— Reclamation (@usbr) July 30, 2014
Reclamation: Join us to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Flaming Gorge Dam in UT on August 16 #ColoradoRiver #GreenRiverJuly 30, 2014
From Steamboat Today (Eugene Buchanan):
For the fourth time, local nonprofit Friends of the Yampa (FOY) hosted a group of more than 20 national conservationists, water policy stakeholders and other river advocates for a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of its Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).
After taking a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon the day before to see the waterway from the air, attendees packed dry bags and river gear to float the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park west of Maybell to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.
Included on the trip were representatives from such conservation organizations as American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates, scientists from the Nature Conservancy and stakeholders from Conservation Colorado, The Wilderness Society, Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, the Yampa River System Legacy Project and the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Local participants included former Routt County commissioner Ben Beall and former City Council president Ken Brenner.
Hosted by river outfitter O.A.R.S, the think-tank trip included campfire panel discussions on everything from preserving the Yampa’s flows and integrity of its bio-diversity to the river’s PBO (Programmatic Biological Opinion), flow management plans and much more. Pow-wow sessions were held each morning and evening at camp, as well as at key ecological sites along the river.
“One of Friends of the Yampa’s goals is to protect the free-flowing nature of the Yampa,” said FOY Board President Soren Jespersen. “You can’t protect something if you don’t have engaged constituents. This year our focus was bringing people who work in river advocacy and water policy programs. There’s an increasing threat that Front Range water interests are looking to the Yampa to solve their perceived water gaps.”
Included on the trip was 14-year Dinosaur National Monument botanist Tamara Naumann, who estimates she’s been down the river nearly 100 times. For her, the biggest threat isn’t protecting the river’s flows or trans-basin diversions, but “people not caring.”
“We need to figure out how to manage it into the next half-century,” she said. “There are many obligations that need to be met, and Colorado has an obligation to send water downstream. But while people’s objectives can be different, the end result can benefit everyone.”
Two other participants, former Adrift Adventures owner Pat Tierney and renowned photographer John Fielder, attended as part of their plans to produce a coffee table book entitled “The Yampa River: Wild and Free Flowing,” to be released in 2015. As part of their efforts before the trip through Dinosaur, they floated and photographed the river from Steamboat to Maybell.
“It’s a great story, and we’re excited to tell it,” said Tierney, adding that this year marked his 37th straight year running the canyon. “It will have great photographs and bring many of the river’s issues to light.”[...]
“We need to build more relationships with farmers and ranchers in the region and show them that our interests are aligned,” said Kate Greenberg of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. “We’re not going to solve the problem in a week, but this is a great start.”
Take-homes included the need to get recreational and agricultural interests better aligned at both the local and Water Basin Roundtable level; creating an informal management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on its unique bio-diversity.
“The science aspect of the endangered species that thrive in a free-flowing river environment is important,” said FOY board member and recreational representative for the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable Kent Vertrees, touting such endangered fish in the river as the Colorado pikeminnow. “You need it to back up water policy.”
In the end, after crashing through the dinosaur-sized waves of Split Mountain Canyon at a whopping 20,000 cfs, every participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve such a treasure. And many participants stayed on — and were joined by nearly 50 other out-of-town river advocates — to attend the ensuing three-day seminar in Steamboat and tour the upper Yampa Basin as part of a program put together by Nicole Seltzer of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.
More Yampa River Basin coverage here.
Runoff/snowpack news: “…the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s [inflows are] going to be right about average” — Eric Kuhn #ColoradoRiverJune 13, 2014
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
Steamboat Springs — Residents of the Yampa Valley, where the meadows are lush and snow still lingers on the peaks, easily could conclude that this is a year of water abundance. But in terms of the water produced by the entire Colorado River Basin, the summer of 2014 won’t be outstanding.
Eric Kuhn, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told an audience of about 50 state legislators, water managers and educators at the Sheraton Steamboat Thursday the abundance of snowmelt in the upper Colorado, Yampa and Green rivers early this summer isn’t indicative of the entire Colorado Basin.
“We have wet years, we have dry years but the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s going to be right about average,” Kuhn said…
“Currently, Lake Mead (below the Grand Canyon) and Lake Powell (just above the Grand Canyon) are 42 percent full,” Kuhn said. “Does that make us nervous? Yeah that makes us very nervous.”[...]
Water storage in Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River just upstream from its Colorado stretch is expected to be 140 percent of average, and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is expected to be 126 percent of average, Kuhn told his audience. But 25-mile-long Navajo Reservoir, straddling the Colorado and New Mexico state line and capturing flows from the San Juan River, will be just about 67 percent of average. It’s the southernmost reaches of the upper basin that are below par.
Kuhn and his audience had gathered in Steamboat Springs Thursday to begin a tour of the Yampa River Basin sponsored by the nonprofit Colorado Foundation for Water Education. CFWE program manager Kristin Maharg told the gathering that the purpose of the tour is to explore the compatibility of consumptive water uses (agriculture and power plants) and non-consumptive uses (recreation and habitat conservation) along the length of the Yampa in Routt and Moffat counties.
“The Yampa is no longer a valley too far, and we want to look at some of the demands this basin is facing,” Maharg said. “This is a very cooperative basin in terms of resource management and conservation.”
Thursday’s audience included more than a half dozen state legislators, members of their technical support staff, including an economist and an attorney who work on water bills, a Pitkin County commissioner and an Eagle County water district official, as well as college educators from Colorado State University, the University of Colorado Denver and Colorado Mesa University.
If there is some good news for the Colorado Basin and the people who depend on Lake Powell this summer, it’s that the abundance in the Green River basin will give the reservoir a boost this summer. Flaming Gorge Reservoir, about 30 miles upstream from the point where the Green makes a dog leg into Colorado on the way to its confluence with the Yampa, is currently releasing large amounts of water. That’s being done to mimic the spring floods that occurred before the dam was built in order to support the ecosystem that evolved around those floods. When the river is restored to its baseline sumer flow, it will be at double the flows seen in the last few years, or about 1,600 cubic feet per second. The net result of those additional flows should boost Lake Powell to 50 percent full by the end of July, Kuhn confirmed.
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver predicted Monday that the total volume of flows in the Yampa in Steamboat Springs in June and July will be 118 percent of average, and maybe more if precipitation is abundant. And flows in the Elk, one of the Yampa’s biggest tributaries, could be at 145 percent of average during the heart of the summer.
The streamflow projections issued by the NRCS shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning the flows in the Yampa consistently will be at 118 percent of average, Mage Hultstrand cautioned. She is the assistant snow survey supervisor with the NRCS in Denver. Hultstrand explained that the streamflow projection anticipates the total volume of water that will flow under the Fifth Street Bridge from June through July.
“It’s based on current (snowpack) conditions and weather patterns in the area the past few months,” Hultstrand said.
The weather in terms of temperature and precipitation will have much to say about streamflow from week to week.
The Yampa at Steamboat peaked for the season May 30 at 4,850 cubic feet per second, Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, said Wednesday. The Elk peaked at 6,300 cfs also on May 30. The Yampa came close to going higher June 2, but fell just short, Alcorn said. Flows in the Yampa were in decline this week, but the snowpack still has a kick in it; the Forecast Center expects the Yampa to rally Thursday and Friday, jumping from Wednesday morning’s flow of 2,300 cfs to perhaps 3,400 cfs by Friday. The median flow for June 11 is 2010 cfs. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s under clear skies Thursday and Friday.
The streamflow projection issued by the NRCS really is intended to inform reservoir managers and help them understand how full their reservoirs will be and how much water they can release.
It’s safe to say the upper Yampa will be carrying more water than average for much of the next seven or eight weeks, but the streamflow forecast doesn’t guarantee there will be above average water in the river for irrigating hay fields or providing thrills for tubers during the last week in July, for example, Hultstrand said.
More Green River Basin coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):
An eclectic gang of river runners, Grand Canyon guides, and boating purists take refuge in Dolores during the winter off-season.The amicable group never strays too far from their coveted rivers, skiing backcountry powder that will soon transform into whitewater rapids, and then quaffing pints of craft beer made from the same water at the Dolores River Brewery.
In between, they gather for thousands of hours to talk rivers, play bluegrass, and build custom boats in the shop of local legend Andy Hutchinson, owner of High Desert Dories.
A master craftsman and Grand Canyon guide, Hutchinson’s humble and casual demeanor masks his enthusiastic life passion for building custom dories and piloting them through river country.
“In 1982, I was on a beach at Nankoweap Canyon when I first saw a flotilla of these classic boats coming down the Colorado River,” Hutchinson, 57, recalls. “It was like the heavens called down to me, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.”
Dories are wooden oar boats originally used on the great rivers of the West by pioneers including Civil war veteran John Wesley Powell, who completed the first-ever trip down the rapid-choked Grand Canyon rowing a dory in 1869.
Replaced by less aesthetic plastic and rubber rafts that are more forgiving against river rocks, but also more cumbersome, dories fell out of mainstream favor in the 1970s.
But the dory’s classic rocker shape, turn-on-a-dime maneuverability, and ample waterproof storage compartments always stayed popular for the old-school crowd, and today they are attracting more converts.
“Dories are the inverse of rafts, so they turn easily with a stroke of the oar, but they do not bounce of rocks very well, so you carry a good-size repair kit, or better yet miss the rocks!” Hutchinson said. “What’s nice too is that they’re like giant coolers with lots of compartments to take everything along.”
More whitewater coverage here.
‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan BruceDecember 2, 2013
Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.
Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.
More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.
The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.
The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…
The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.
Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.
Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”
From Steamboat Today (Joel Reichenberger):
The Yampa Valley Stream Improvement charitable trust has been working to improve waterways in the region for more than 30 years, and its work can be seen in clean, smooth-flowing streams all across the area. It tackled its biggest project in 2006, when it set to work on the Yampa River southeast of Steamboat Springs in the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area.
Now, after it divvied that task into three phases, the final elements are just a week away from completion. An area of the river that once was a shallow, eroded mess strewn with trash will be one of the premier rainbow trout fisheries in the state. What previously was a stretch of river Steamboat anglers were more likely to avoid will become a fishermen’s paradise…
The project cost about $1 million, and getting to this point has been a monumental task. The funds were raised from private donors, benefit events and through grants from government programs and other organizations.
The first stage, in 2006, involved dragging 88 cars from the river’s banks and cost $100,000…
The trust partnered with the city of Steamboat Springs for the second stage, a $300,000 project upstream of Chuck Lewis. It reconditioned the river, cleaned up a dump, stabilized the banks and moved the river 50 yards back to its channel.
The third stage, which is underway, has heavy equipment digging in the river to create structures for fish habitat, channeling and deepening the river and creating pools. Even the placement of rocks and other breaks in the water were studied to help cut back on the pike population and make a world-class sanctuary for growing trout.
