the case up the ladder to the state Supreme Court.

One thing is certain: SMA will pursue legal action against the project by way of the permit Energy Fuels received from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in January. The towns of Ophir and Telluride are co-plaintiffs in that case. Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said that although Telluride isn’t opposing the mill just for the sake of opposing it, the town council wants to make sure air and water quality standards are as tight as possible.

Montrose County officials applauded the appellate court’s decision, but County Commissioner Ron Henderson wondered why SMA filed the suit to begin with. He said the case cost the county hundreds of hours of staff time, plus litigation fees, the amount of which he did not know.

“We included everyone who would possibly have a say during the permitting process,” he said. “I really don’t understand why Sheep Mountain Alliance filed [these lawsuits]. I guess it’s the American way, but it wasn’t very productive.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.


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