Now the section of river will be used as a rearing ground for a strain of rainbow trout resistant to whirling disease…
Meanwhile streamflow in the Yampa River has dropped below the 10th percentile recently. Here’s a report from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. Here’s an excerpt:
The river was flowing at 64 cubic feet per second Tuesday beneath the Fifth Street Bridge. That compares to the median flow for this date of 117 cfs and the all-time recorded low of 43 cfs on Oct. 9, 1935…
The Yampa and the Elk rivers are among more than 20 rivers throughout Colorado currently flowing in the 10 percent range of their historical averages, according to the U.S. Geological Survey…
The Yampa was flowing on par Oct. 4 at 70 cfs, but the historic graph indicates Oct. 5 is the date when the river flow should begin to pick up to levels above 100 cfs.
Jay Gallagher, of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, said Tuesday that he didn’t have data at his fingertips to confirm the flows in Granite Creek and the Middle Fork of Fish Creek, which feed Fish Creek Reservoir and historically have risen at this time of year. The reservoir, Steamboat’s primary source of domestic water, is about 54 percent full and will drop into the 40 percent range during winter. The dam is releasing about 7 cfs into Fish Creek, and that will continue for about another week before it is dropped to 4 cfs, he said.
The Elk River was flowing at 68 cfs Tuesday at its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat. The Yampa was flowing at 36 cfs above Stagecoach Reservoir. Further downstream, above Lake Catamount, the river was flowing at 29 cfs.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
It could require less than half a barrel of water to buoy up a barrel of oil from the high desert of the west, Shell Oil Co. said. One barrel of oil could be produced from oil shale for as little as a third of a barrel of water, Tom Fowler, commercial lead for the Shell project, said at the 33rd Oil Shale symposium at Colorado School of Mines.
Water use has long been a point of contention in the running battle over the development of oil shale.
Shell’s announcement comes on the heels of its decision to shift assets away from oil shale in northwest Colorado to other assets, among them a $12.5 billion shale-to-gas plant in Louisiana.
“We were laser-focused on water,” and the techniques refined in Colorado “translate very well to other places, I’m specifically thinking of Jordan, where they also are very concerned about their water, Fowler said.
Shell’s new estimates are based on a project producing 50,000 barrels of oil per day.
One major factor in Shell’s reduction in anticipated water use was to switch from water cooling to air cooling, especially in the power-generation part of the process. Power is needed to heat the rock to about 700 degrees Fahrenheit to free kerogen from the rock. Vaporized kerogen condenses into crude oil that can be recovered.
Shell also reduced its estimates of water use by targeting the deepest, though not richest, layers of oil shale, Fowler said. By recovering oil from the deepest layers, which lie beneath groundwater, the company eliminated any need to steam-strip the area from which it removed kerogen. That, combined with other efforts to reduce and better manage water, could reduce the ratio of water to oil to 0.3 barrels of water to 1 barrel of oil. It also would leave the richest layers of shale still available for development with more refined techniques in the future, Fowler said. Shell’s estimates include domestic water and usage for reclamation and other purposes.
The most kerogen-rich oil shale in the world sits in northwest Colorado, under thousands of feet of overburden and Shell’s departure leaves one company pursuing development of shale in place, with little surface disturbance.
Two companies, Enefit American Oil and Red leaf Resources, are mining more shallow resources in Utah and heating them to recover oil.
Shell’s estimates don’t apply to those techniques, but Enefit American Oil says its methods will require between one and three barrels of water per barrel of oil, with the likely outcome closer to the lower end.
Opponents of oil shale development frequently cite a Government Accountability Office report, widely panned by industry officials, citing water needs at seven barrels per barrel of oil produced.
More oil shale coverage here via Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
While oil shale development in the United States suffered a blow when Shell Oil announced it was pulling out of its much-touted Mahogany project, other nations are encouraging industry development. Genie Energy, which is still moving ahead on its project in northwest Colorado, has a new project in Mongolia. Irati Energy, based in Canada, is moving ahead on a pilot oil shale project in Brazil. Enefit American Oil, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia, the world’s largest oil shale company, also has a concession, or lease, in Jordan, to produce electricity and oil from shale deposits there.
And while Shell pulled out of Colorado, it didn’t pull out of oil shale. The international energy giant still is working on an oil shale project in Jordan, despite abandoning its plans to produce oil from shale in the Colorado portion of the Green River formation.
China, Morocco and other countries are seeing development of their oil shale deposits, as well.
Northwest Colorado, the focal point of the richest, thickest deposits of oil shale in the world, however, is seeing no new interest in its deposit even as Enefit American Oil is working to produce oil from shale in neighboring Utah.
David Argyle organized Irati Energy to begin work on the Brazil project and he’s on the lookout for new resources. He’s not looking immediately at the U.S., however.
“We don’t have the time or patience” to work through the regulatory issues facing oil shale development in the United States, Argyle said, noting that he doesn’t reject development in the United States out of hand.
The industry, however, has to overcome emotional opposition, despite having a good environmental record, Argyle said.
“In Brazil, we’re getting quietly on with it. In Israel, they’re getting quietly on with it,” Argyle said of oil shale development.
Boom-bust cycles aren’t a major issue because the Brazil project anticipates a 200-year lifespan, Argyle said.
Another project in Brazil has a 300-year lifespan, he said.
The development around the world demonstrates that “oil shale has a global footprint” that is growing, Argyle said. That footprint expanded into Mongolia by accident, said Claude Pupkin, Genie Energy CEO. Genie Energy sent a geologist to Mongolia on an unrelated mission and he stumbled on a “world class,” previously unrecognized oil shale deposit, Pupkin said.
“We’ll do a pilot project that is smaller than AMSO,” Pupkin said, referring to the American Shale Oil project in Colorado.
In both cases, the projects will be in-situ, meaning that there will be little surface disturbance. Genie obtained commercial production rights and is working with the government in Mongolia to establish a regulatory system for development, Pupkin said.
Colorado’s deep oil shale deposits don’t fit with the retorting technology developed in Estonia, Enefit American Oil CEO Rikki Hrenko said.
Update: From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
With the shadow of Nazi occupation looming over the country, Sweden turned to oil shale in 1940.
“Oil shale got the Swedish economy through World War II,” Dr. Harold Vinegar said.
Vinegar outlined for the Oil Shale Symposium at Colorado School of Mines last week how Sweden exploited a low-grade oil shale deposit near the town of Kvantorp, using an in-situ process that bore a striking resemblance to the in-situ process Shell Oil Co. was pursuing in northwest Colorado. Vinegar is an oil and energy scientist who spent more than 30 years with Shell.
The Swedes already were mining the same oil shale deposit when they became frustrated by the cost and difficulty of digging to reach the shale they retorted to produce oil, Vinegar said.
Fredrick Ljungstrom came up with the idea of heating the shale in place and leaving the soil above it undisturbed. Ljungstrom drove heating elements in a closely spaced hexagonal pattern down into the shale and sunk a collection well in the center.
The heaters and wells were shallow, in the tens of feet instead of the thousands of feet below the surface in the Piceance Basin.
Making the project more difficult was the lack of electricity. Ljunsgstrom could only get electricity to heat the shale four months of the year, during the spring runoff, when hydroelectric power was available, Vinegar said.
During those months, Ljungstrom used a mobile transformer to direct power into the cells he was using at any given time to heat the rock to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It really was a brilliant idea,” Vinegar said.
And it worked.
The Ljungstrom process produced 90,000 barrels of oil from 1942 to 1945 and 1.5 million barrels during its production life that ended in 1959. The oil produced from Ljungstrom’s in-situ process was lighter and cleaner than the oil produced from the retort process on the same deposit, Vinegar said. Groundwater beneath the deposit was protected by an impermeable clay layer that prevented contamination, Vinegar said.
In addition to inventing what is known as the Ljungstrom process for oil shale, Ljungstrom was also a co-inventor, with his brother, of high-pressure steam boilers, steam turbines and steam locomotives.
He also was a sailing innovator and the Ljungstrom rig — an arrangement of sails — is named for him.
The land he used to produce oil from shale over the years has changed.
“The area revegetated naturally,” Vinegar said. “It’s now a park where the in-situ process was run.”
Lake Powell: ‘It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore’ — John Weisheit #ColoradoRiverOctober 15, 2013
Here’s an in-depth look at the movement to decommission Glen Canyon Dam from Brandon Loomis writing for Arizona Central. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:
Two men sat beside the Colorado River at Lees Ferry slugging Coors and stoking a “probably illegal” fire into the morning, cooking up a dream that would infuse both their lives’ quixotic work.
The new friends shared a brainstorm for a bold plan, which a sly smile from one of them 4-1/2 decades later indicates was only half-bluster:
Let’s get rid of Glen Canyon Dam.
It was a radical idea that got them proudly labeled as “kooky.” Today, for everyone from government water managers to university professors to wakeboarders, the concept is at least as wild now that the thirsty Southwest has grown up. But some people still sit around dreaming of draining Lake Powell, and a few think science is on their side…
If this sounds like the plot of a suspense novel, it kind of is. [Ken Sleight’s] campfire companion was Edward Abbey, who had by then written his “Desert Solitaire” memoir but not “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” That 1975 novel envisioned a handful of saboteurs battling the West’s creeping industrialism and working for Glen Canyon Dam’s demise. Abbey died in 1989…
Sleight became the inspiration for the book’s big-eared, Jack Mormon river runner, “Seldom Seen Smith,” and to this day, he remains committed to the cause. He has filed lawsuits and staged rallies, and he still believes. Maybe, he said, the current drought will persuade water managers to drain Powell so they can fill Lake Mead, the critical trough for big population centers downstream of the Grand Canyon.
“I’m on the threshold of going,” he said of his mortality. “But I always wanted to see that water flowing freely.”[...]
For technical expertise, Sleight defers to John Weisheit, a fellow Moab environmentalist with the Living Rivers group. Weisheit notes that Powell is less than half-full, its water level is dropping, and it is projected to have larger swings in water level as climate change takes hold. The government could restore the river’s — and the Grand Canyon’s — ecological health by draining Powell and still could fill Lake Mead, he said.
“It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore,” Weisheit said of Lake Powell. “Send (the water) down to the place it’s been going for 6 million years, which is the Gulf of California,” he said of excess water that Mead could not hold…
To some grappling with the Southwest’s water future, dam removal is inconceivable.
“It’s a non-starter,” said Dave White, co-director of Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water-sustainability options to deal with climate change. “(There is) zero probability of removing either Glen Canyon or Hoover.”
The reason is that those dams, after a wet-weather cycle, can capture and store four years of river flows to dole out during drought.
“(Dam removal) would be fairly catastrophic,” White said. “We have too much demand on an annual basis to be met by the natural in-flow of the river.”
Even without accounting for climate change, he said, the Bureau of Reclamation’s water-supply study found that population growth in coming decades would suck Lake Mead to below 1,000feet in elevation in 7percent of the years. That elevation is low enough to trigger a water shortage and rationing among the states — something that has never happened. The lake’s current elevation is about 1,107feet. Farm fields across the Sonoran Desert, which currently use the majority of Arizona’s Colorado River water, could go fallow…
Floods that could destroy Glen Canyon Dam have occurred more commonly than was assumed 50 years ago. “Nature will decide when this is a problem and how much of a problem it is, but there are data that were not available when Glen Canyon was designed,” Baker said. “Dams are things that last for 100 years, but they don’t last forever.”[...]
…activist Sleight said much of the area can be as beautiful as he remembers. Some of the side canyons already have responded to the lower water level. He remembered a trip to Davis Gulch in the 1990s, the last time the water neared this low point. New cottonwoods were growing.
“The main canyon is going to take years and years — 100years — to come back,” Sleight said. “Maybe it’ll never come back. But the side canyons, they will come back. They’re flushed out by floods.”
Paul Ostapuk, a reservoir booster with the group Friends of Lake Powell, hopes it never comes to that. He imagines dredging, sediment bypasses and other fixes keeping the dam functional for 1,500 years. Even then, he said, the mud piling up behind the dam may have built up to become prime soil for a farming boom.
“I see Lake Powell never really going away,” Ostapuk said.
From USA Today (Brandon Loomis):
Paul Ostapuk of Page and a Friends of Lake Powell member sees it differently. Pacific Ocean patterns dictate snowfall cycles that feed the Colorado River, and they have swung wildly before. Ostapuk finds it ironic that those who swore high water would topple the dam in the early 1980s when huge releases of water dangerously ripped rock from dam-bypass tunnels now are saying drought spells doom.
“It’s hard for me to believe that right at 2000, when (Lake Powell was) basically full, that a permanent climate switch happened,” he said. “Don’t give up on the Colorado River. It could come roaring back, and I think people will be surprised how much water comes down.”
The river is erratic, draining anywhere from 5 million acre-feet in a drought year to 20 million after an epic winter. Each acre-foot supplies roughly enough water for two households for a year. Without both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Ostapuk said a water shortage already would be drying up Arizona farms. California has older, superior rights to Colorado River water that would trump Arizona’s during a crisis.
“You have to have the ability to catch the wet years, so you can ration it out in the lean times,” he said. “If you’d only had Lake Mead (during the current drought), it would be totally empty. Lake Powell’s what’s getting us through this.”
The Bureau of Reclamation concurs. It calls Lake Powell critical to the mix of water-supply options already projected to fall short — barring extensive conservation and reuse efforts — during the coming half century.
“Drawing down Lake Powell would result in reduced yield to the system,” bureau spokeswoman Lisa Iams said in an e-mail. “Losses due to evaporation would increase if additional water currently stored in Lake Powell were released to Mead,” because Mead is at a lower, hotter elevation.”[...]
Below the dam, the aquatic legacy is mixed. Water gushing through the hydropower turbines comes from deep in the reservoir is colder than native fishes such as the endangered humpback chub evolved to withstand. As chubs and other species declined downstream in the Grand Canyon, non-native cold-water trout thrived and created Arizona’s finest trophy rainbow fishery at Lees Ferry.
The dam also blocked the sand that had flowed through the canyon for ages, altering fish and wildlife habitat while depleting beaches river rafters use. Smaller beaches support less windblown sand to root mesquites and other vegetation, or to cover and preserve archaeological sites from erosion.
“The Colorado River Storage Project Act passed in ’56, and the big dam-building era was on us,” said Jan Balsom, Grand Canyon National Park’s deputy chief of resource management. “It wasn’t until years later that we realized what was happening environmentally.”[...]
Visitors to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area pump some $400 million into northern Arizona and southern Utah, according to Friends of Lake Powell. That figure is similar to a $380 million estimate that Northern Arizona University researchers made in 1999.
The dam generates hydropower to supply cooperatives that have 4 million customers spread from Arizona to Wyoming. It generates less power now when the water is low.
The dam has eight turbine units, each capable of producing 165 megawatts. A single megawatt is enough to power 250 homes at a given moment.
But that capacity is available only when the reservoir is full. Plant supervisor Roger Williams said the water pressure now yields 135 megawatts per unit. Another water-level drop of 100 feet and the dam would have to cease hydropower production or risk damage to the turbines. By that time, the units would be producing just 75 megawatts apiece.
These economic drivers are apart from the development and crops grown through the reservoir’s water deliveries, or its cooling of the nearby Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-fired power plant.
Growing awareness of the damage to the Grand Canyon led to an environmental-protection act in 1992, mandating dam releases that take river ecology into account.
Since then, the Interior Department has sought to restore something of the river’s past characteristics. Since 1996, and most recently last fall, the department has loosed four huge water flushes from the dam to mimic historic floods and churn up sandbars…
Rafters who don’t mind starting below the dam have an argument for corralling the Colorado. The dam evens out the peak flows each spring and keeps the river a little higher through fall, said Korey Seyler of Colorado River Discovery tours in Page. He has paying customers March through November.
Without the dam? He figures he would close shop in September when river rocks emerged.
Ostapuk, the Friends of Lake Powell member, said Glen Canyon remains wild, with uncrowded side canyons requiring no permit to explore.
“It’s just pure, raw adventure out there,” Ostapuk said.
Fifty years after that last bucket of concrete, when Page Mayor Diak stops to look at the dam and the high-voltage lines spreading from it across the Colorado Plateau, he still sees the future. Whether building a dam here was ideal is now pointless to argue, he said.
“You can’t live in the 15th century and expect to have the things that we have now,” Diak said.
Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:
Recovery team eyes White River Basin
By Summit Voice
*More Summit Voice stories on the Colorado River native fish conservation program are online here.
FRISCO — State and federal biologists are considering some changes to the Colorado River Native Fish Recovery Program in the White River Basin after a discussion with stakeholders.
The endangered fish — colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail — are already protected in the White River Basin, according to The Nature Conservancy. The changes would be a firming up of management expectations.
A similar approach has been used in other basins to ensure that current and future water needs are met for people and endangered fish. The White River management plan aims to:
- identify existing and some…
View original 365 more words
Parker-based Independent Energy Partners and the School of Mines are testing a new oil shale production technologyOctober 5, 2013
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A Colorado company is working with the Colorado School of Mines on the next stage of testing for a novel approach to developing oil shale. Parker-based Independent Energy Partners is pursuing the concept of using what it calls a geothermic fuel cell to employ heat to produce oil from shale in-situ, or in place, underground. Strings of fuel cells would be stacked in wells drilled into the shale.
The idea was first conceived by Marshall Savage, whose family has extensive land holdings in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin and who serves as IEP’s vice president of technology development.
A fuel cell can convert a fuel like natural gas into electricity through a chemical process. The patented, downhole heater being developed by IEP will use the waste heat to warm up the oil shale rock in what’s called a geothermic process, versus the geothermal one of tapping heat from the ground.
The company plans to use locally produced natural gas to get the fuel cells going, but under the concept the cells then will operate on gas generated along with oil in the heating process. Electricity production will be a side benefit of the process, and IEP President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Forbes said the process would be water neutral because water produced by the fuel cell would offset consumption. Carbon emissions would be minimal because there’s no combustion, he said.
The company had Pacific Northwest National Laboratory do work to confirm the concept’s technical viability, and had Delphi, a solid oxide fuel cell maker, make a downhole prototype. Now, IEP is paying about $900,000 for the School of Mines to do prototype testing at its Colorado Fuel Cell Center. The school received a small unit earlier this year and a stacked one more recently.
Initial testing will be followed next year by in-ground tests on campus, and then field tests in oil shale formations, with a goal of producing oil in 2015. IEP holds several leases on private property in Rio Blanco County.
“It’s kind of an exciting research project,” said Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the School of Mines.
Said Forbes, “We’re pretty confident it’s going to work fine, it will work as advertised.”
Boak said one challenge the company might face is rock shifting when heated and damaging heaters. He said he thinks Shell faced such problems but was able to solve them. [ed. emphasis mine]
The company is pressing forward even as Shell has announced the end of its Colorado oil shale research and development project, citing a desire to focus on other global opportunities.“I know that they haven’t been doing really well at a corporate level and I think they’re just readjusting their priorities,” Forbes said.
He said IEP’s work is “moving right along.”
“We’re quite pleased with the progress and the parties we’re working with right now.”
Those parties include the energy giant Total, which also is a partner with American Shale Oil in an in-situ project in Rio Blanco County and is invested in Red Leaf Resources’ project to mine and process oil shale in Utah.
“I think Total is very energized by this (IEP) approach and other approaches and is eager to see something proceed here,” Boak said.
Green River Basin: Utah may get its first nuke electrical generation plant if the water is there #ColoradoRiverSeptember 29, 2013
From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):
The fate of a proposed nuclear power plant — the first in Utah — turns on the ebb and flow of the Green River, where proponents of the project want to divert water to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors.
For five days in a small courtroom in Price last week, Judge George Harmond — who once served on the Utah Board of Water Resources — listened to reasons why the decision to grant that water for the plant was within the law or, alternately, why it contravened the statute governing water allocations.
Ultimately, whatever the 7th District judge decides — he took the case under advisement and will issue a decision within 60 days — the loser in this contest is destined to appeal.
I wonder what is different in the new designs that makes them require less water than Fukushima Daiichi did. It seems to me that it requires unlimited volumes of water when you are fighting for control of a fission reaction. That sort of supply is not apparent in the landscape near the reactor site.
Fourteen monitoring wells were sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, to better understand the chemistry and age of groundwater in the Piceance structural basin in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, and how they may relate to the development of underlying natural-gas reservoirs. Natural gas extraction in the area has been ongoing since at least the 1950s, and the area contains about 960 producing, shut-in, and abandoned natural-gas wells.
Hannah Holm recaps the Gunnison Roundtable discussion of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline in this column running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:
One reliable way to rile up a room full of western Coloradans is to start talking about moving water from the Colorado River basin (“our water”) east across the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities. You’ll hear lots of muttering, and someone will probably say something to the effect that not one more drop should go over while a blade of bluegrass remains in the Denver metro area.
It doesn’t even have to be water that resides in Colorado to get people’s backs up, as was demonstrated by the reaction to a proposal floated by entrepreneur Aaron Million to pump water from the Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwestern Wyoming east along the I-80 corridor and then south to a reservoir near Pueblo. In September 2011, billboards sprouted up along I-70 protesting providing funding to even study the idea. The billboards were funded by environmental organizations, but a host of resolutions approved by the City of Grand Junction, Mesa County and others roundly condemned the proposed project as well.
However, if Front Range cities can’t take water from our side of the hill, they have to look elsewhere — and that usually means “buying and drying” agricultural land. Since western Coloradans tend to like farms, even if they are east of the Divide, this creates a bit of a quandary. While some claim that ramped up conservation could preclude the need for more water transfers, it’s not easy to see how to push conservation far enough to close the 500,000-acre-foot gap between supply and demand that is forecast to afflict the state by 2050 if measures aren’t taken. Besides, if the Front Range has to dry up lawns, we might have to do the same — and that becomes a more complicated conversation.
Despite the billboards and resolutions, the state did fund a committee to study the potential benefits and impacts of the Flaming Gorge proposal. It included representatives from each of Colorado’s major river basins, including many highly skeptical of the proposal as well as potential beneficiaries, and it met once a month for a year. In short order, the committee broadened its mission and ended up developing a series of questions to be addressed for any proposed major movement of water across the Divide, as well as criteria for what would be a “good” project. This report was presented to the Gunnison Basin Roundtable and Gunnison “State of the River” meeting in Montrose June 3.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A decision by the Colorado Water Conservation Board not to fund the second phase of a Flaming Gorge pipeline task force does not affect either project that wants to bring water into the state. The CWCB Tuesday turned down a $100,000 extension of the committee, saying its efforts duplicate the role of the Interbasin Compact Committee. Alan Hamel, of the Arkansas River basin, was the only member of the CWCB who voted in favor of continuing to fund the task force.
“I was surprised,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, and a member of the task force. “The state still needs to proceed with water planning, but did not approve our approach for moving forward.”
The task force was formed to identify questions that would face any statewide water project, and from the start said it would not endorse or eliminate either of two proposals to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.
“This decision sends a clear message that the IBCC needs to step up and do something about new water supply,” said Jay Winner, one of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s IBCC representatives.
Environmental groups this week tried to depict the decision as a defeat for Aaron Million’s proposal to build a 500 mile pipeline from the Green River to Colorado’s Front Range. However, Million claimed last week that the neutral decision by the task force was a win for him. He is working on engineering needed to resume federal consideration of the project.
The Colorado-Wyoming Coalition also is pursuing its version of a Flaming Gorge pipeline, but is still waiting on Bureau of Reclamation studies to determine if it will move forward, said Eric Hecox of the South Metro Water Supply District.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
The developer of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline denied Wednesday that the state’s decision to end funding for a group looking at the project would set it back…
Tuesday’s decision to halt funding represented a “critical wound” to the project, Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates said in a statement. Environmentalists oppose the project because they contend it would diminish Green River flows…
Jennifer Gimbel, director of the water board, said the environmentalists’ comments were “misleading.”
The decision “doesn’t reflect the board’s position on the pipeline,” she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it doesn’t deny it.”[...]
The task force was formed to study issues surrounding the project, not to decide whether the project should move forward. After completing a report on the pipeline, the task force requested $100,000 to study “new supply projects in general” at Tuesday’s water board meeting, Gimbel said.
However, the Interbasin Compact Committee already is studying potential water supply projects, she said…
Aaron Million, principal of Wyco Power and Water Inc., called environmentalists’ characterization of the decision “grossly inaccurate.” The company has proposed building the pipeline to bring water from Wyoming to the Front Range, including Fort Collins.
“One of the reasons I think the environmental community’s been so vocal is that this project has a lot of merit to it,” said Million, who contends the project would add to Poudre River volume.
From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brett Prettyman):
Charlie Card, northeastern Utah coordinator for Trout Unlimited, says the news from Colorado is good, but he has heard similar news before and knows not to let his guard down when it comes to water in the West.
“Million said about a year ago that in two years he would be ready to submit another proposal and there is another group out of Parker, Colorado, that has asked the Bureau of Reclamation specifically to give them the actual number of acre-feet of water that is available,” Card said. “The report from Colorado is nice, but the threat is far from over.”
Numerous recreational and financial impacts from proposed pipelines pumping water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which sits on the Utah/Wyoming border, or the Green River above it have been revealed by Trout Unlimited and other concerned groups.
• Wide fluctuations of water levels at Flaming Gorge would create ideal conditions for noxious weeds along the shore, affecting waterfowl, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sage grouse and other species. Open shorelines may become inaccessible for recreation.
• Diminished flows on the Green River below the dam will affect species of concern like the northern river otter, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, Lewis’ woodpecker, southern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.
• A reduction of flows into the reservoir will inhibit recommended flow levels out of the dam. The recommendations were agreed upon by multiple agencies to benefit endangered fish (razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and bonytail) in the Green River.
• The main sport fish of Flaming Gorge — kokanee salmon, lake trout and smallmouth bass — are already facing a number of challenges in a delicately balanced ecosystem that has been rocked by the recent appearance of illegally introduced burbot. Lower and fluctuating water levels will only add to the challenges.
• Access to the lake via existing boat ramps would likely not be possible if water as proposed in the Million project were removed from the reservoir. That impacts all businesses that rely on the reservoir including those on the shores of Flaming Gorge and including other towns and cities like Dutch John, Manila, Green River, Wyo., and Rock Springs.
Similar facts are presented on the ourdamwater.org/ website of Sportsmen for the Green.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The state’s most powerful water organization will spend no more money to study ways of piping water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, a move heralded by environmental organizations but one that might not squelch the idea. The Colorado Water Conservation Board turned away a request that it continue to fund a study of how to pursue large water projects, such as a proposed pipeline to the Front Range from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming.
The board’s decision was greeted as a victory by Protect the Flows, an organization of recreation, agricultural and other interests that depend on the Colorado River. “This decision tells Coloradans that (Gov. John Hickenlooper) and the water board know how much we value our superb recreation opportunities and the huge economy in Colorado generated by outdoor enthusiasts and tourism,” Protect the Flows spokeswoman Molly Mugglestone said.
Water board members noted that such projects would be more appropriately studied by the Interbasin Compact Committee, a 27-member committee established to address statewide water issues.
The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline has been rejected on several levels and by federal agencies. It was criticized by government agencies, including Mesa County and Grand Junction, which cited unanswered questions about the effects of the project.
The Interbasin Compact Committee “has a new water-supply committee and this seems to belong to them,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “I think that’s an important dialogue to have and it’s one we’ve been involved with all along.”
The water board’s decision amounted to an endorsement of the need for conservation over development, Protect the Flows said.
Abandoning talk of water-development projects is a non-starter, Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen said. “Given the drought situation,” Petersen said, “at some level it would seem we would have to talk about storage.”
More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.
From email from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) today voted overwhelmingly to end funding for the ‘Flaming Gorge Task Force,’ which had been considering future large-scale water diversion projects such as the ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline.’ The decision is in line with public opinion; a recent Colorado water poll found that four-in-five Colorado voters favor focusing on water conservation efforts rather than water diversions.
In response to today’s decision, Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates, issued the following statement:
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been called the ‘zombie pipeline’ from years of lumbering around trying to latch onto anything that might keep it alive. Today’s CWCB vote sends a strong message that it’s time to move on to other water demand solutions. No amount of discussion is going to make the pipeline less expensive or more realistic, and we applaud the CWCB for recognizing the need to move forward.”
The ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) is a proposal to pump 81 million gallons of water a year across more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates has consistently opposed the idea as unreasonable and unnecessary.
More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:
The task force funding drew criticism from conservation groups, who said the money would be better spent studying realistic conservation and reuse options for water. By some state estimates, the pipeline could have cost as much as $9 billion. The CWCB denied a request for $100,000 of state water money for continued study…
We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their decision to turn down spending additional money to examine new water diversions as a solution to meet Colorado’s water challenges, said Protect Our Flows director Molly Mugglestone. “It’s the right decision for what Coloradans want as reflected overwhelmingly in a recent bipartisan poll commissioned by Protect the Flows.
The poll showed that more than 80 percent of Colorado voters would tell state officials to spend their time and resources focusing on conservation efforts, rather than water diversions; a majority of voters across political and geographic lines oppose building additional pipelines; and almost all express strong regard for Colorado rivers and a desire to protect them.
[Aaron Million] has said the pipeline could actually help protect flows in over-used sections of the Colorado, especially in years like this, with abundant moisture in Wyoming, but well below average snowpack in Colorado.
Folks from both sides of the Great Divide are finding economic common ground around urging caution in the development of oil shale #coriverJanuary 14, 2013
Here’s a guest column written by Deborah Ortega and Allyn Harvey running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
It is not often that we find common ground across the Rockies on issues that affect our friends and neighbors. We sometimes think of issues as “ours” or “theirs,” though many issues transcend the mountains.
Communities and local businesses across our state depend on clean, abundant water from the Colorado River Basin. There is no greater reminder of that fact than the current drought and the resulting economic impacts we are facing.
It is with those challenges in mind that people in communities from the Western Slope to the Front Range — such as Carbondale, New Castle, Rifle, Grand Junction, Thornton and Denver — support a balanced, commonsense approach to oil shale that requires research prior to commercial leasing of taxpayer-owned land in the West.
Oil shale development could pose a significant risk to the health of our rivers and the availability of water for agriculture, drinking supplies and local businesses. We need to know the risks ahead of any commercial development.
Energy development in our state has always been a significant economic driver, but it must still work in concert with our other job-creating industries that rely on their fair share of the water supply. Impacts to our water sources could affect the livelihoods of millions of residents in every corner of our state.
The technology to make oil shale viable still has not been developed. Since commercial technology does not yet exist, there is no possible way to know the impacts, especially on our water, that would accompany full-scale oil- shale development. All of us have a right to know the facts, so that municipalities, farmers and ranchers, as well as tourism and outdoor recreation businesses that depend on healthy rivers and safe drinking water supplies can plan and make wise decisions. Some have suggested that development will not use much water, and others say it will take too much. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know for sure.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed a wide range of estimates that found that industrial-scale oil shale development would require as much as 140 percent of the amount of water Denver Water provides each year (or as much as a city 30 times the size of Grand Junction would use).
There are also those who say that investing public land and water in oil shale will provide a worthwhile return in jobs on the Western Slope and energy for our nation. We hope they are right. We don’t know that for sure either. But we have 100 years of promises and a dismal record of failure with projects such as the Exxon Colony Project, which devastated the local economy after laying off more than 2,000 workers when it closed down on “Black Sunday,” May 2, 1982.
No good investor would put money into a venture without first seeing the books. The Bureau of Land Management’s new plan does just that by requiring oil shale companies to do the research first, so we know just how much water would be needed and what the impacts to water quality would be, before going forward with commercial leasing.
Our neighbors in Arizona and Nevada have also asked that we know the impacts to water — particularly the Colorado River — prior to commercial development.
It was former Denver Water Manager Chips Barry — often heralded by those on both sides of the divide for bringing people together — who cited concerns that industrial-scale oil-shale development could prevent Colorado from fulfilling its obligations to downstream users. In 2009, he told The Denver Post, “That is a risk not only for Denver Water but for the entire state.”
More than 100 business leaders, recreation organizations, farmers, ranchers and others asked the BLM to ensure that Colorado water is protected. Sportsmen have cautioned that reduced stream flows will negatively impact fish and the region’s outdoor-dependent economy. These businesses depend on healthy rivers and safe water supplies. We cannot afford to gamble the backbone of our economy without fully understanding the risk that oil shale poses to it.
We have much to offer here in the West. People come to our communities to visit, and sometimes they stay and call it home, largely because of our big skies and outdoor recreation. We are all concerned about the potential impact on existing water rights throughout the Colorado River Basin once oil shale companies begin to exercise the senior rights they hold. In a worst-case scenario, this could turn the West Slope into an industrial zone, ruin the Colorado River and threaten drinking water supplies on both sides of the Copntinental Divide.
As local officials, our responsibility is to ensure safe, healthy drinking water for our residents and a healthy community. With that in mind, both of our municipalities have taken positions supporting a cautious approach to oil shale. Given that a commercial industry does not yet exist, it is just smart planning to require that research of oil-shale technologies be completed first and impacts fully analyzed before moving forward with a commercial leasing program, as the federal plan suggests. That is an approach that puts the health of our water and the future of our communities first, to ensure that communities on both sides of the Rockies — and our entire region — continue to thrive.
‘There’s been a great deal of speculation on water needs for oil shale, but it’s all based on unproven technology’ –Steven HallJanuary 9, 2013
Oil shale has been “The next big thing” in Colorado for over a hundred years now. Here’s an article exploring the water needs of oil shale development, from Judith Lewis Mernitc writing for the High Country News via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Click through and read the whole article, there is a lot of good detail there. Here’s an excerpt:
Trapped in fossil-fuel purgatory, oil shale has to be heated to super-high temperatures, a process called “retorting” that requires enormous amounts of water. No one can even say for sure how much, although some energy companies try.
Utah-based Red Leaf claims its technology needs only a tiny amount; other estimates say that full-scale development of oil shale in Colorado would require more water than all of Denver uses in a year.
“There’s been a great deal of speculation on water needs for oil shale, but it’s all based on unproven technology,” says Steven Hall, Colorado spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, which recently signed a lease with ExxonMobil for an experimental oil shale project in the Piceance Basin.
“I don’t think the technologies those (low) water-use estimates are based on are commercially or environmentally feasible,” Hall said.
In November, the BLM published a fresh analysis of oil shale development’s environmental impacts on Western public lands. Much of the analysis, which also looks at tar sands in Utah, is concerned with water — the lack of it in this arid region, the great need any energy-extraction technique has for it, and the vulnerability of freshwater aquifers to industrial contamination…
Lawmakers including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warn that the BLM’s parent, the U.S. Department of Interior, stands in the way of economic progress. But not even the oil producers have figured out how to get the water to the rock without incurring huge energy costs — costs that may not pencil out in the final analysis.
In other words, it may take more energy to get the water to the oil shale than anyone can actually extract from it…
This problem with the so-far embryonic industry is what regulators and industry experts call an “energy-water nexus” issue: Just as water needs energy to travel from source to tap, nearly every form of energy needs water throughout its lifecycle, from mining to generation to reclamation.
Missouri River Reuse Project from Reclamation would water the Front Range and help the Ogallala aquiferDecember 6, 2012
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A pipeline from the Missouri River to Colorado’s Front Range has the potential to bring water to two states — and into the Arkansas River basin — but has not been on the table in Colorado water discussions.
The Missouri River reuse option is being considered as one of about 100 proposals that would relieve pressure on diversion of water from the Colorado River basin. The Bureau of Reclamation began the study in 2009 to assess future supply and demand along the Colorado River and a final report should be coming out this month. Pueblo and other Front Range communities import water from the Colorado River basin each year, so new supplies could reduce that demand. The reuse would provide water to depleted aquifers across Kansas through diversion of up to 600,000 acrefeet annually from the Missouri River near Leavenworth, Kan. A description of the project on file with Reclamation indicates some of the water could reach the Arkansas River basin, north of Colorado Springs. It’s unclear from the documents available if the proposal has a sponsor.
The project would cost billions of dollars and likely face political hurdles. Although water would have to be pumped 600 miles and 5,000 feet uphill from Leavenworth in order to reach Denver, Reclamation rates the project as “technically feasible.”
Although specific plans to move water from Flaming Gorge and the Mississippi River, as well as more general options from the Missouri River, have been debated, the KansasColorado plan has eluded discussion within Colorado.
“No, we have not talked about it,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. Barber also represents the roundtable on the Flaming Gorge Task Force, which has not reviewed the idea.
“We’ve gotten monthly reports on the Colorado River basin study,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There has not been any discussion of this particular proposal.”
More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:
Bureau of Reclamation officials on Tuesday said the “Missouri River Reuse Project” will be evaluated for feasibility following the release in coming weeks of a federal government study on water supply for the West.
“The state of Colorado has not taken a formal position on the pipeline or any of the options,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said…
The Missouri diversion described in Bureau of Reclamation documents would require a pipeline across Kansas, with water used to fill surface reservoirs and recharge depleted aquifers along the way to metro Denver.
It would convey 600,000 acre-feet of water a year depending on Midwestern needs. An acre-foot has been regarded as enough water to sustain two families of four for a year.
“Water would likely be stored in Front Range reservoirs such as Rueter-Hess, Carter, Barr and Chatfield,” a project summary said. “Colorado may choose to construct new reservoirs or enlarge existing reservoirs for the project.”
Some water could also be directed to the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin through pipelines and tunnels when there is great need to relieve drought in the basin, the summary continued…
The options for importing water reflect widening worries about future shortages. The Colorado River Basin, which spans Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, is the source of water for 30 million people. The government’s three-year Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study has found that within 50 years, the annual water deficit will reach 3.5 million acre-feet.
Bureau of Reclamation officials said their primary purpose was to define current and future imbalances in water supply and demand. They asked stakeholders and agencies across the seven basin states to submit ideas to prevent shortages. States have agreed to consider a Missouri River diversion. Other ideas are destined for an appendix.
Here’s the pitch from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:
The Missouri River Reuse option is a diversion of up to 600,000 AFY of water from the Missouri River for reuse within the Missouri River Basin of Kansas and Colorado. Water would be diverted from the Missouri River only when flows to support navigation and municipal water diversions along the river from Leavenworth, Kansas to Saint Louis, Missouri, are not impaired.
1. Within Kansas, the water would be used to fill surface reservoirs and recharge depleted aquifers in the upper and lower Republican River Basins, Solomon River Basin, and Smoky-Hill/Saline River Basin as determined from assessment of need and feasibility by the Kansas State Water Office in cooperation with the Kansas Division of Water Resources, Army Corps of Engineers, and the States of Colorado and Nebraska. In particular, the water would be used for irrigation and municipal, commercial, and industrial use and to recharge the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas. Each of these basins (including the Ogallala aquifer in northwest Kansas) is tributary to the Missouri River. The Ogallala aquifer discharges into the Republican River in northeast Colorado and northwest Kansas. Kansas may choose to construct new reservoirs or enlarge existing reservoirs for the project. 2. Along the Front Range of Colorado, the water (totaling 500 cfs or more as Colorado determines)
would be used for municipal, commercial, and industrial use with return flows allocated for agricultural irrigation use within the South Platte River Basin (a tributary of the Missouri River). Some water could be used to recharge the bedrock aquifers of the Denver Basin. In eastern Colorado, some water could be used for irrigation and municipal use and to recharge the Ogallala aquifer. Water would likely be stored in Front Range reservoir such as Rueter-Hess, Carter, Barr, and Chatfield and in designated alluvial storage along the South Platte River. Colorado may choose to construct new reservoirs or enlarge existing reservoirs for the project.
3. Some water may be available for use outside the Missouri River Basin, particularly that portion of the water in the Missouri River which is non-native (originating as transmountain diversions from the
Colorado and Arkansas Rivers in Colorado and nontributary Denver Basin ground-water withdrawals). Some of this water could be directed to the Arkansas River in western and central Kansas and in eastern Colorado beginning near Colorado Springs. Some water could also be directed to the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin through pipelines and tunnels when there is great need to relieve drought in the basin provided the navigation and municipal supply flows in the Missouri River are plentiful and other water needs of western Kansas and eastern Colorado are being reasonably satisfied.
The location of the Missouri River diversion point is in Leavenworth County, Kansas near the City of Leavenworth. The water would be treated and disinfected at a large treatment plant to be designed and constructed, as necessary, for subsequent conveyance and use. End-user treatment, such as water softening for municipal, commercial, and industrial use, is anticipated.
Conveyance of water across Kansas and eastern Colorado would be through single or parallel largediameter pipelines located more or less adjacent to I-70. Infrastructure would include a series of highcapacity pumping stations (to be located, sized, and designed). The water conveyance infrastructure (pipeline and pumping stations) would be owned and operated by the Kansas Water Office in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Kansas Division of Water Resources, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and various public and private stakeholders. The diversion rights would owned by a Kansas entity
The Missouri River Reuse Project is technically feasible as evidenced by other large diversion projects in the western United States including, but not limited to: (a) the numerous transmountain diversion projects in Colorado that bring tens of thousands of acre-feet of Colorado River and Arkansas River water to the Front Range through numerous tunnels; (b) the Colorado River Aqueduct that brings water from the Colorado River at Parker Dam to Southern California; (c) the Los Angeles Aqueduct that brings water from Owens Valley to Los Angeles; (d) the Central Arizona (canal) Project that brings Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson, and (e) the State Water Project of California that provides irrigation water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley, and is a major source of supply for cities in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties and other parts of southern California. Many of these projects involve the Bureau of Reclamation, Corps of Engineers, and numerous state water resources agencies.
A similar serious project has been proposed that would divert surface water from the Mississippi River and pump it west into the Colorado River Basin. Another large project has been proposed that would divert about 300,000 of acre-feet of surface water from the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwest Wyoming, pump the water across southern Wyoming along I-80 to Cheyenne and then south into the Denver Basin. Moreover, private energy and pipeline companies have constructed thousands of miles of interstate pipelines that pump vast quantities of natural gas and petroleum products across the United States.
Legal, engineering and construction costs need to be determined for numerous possible options. Construction costs will likely be in the billions of dollars and would be borne by the various end users — water providers and irrigators in Kansas and Colorado with some participation by the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. Operating costs must be affordable for irrigators and municipal users for the project to be feasible. In exporting water out-of-state to Colorado, Kansas could charge and collect a reasonable severance tax, as well as the State Water Plan fee.
The historic 2007 multi-state agreement among the seven Colorado River Basin States governing the future management of the Colorado River provides for the introduction and recovery of non-Colorado River system water and non-Colorado River system water exchanges. The Front Range of Colorado uses about 345,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water each year and releases that water into the South Platte River Basin, which is tributary to the Missouri River. According to the 2004 Colorado Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) report, the South Platte River Basin will need an additional 409,700 acre-feet of water by 2030 due largely to forecasted population increase. Bringing Missouri River reuse water to the Front Range provides an opportunity for Colorado to exchange all or a portion of this water for other water in the Colorado River Basin originating in the State of Colorado (such as from the Yampa, White, and Green Rivers) to the Lower Basin states. This exchange of water would engage the States of California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in helping to pay for the project. The federal government would also have a financial interest in the project because of the Colorado River treaty with Mexico.
The Missouri River Reuse Project could have major interstate impacts on regional and local water supply. Congressional and state legislative approvals will likely be needed with an accompanying environmental impact statement under NEPA. A 404 permit will be needed from the Corps of Engineers including numerous state approvals. Water rights for the diversion will have to be obtained from the Kansas Department of Water Resources and will be held by a Kansas entity.
Even though the water will be used in Kansas and Colorado, the reuse project will likely have profound and unprecedented positive impacts on the Colorado, Republican, and South Platte River compacts affecting Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and the Colorado River treaty with Mexico. The reuse project could also positively impact the North Platte and Arkansas River compacts involving Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. The State of Missouri will need solid assurance that the flows in the Missouri River will always be sufficient to support navigation and municipal water diversions in the state. A benefit to the states of Missouri and Kansas and Kansas City area water providers is the possible reduced risk of damage from flooding and river degradation.
The project has numerous options that can be considered in terms of design, construction, operations, and costs. Each of these options needs to be fully explored, which will take time and money. The possible source(s) of funding need to be determined and evaluated. The project is large and will need to engage the cooperation (buy-in) and participation by numerous states and their respective water resources agencies and water providers, the Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and various Missouri River stakeholders. Other federal agency cooperation will be needed from the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Department of Commerce, US Energy Department, US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Considerable risk and uncertainty exists when seeking approval and consensus from such a cadre of stakeholders.
Historic flows in the Missouri River demonstrate that the river it a reliable source of supply for navigation, irrigation, and municipal supply. Flows vary annually and seasonally. The main stem of the Missouri River is managed by the Corps of Engineers pursuant to an annual operating plan that is focused on flood control, navigation, municipal water supply, recreation, and habitat for fish and wildlife. The historic Missouri River flood of 2011 caused significant river-bottom degradation from Atchison, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri, breached numerous federal and private levees, and considerable damage to public and private property. A large diversion from the Missouri River would provide another means for the Corps of Engineers to control flooding of the Missouri River in the Kansas City reach. During periods of low flow, projected river diversions would be reduced or suspended. Subsequent water stored in reservoirs west of the diversion point could be released as needed to ensure adequate supplies of water for municipal use, such as along the Kansas River.
The amount of electrical energy required for operations would be substantial and needs to be determined based on consideration of reasonable design alternatives. Power supply to the pumping stations would be provided by a combination of existing and expanded coal-fired power plants and wind energy as determined most appropriate and feasible by objective engineering and economic analyses.
Additional water for Kansas and Colorado reservoirs will positively support reservoir recreation activities. The reuse project would likely have a positive affect on the riparian habitat of the lower South Platte River basin, particularly for whooping cranes and other waterfowl in northeast Colorado and southwest Nebraska. Potential impacts on endangered and protected fish and waterfowl along the Missouri River would need to be determined.
Project alternative studies, engineering, design, construction, legal support, and operations would be a significant economic benefit to the States of Kansas and Colorado in terms of employment and population growth. A large diversion works, treatment plant, and pumping station would likely employ hundreds of skilled workers and engineers in Leavenworth County, Kansas. Pipeline and booster pumping stations would likewise employ hundreds of skilled workers across Kansas and eastern Colorado. Severance tax revenue for state of Kansas from the export of water to Colorado would also be significant. The economic benefit could be similar to the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to the United States or nearly any of the aqueduct projects in California. The project could also yield substantial volumes of new water to the Lower Colorado River Basin states under the Colorado River Compact.
Drew Beckwith (@DrewBeckwith) December 05, 2012
More Missouri River Reuse Project coverage here.
From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):
That summer of 2002, the river “smelled like rotting seaweed,” Van De Carr recalled. “It was a nightmare.”[...]
But 2012 would turn out differently. On Friday, June 29, as if by a miracle, the river started to rise. By 9:30 that night, it was flowing at 71 cfs.
Something had happened that had never happened before in Colorado: an intervention to spare a river – and its dependents – from decimation during a drought.
Back in the spring, when the skimpy mountain snowpack spelled disaster for so many of Colorado’s rivers and streams, the non-profit Colorado Water Trust (CWT) issued a statewide request for water. Anyone willing to sell or temporarily lease water was encouraged to contact the CWT. If the water could help a river weather the drought, the CWT would consider buying it.
One answer to the call came from Kevin McBride, director of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in Steamboat Springs. McBride had just had a contract with a customer fall through, leaving 4,000 acre-feet (1.3 billion gallons) of Yampa River water unclaimed in Stagecoach Reservoir. For the right price, McBride was willing to lease that water to the Colorado Water Trust.
“We rocketed that (project) to the top of our priorities,” said Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the water trust, based in Denver.
“It looked like a system that was ecologically going to crash,” Beatie said. “The river was starting to crater.”
So for a total of $140,000, or $35 per acre-foot, CWT leased the water district’s spare water. McBride had set the price, based on what he knew his board would approve. In that part of the West, the cost was very reasonable.
On June 28, the leased water began flowing out of Stagecoach Reservoir into the Yampa. The extra flow would directly benefit seven crucial miles downstream of the reservoir, as well as the river’s course through Steamboat and beyond. The idea was to keep the river as healthy as possible through the summer, by releasing about 26 cfs a day into September.
Along the way, the leased water provided multiple benefits. It generated extra hydropower at the Stagecoach Reservoir. It provided aesthetic and recreation benefits in Steamboat, helping businesses like Backdoor Sports avoid tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenues. Further downstream of the reach targeted for the lease, some irrigators even got more water for their crops, a welcome boost during a drought and dire economic times.
“The purpose of the lease is to maximize the beneficial use of water in Colorado,” Beatie explained. “These incidental benefits make this a win-win-win-win. “
Besides rescuing a river and its dependents, the Yampa drought-lease set a precedent in Colorado. It was the first use of a 2003 state law, passed in part in response to the devastating 2002 drought, that allows farmers, ranchers, water districts or other entities to temporarily loan water to rivers and streams in times of need.
Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:
The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West
The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.
Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.
The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.
To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.
More Colorado River District coverage here.
From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):
Some of the state’s leading water experts are coming to Steamboat Springs to share their knowledge during a forum Thursday at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus…
The discussion Thursday will focus on the future and how to meet the legal and financial demands given mounting pressures to supply water to the populated areas east of the Continental Divide.
“We have had it good in the Yampa Valley for a long time when it comes to water, but this summer’s water shortages and the ensuing administration we saw on stretches of the Yampa and Elk rivers is just the beginning,” Routt County Extension agent Todd Hagenbuch wrote in an email Tuesday.
Community Agriculture Alliance Executive Director Marsha Daughenbaugh said she expects the event will be well-attended, especially by CMC students who are studying sustainability. The event is free for CMC and high school students with a school ID, $15 for the general public and $10 for Community Agriculture Alliance members. Registration starts at 5:30 p.m., and the program is from 6 to 9 p.m. People are encouraged to carpool or use alternative transportation because of limited parking at the college.
Daughenbaugh said the focus of the event is not so much to debate the issues, but to focus on financial or legal obstacles the Western Slope may face. That could include the distribution of agricultural water rights for industrial or recreational purposes.
Back in 1925 the Upper Colorado River Basin States united to fight the lower basin states over Colorado River projects like Boulder Dam unless the Colorado River Compact was signed. (Click on the thumbnail graphic for a graphic of The Denver Post front page from that time.) Fast forward to 1948 and the upper basin states inked the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. With both compacts signed everyone would be buddy-buddy for all time, right?
Maybe not, here’s a report from Bart Taylor writing for the Planet Profit Report. Here’s an excerpt:
The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that demand on the Colorado River will significantly exceed supply in the coming years, and likely already has. This, along with drought and some rather dire climate change-related impacts, have forced state planners to reassess their Colorado River water supply and demand metrics. The Upper Basin has never fully utilized its full allocation of river water, either collectively or by individual state…
It’s also begun to analyze its options to develop this remaining Colorado River allocation, and to the dismay of some in Wyoming and Utah (and Colorado, as I’ve written), one option involves a pipeline that taps the Colorado from its primary tributary, the Green River, at Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwest Wyoming and northeast Utah.
For its part, Wyoming has also awakened to the tenuous future of its water resources. The Green has increasingly been identified as a river “at risk” – to the effects of drought, climate-change and a competition for water that’s reaching a fever-pitch throughout the region. Wyoming’s residents and politicians are therefore pushing back on what’s perceived by many here to be a water grab by Colorado – reminiscent of the threat posed by Lower Basin interest’s decades ago.
According to my contacts, Wyoming water officials, including the state engineer, were initially neutral on the Flaming Gorge pipeline. Colorado is legally entitled to Green River water, and Flaming Gorge, like lakes Powell, Mead, Navajo and others, was built to implement the terms of the Colorado River Compact. To over-simplify greatly, the huge impoundments make it possible to even-out the distribution of water from wet years to dry for all parties to the agreement. Wyoming administrators initially had little reason (or recourse) to get worked up about the project, though from its source in Flaming Gorge, the pipeline would traverse the I-80 corridor west through Wyoming, then south to Colorado’s Front Range.
Also, since Aaron Million conceived of a Flaming Gorge pipeline and reminded Colorado officials of the state’s right to file on the Green, most, but not all, water observers gave the project little chance of success. Building any water project, let alone a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional, trans-basin project, is daunting.
Now, the political winds in Wyoming seem to blow hard against Flaming Gorge, the state engineer’s (yet unpublished) opinion notwithstanding. Ironically, Colorado water planners may be warming to the idea, again, driven by self-interest motivating all parties to the Compact. Colorado’s the fast-grower in the region and requires more water, even as it is entitled to more than its Upper Basin brethren. The state may simply not be able to turn its back on a huge, new source of water. (More on Colorado’s Flaming Gorge deliberations next time.)
Utah’s perspective may also be changing. Within the last year, the state engineer approved water-transfer that will result in a new and fairly substantial appropriation, also from the Green River. As I outlined before, the premise is similar to that which may also drive Colorado to the Green – an unused portion of its Colorado River allocation.
Flaming Gorge pipeline task force update: Have the committee members been spending too much time on problems?July 16, 2012
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
“There was a great deal of negativism in the first meetings, but at the last meeting we had a bit of a turnaround because we realized that we had not considered any of the positive things that would happen if we built Flaming Gorge,” Betty Konarski told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday. Konarski, a task force member who represents El Paso County on the roundtable, said the task force has been so busy trying to identify problems that it has neglected the other side of its mission: to evaluate the potential benefits of a new supply of water. The task force was formed to evaluate competing plans by Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million and the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.
More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
The dim outlook for the Yampa River in this summer of drought just got a little brighter, thanks to a water deal announced this week by the Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board…
Under a law passed back in 2003 in response to the last serious statewide drought, the water trust will lease 4,000 acre feet of water stored in Stagecoach Reservoir to try and sustain some flows in the Yampa, in the worst-case scenario potentially preventing the river from going dry.
The water will be released strategically to meet hydropower demands and for streamflow benefits below the reservoir. The water trust has been working on the short-term water leasing pilot program, Request for Water 2012, for about three months…
The water trust will lease the Yampa River water for about $35 per acre foot, for a total of $140,000…
“When we saw the CWT Request for Water 2012, we thought it would be a great opportunity for collaboration in meeting multiple needs during this drought year, and the Upper Yampa Board is fully supportive of meeting multiple needs,” said district manager Kevin McBride.
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
Two water agencies and a conservation organization have engineered a lease allowing 4,000-acre feet of cold water from Stagecoach Reservoir to be gradually released in an effort to revive the river.
The Colorado Water Trust announced Monday it had reached an agreement with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns the reservoir, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to lease the water and send it downstream.
“We’ll start making releases when we can ensure it will supply the benefit we hope it will,” Colorado Water Trust staff attorney Zach Smith said.
His organization will spend $35 per acre-foot to lease the water from Stagecoach, or about $140,000, Smith confirmed. The agreement marks the first-ever implementation of a 2003 statute designed to protect Colorado’s rivers in times of drought.
If the Trust were to release the water steadily, it is estimated it would generate a flow of about 26.5 cubic feet per second from July 1 through the middle of September — perhaps not enough to restore recreation in the form of tubing on the town stretch of the river, but enough to protect the resource. The Yampa was flowing at 69 cfs late Monday afternoon compared to a median flow for the date of 1,000 cfs.
More Yampa River coverage here.
Runoff/drought news: Endangered fish program is short of water to operate some infrastructure this seasonJune 19, 2012
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
… in key tributaries like the Yampa, and the fish could take another hit because there won’t be enough water during parts of the summer to operate fish passages that enable species like the Colorado pikeminnow to reach spawning areas.
Biologists said suspending operation of the fish passages this summer will have a short-term impact on the endangered fish, but are more concerned about long-term impacts if the drought lasts another year.
The endangered species evolved over millennia to survive extreme high and extreme low flows, but human activities have hit hard at the low end of the range, resulting in conditions that can’t sustain populations without help — like the fish ladders. Overall, recovery program leaders say they’ll manage the little bit water they do have based on experience from the drought in the early 2000s. “We’ve been there before,” program director Tom Chart said in a previous interview, explaining that this year’s low flows will likely result in a temporary setback for recovery efforts, especially in tributaries like the Yampa River…
In a release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically identified the Grand Valley Irrigation Company Fish Passage, Grand Valley Project Fish Passage, and the Price-Stubb Fish Passage, all in western Colorado. The passages were built as part of the recovery program to give the fish access to important habitat extending from Lake Powell to Rifle on the Colorado River and from Grand Junction to Delta on the Gunnison River.
On the Colorado River, agricultural irrigators in the Grand Valley are operating fish screens on their canals when conditions permit. The screens serve a dual purpose of preventing fish from entering canals and benefiting canal operations by reducing debris loads in the canals. “We have a history of cooperation with the Recovery Program that helps our water users and the endangered fish,” said Richard Proctor, manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association.
The Recovery Program is also coordinating with the Redlands Water and Power Company on operating procedures for the Redlands Fish Passage and Screen, located on the Gunnison River. The Recovery Program is working to minimize impacts to water deliveries to Redlands irrigators while continuing to operate the fish passage and fish screen, as conditions allow.
From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):
“It’s a brutal year, and I don’t have anything good to say other than it is what it is,” [Pete Van De Carr] the owner of Backdoor Sports said Sunday as the river behind him ran at 111 cubic feet per second, well below its average flow of 1,810 cfs for June 17. According to a National Weather Service forecast, the Yampa River could slow to 85 cfs in Steamboat Springs as early as Wednesday. Once the river falls below that threshold, it essentially closes to recreation to protect wildlife and the river’s habitat.
More endangered/threatened species coverage here.
The Front Range Water Council has its eyes on water requirements for oil shale exploration and productionJune 19, 2012
Water supply planning requires forecasting demand decades into the future. The Front Range Water Council is wary of water requirements for oil shale — the “Next Big Thing” for over a hundred years now — since many of the water rights that oil companies have purchased are senior to most of the large transmountain diversion projects. Here’s a report from the Colorado News Service (Kathleen Ryan) via The Fowler Tribune. From the article:
Jim Lochhead, president of the group and CEO of Denver Water, says half of the Denver water supply comes from the Colorado River, and he’s worried that oil shale production could overtax the river’s resources. “We’re concerned that the BLM and the United States not go too far too fast in their leasing program, before really understanding and quantifying these impacts on the river.”[...]
According to a report from Western Resource Advocates, oil and gas companies hold some rights to Colorado River water which predate the rights held by cities for drinking water. The BLM is expected to have a new plan in place by the end of the year.
Flaming Gorge Pipeline: ‘Colorado has water available under the Colorado River Compact’ — Nathaniel BuddMay 31, 2012
Here’s a guest column written by Wyco Water and Power, Director of Business Development, Nathaniel Budd, running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the column:
Colorado has water available under the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement among seven Colorado River basin states governing allocation of water rights for the Colorado River. Until Colorado’s apportionment is fully developed, the Lower Basin (California, Nevada, and Arizona) will benefit at the detriment of Colorado. For 90 years, our region has over-delivered to the Lower Basin, largely because the infrastructure does not exist to utilize the water supply available to this state. The water belongs to Colorado, not California…
Rather than develop waters allocated for the state’s beneficial use nearly 100 years ago, opponents of the Regional Watershed Supply Project would prefer to stunt economic growth and endanger the Upper Basin’s future water supply. If Colorado’s forefathers had been of this mindset, the eastern slope communities and the multi-billion-dollar agricultural base that supplies open spaces, preserves western culture, and provides innumerable environmental benefits would not exist as we know them today.
Meanwhile, here’s a report about FERC’s latest rejection of the pipeline’s preliminary permit, from Mary Bernard writing for the Vernal Express. From the article:
Aaron Milllion’s hydropower and water supply project, renamed the Wyco Power and Water Project was denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on May 17. That’s the second refusal of the project’s preliminary permit request from FERC, preceded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ termination in 2011. FERC refused a rehearing on the decision saying, Million’s arguments were unsupported and no preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project would be issued…
The project has received widespread resistance from the private sector throughout the tri-state area. Formal opposition from Daggett and Uintah Counties, the Wyoming communities of Green River and Rock Springs, Sweetwater County, Wyo. and Moffatt County, Colo.
Local fly fishermen openly opposed the water project saying it would draw down reservoirs and destroy world class fisheries on the Green River and Flaming Gorge. High Desert Anglers president Jeff Taniguchi warned that the “Million Project would absolutely decimate one of the most beautiful places in Utah, and compromise every downstream user of water on the Green.”
Western Resource Advocates filed objections representing itself, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
White River basin: In the event that an economic oil shale production process is developed, is there enough water available?May 25, 2012
Here’s a guest column written by Colorado River Basin Roundtable member, Greg Trainor, running in the Grand Junction Free Press that looks at the question. From the article:
In Northwest Colorado, where energy development is a major industry and we hear a constant buzz about oil shale (will it or won’t it take off?), the Yampa-White and Colorado Basin Roundtables determined that water demands from the energy industry must be estimated and a plan developed for where this water might come from. The roundtables commissioned an extensive study to find the answers.
The study showed that water use for oil shale has the potential to dwarf all other energy sector demands for water — but that these needs can probably be met with water from the White River Basin through existing and new reservoir projects.
The technology of a future oil shale industry is uncertain, so future water demands are also uncertain. Past industry efforts and current experimental development employ an array of above-ground and in situ (in place) technologies to extract oil from rock, and projected water use varies among these technologies. The study developed high, medium and low oil production and water use scenarios to develop a range of plausible water use estimates.
The study’s high water use estimate uses data from Dutch Shell’s in situ conversion process, which requires electrical heating and cooling. Water needs include water related to supplying electricity as well as directly in the extraction process. At a high production scenario of 1.5 million barrels/day of oil production, this scenario yields an overall estimate of 110,000 acre-feet of water use per year.
This final “high” estimate is significantly lower than the one generated in the first phase of the study. The earlier estimates assumed all energy needs for extracting oil from shale would be met by coal-fired power plants, while Phase II more realistically assumed that the industry would use gas-powered plants, which use much less water.
The study identified three water supply projects in the White River Basin that could potentially meet an annual demand of 110,000 acre feet/year. These three projects are not the only water supply option available, but do demonstrate that the water needs can be supplied from the White River, via development of junior decrees, with reasonable development costs.
Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Protect the Flows asks Governor Hickenlooper to put the kibosh on the projectMay 23, 2012
118 West Slope businesses sent a letter this morning to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, expressing their opposition to the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline. The businesses are members of Protect the Flows, a coalition of over 500 small business owners in the seven state Colorado River region (AZ, CA, CO, NM, NM, UT, WY) who depend upon flows in the Colorado River and its tributaries that are adequate to support the recreation economy.
In the letter…Protect the Flows asks that the administration cease devoting state resources to studying the Flaming Gorge pipeline upon conclusion of the state’s special task force examining the project’s feasibility. As the task force has deliberated, troubling facts about the pipeline have continued to emerge, opposition to the pipeline has continued to grow, and federal agencies have continued to deny all permit attempts for the pipeline. Protect the Flows indicated that they would welcome a dialogue on water that welcomes and fosters ideas beyond the proposed pipeline and adequately accounts for the economic interests of the recreation and tourism industry. The task force, known formally as the Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee, is funded by a state grant issued by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is scheduled to continue discussions through the end of 2012.
“The state’s task force is focused only on one increasingly controversial idea — the Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal,” said Molly Mugglestone, Coordinator for Protect the Flows. “But to come up with the most effective solutions on future water usage we must apply a broader, more inclusive framework, like the one that was applied in achieving the newly completed agreement between Denver Water and West Slope interests.”
Protect the Flows recently released a report showing that the Colorado River and its tributaries support a quarter million American jobs and generates $26 billion annually in total economic output. In Colorado alone, the Colorado River supports about 80,000 jobs and about $9.6 billion in total economic output.
The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline puts that economy in harm’s way. The plan would siphon 80 billion gallons each year from the Green River (a Colorado River tributary), which was recently declared the second most endangered river in America by American Rivers, for shipment to the Front Range. Moreover, the State of Colorado estimates that construction costs for the pipeline could reach $9 billion. An economic study by Western Resource Advocates indicated that the pipeline would take nearly a quarter of the Green River’s flow, which would result in a $58.5 million dollar annual loss to the region’s recreation economy. That same study reported that the water delivered to the Front Range by the pipeline would have to be sold at a price that is the most expensive in Colorado’s history (up to 10 times more than any existing project) because of the pipeline’s steep construction and operation costs.
“Construction of this pipeline would be devastating to the entire Colorado River System,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, President of Adventure Bound River Expeditions in Grand Junction, which employs 30 people. “The significant loss of flows in the Green River would dramatically impact the quality of river recreation and affect tourism for everyone downstream all the way to Mexico.”
Protect the Flows has committed to spend 2012 reminding Governor Hickenlooper and state officials that public resources would be better spent on more affordable solutions that support recreation industry jobs, such as improving water conservation efforts, water reuse and recycling, and better land-use planning and growth management.
‘The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been rejected more often than a freshman before prom’ — Stacy Tellinghuisen (Western Resource Advocates)May 19, 2012
It looks like Aaron Million will have to pony up the big bucks for engineering and attorney’s fees to flesh out his application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Here’s a report from Ben Neary writing for the Associated Press via the Fremont County Ranger. From the article:
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday refused a request from Aaron Million of Fort Collins, Colo., to reconsider its February denial of his permit. In denying Million’s application in February, FERC said it was premature and lacked specifics about the proposed pipeline…
His plans have drawn opposition from Gov. Matt Mead as well as county and local governments in southwestern Wyoming and downstream states. “I continue to oppose this particular proposal and continue to believe that FERC is not the regulatory body to review Mr. Million’s proposal,” Mead said Thursday. “I am glad that FERC denied the request for a rehearing.”[...]
“We anticipated that they would not change the direction from the original response, part of the request frankly had to do with a clarification of issues related to their original decision,” Million said. “And indeed, they did clarify several things, and we now understand the rationale, in essence. They said the application was too broad.”
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water Inc., “presented no information in its permit application or its request for rehearing to indicate that the planning, routing or authorizations for the water conveyance pipeline are in progress or reasonably foreseeable,” FERC’s order said. Until Wyco can do that, the order said, there’s no point in issuing a preliminary permit…
Million said he expected this rejection and learned from the process. “They need some more specifics,” he said, estimating $5 million has been invested so far. “We’re pushing ahead. FERC will be involved at some point because they permit hydropower.”
From the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):
FERC deemed the application from Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water Inc., inadequate in February but Wyco returned the next month asking the agency to reconsider. “We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project,” the commissioners wrote in their decision. “Therefore, we affirm the February 23 Order and deny Wyco’s request for rehearing.”
Here’s a release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today re-affirmed its decision to deny a rehearing on a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. This is now the third time (in less than a year) that a federal agency has rejected plans for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline.
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been rejected more often than a freshman before prom,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, Water & Energy Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates. “It doesn’t matter how you try to alter the proposal, or whose name is on top. You can change the wording. You can change the font. You can print it on a different color paper. It’s still too expensive, too harmful to the environment, and just not necessary for meeting future water demands.”
In July 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers terminated its review of the pipeline proposal, prompting Million to shift his application request to FERC. On February 23, 2012 FERC denied a preliminary permit application for the pipeline proposal, and on March 23 Million requested a “rehearing and clarification.” In a decision released this morning, FERC stated:
We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project. Therefore, we affirm the February 23 Order and deny Wyco’s request for rehearing.
Said Robert Harris, Staff Attorney with Western Resource Advocates: “Enough is enough. This is a strong signal to the State of Colorado to focus more time and attention on proposals that — unlike the Pipeline — are more ripe for serious consideration.”
Million had been seeking a federal permit from FERC to review his ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) proposal to pump 81 billion gallons of water a year for more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates (WRA) filed objections to the application in representing itself, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC); in total, more than 5,000 objections were filed in December 2011 to Wyco’s proposal.
Opposition to the Flaming Gorge Pipeline has continued to grow since December. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has formally objected to the proposal, as have numerous local governments in both Colorado and Wyoming (such as Grand Junction, CO and Laramie, WY).
Here’s a release from Earth Justice (McChrystie Adams):
Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) closed the door on what will hopefully be the last attempt to permit the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. FERC denied a request for rehearing from Aaron Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water, Inc.—an attempted “do-over” on FERC’s earlier denial of a preliminary permit. The Colorado developer has spent several years, and a claimed $5 million, attempting to launch this ill-conceived boondoggle. His proposal has been met with stiff opposition from conservation groups, individuals, and local communities and businesses. Now, FERC has provided a point-by-point refutation of Wyco’s application and rehearing request, and left no doubt that this pipeline remains a pipe dream.
FERC’s order recognized that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal is poorly defined, and the approval process would be “difficult and lengthy” due to the opposition and controversy surrounding the project. As a result, FERC states that it would be premature to issue the permit for the project at this time. Importantly, FERC also made clear that it would not license the entire 501-mile water conveyance project. FERC is now the second agency to reject Mr. Million’s attempts to review and approve the Pipeline, following the Army Corps of Engineers’ termination of its review of the project in 2011.
McCrystie Adams, staff attorney for Earthjustice, had the following statement on FERC’s action:
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most expensive, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States. FERC got it right when they dismissed the permit application, and got it right again today when they denied Mr. Million’s rehearing request. We hope this will finally put an end to Mr. Million’s attempt to profit at the expense of one of the West’s last great rivers and the fish and wildlife, as well as the local economies, which depend on it.
“This project—and any similar, large-scale transbasin diversions—is the worst way to meet Colorado’s water challenges. Such a project is unnecessary and distracts us from the important work we must do to build a secure water future. Unfortunately, we cannot be confident that this project is dead until Mr. Million and those who might follow his path abandon this futile scheme. We will continue to work to ensure that the Green River is protected and that this and other assaults on the West’s rivers do not succeed.”
The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a massive transbasin water supply project that would annually take approximately 81 billion gallons (250,000 acre-feet) of water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River and pipe it more than 500 miles over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range and southeastern Wyoming. This diversion would have devastating impacts on the native fish and wildlife in the Green and Colorado Rivers, batter regional recreational opportunities and jobs that depend on river flows, and potentially be a fatal blow to one of the West’s last great rivers. The plight of the Green River and the impacts of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline were highlighted this week when American Rivers declared it #2 on its list of “most endangered rivers” in the United States.
After an attempt at permitting through the Army Corps of Engineers was rejected last year, Aaron Million’s new company Wyco Power and Water, Inc. turned to the FERC. In February, FERC, acting well within its discretion and following its governing regulations, dismissed Wyco’s preliminary permit application as “premature.”
FERC, in its review of the preliminary permit application, rightly found that Wyco would be unable to gain the many authorizations and the design certainty necessary to file a license application within the three year permit term. Again failing to take “no” for an answer, Wyco then requested a rehearing, yet failed to provide any meaningful evidence or arguments that FERC got it wrong the first time. FERC’s ruling today upheld its earlier finding and left it clear that Wyco’s application is without merit.
Earthjustice had intervened in FERC’s preliminary permit review and filed papers urging the agency to deny the rehearing request. Earthjustice represents a coalition of ten conservation groups with interests throughout the Colorado River Basin: Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, and Utah Rivers Council.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
The controversial Flaming Gorge pipeline (formally known as the regional water supply project) was initially under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but partway through that process, proponent Aaron Million switched gears and asked the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission to review the proposal as an energy generating project.
FERC rejected the application once and Million subsequently appealed that decision under an administrative procedure. This week’s FERC ruled denies his appeal and appears to put the project on hold, at least for now.
The proposal garnered widespread opposition from businesses that rely on recreational flows in regional rivers and streams, collectively represented by Protect the Flows.
“The thousands of people in our region whose jobs depend upon a strong Colorado River system dodged another bullet today, but it’s time to move beyond this threat once and for all,” said the group’s coordinator, Molly Mugglestone. “Enough time and public money has been spent fixating on this one controversial idea, it’s time to bring people together to come up with a smarter way forward.”
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):
FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said in a statement Thursday that the order “confirms that it is premature to issue Wyco a preliminary permit for its seven proposed hydropower developments.”
Miller said Wyco presented no information in its permit application or its appeal to show that Wyco has permission from landowners to build the pipeline across their property.
“Until Wyco is able to do so, there is no point in issuing a preliminary permit for the hydropower developments because Wyco would be unable to study the feasibility of, and prepare a license application for, a project whose location has not been sufficiently narrowed,” the statement said.
From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):
The application for Wyco to study the feasibility of the pipeline — described officially as the Regional Watershed Supply Project — lacked concrete information such as the route or if any authorizations from land managers had been sought, according to the FERC decision. Also incomplete were details about the locations of its proposed hydropower stations. Aaron Million, a Fort Collins, Colo., entrepreneur who is pushing the project, said trying to provide that kind of detail this early in the process is premature — it needs more research…
Wyco has 60 days to file an appeal of Thursday’s decision with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
Million on Friday said the latest ruling has given his team a better understanding of what it must include in its formal application. “We’ll address the issues and keep heading through the permitting process,” he said.
Large engineering construction firms involved in the project remain interested, he added. He declined to name them, citing confidentiality agreements. The pipeline would help meet the water needs of Colorado, which faces a water supply shortfall, Million said. It also would bolster flows in the Poudre River.
Finally, Chris Woodka talked to Aaron Million. The entrepreneur remains focused, according to Mr. Woodka’s report. From the article:
“We plan to move forward and will submit a more complete application,” Million said. He added that he is continuing to secure financing for the project.