Hermosa Creek: Durango Mountain Resort is lawyering up to fight the USFS

April 27, 2014

Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Durango Mountain Resort is getting ready to sue the U.S. Forest Service over access to its water rights – rights it needs for future development on the mountain.

The dispute comes at the same time the Forest Service is under fire nationally for its attempts to force ski resorts to turn over their water rights as a condition for getting their permits renewed.

Meanwhile at the state Legislature, a bill by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, to curb the Forest Service’s water-rights policy appears to be dead as Democratic leaders defer to the federal agency for the second consecutive year.

Roberts’ bill would not help Durango Mountain Resort, which has a slightly different dispute with the Forest Service. But the resort’s CEO, Gary Derck, sees a pattern of the Forest Service trying to get control of ski resorts’ water rights…

The ski resort owns conditional water rights to six wells on the back side of the mountain, on land its previous owners traded to the Forest Service in the 1990s. The trade did not include water rights, but the agency now says it will not allow Durango Mountain Resort to access the wells.

Lawyers for the Forest Service have asked a local water judge to deny Durango Mountain Resort’s rights to the wells. The resort’s rights are conditional, and it needs to prove to a water judge every six years that it is working toward making the rights absolute and putting the water to use.

But starting in 2010, the Forest Service began opposing the ski area in water court.

“Any additional proposals to divert and convey water from the upper East Hermosa Creek will not be accepted by the San Juan National Forest and authorization will not be granted,” former Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles wrote in a June 2012 legal filing.

The ski area’s owners say they have legal rights to access their water rights, and after several years of wrangling with the Forest Service, they are getting ready to sue.

“We’re trying to find a way not to go to court because it would be expensive, and we’re just a little old ski area down here in Southwest Colorado,” Derck said.


Stormwater fee for El Paso County?

April 27, 2014
Fountain Creek during monsoon July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek during monsoon July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

New polling shows voter support for a stormwater fee in El Paso County, and even more as voters become educated about the need. The fee is important to Pueblo County because it could raise $1 billion over the next 20 years to reduce the impacts of floods on Fountain Creek. Last November, 50 percent in El Paso County opposed the fee, while 44 percent were in favor. In March, 53 percent favored the fee, with only 35 percent opposed, said Dave Munger, co-chairman of a citizens task force on stormwater control.

“We’re very encouraged by that, especially because we have not gotten an educational program going,” Munger told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday.

The polling showed that by building certain provisions into the proposal, support could increase to more than 60 percent as the task force moves to convince El Paso County commissioners to put a stormwater proposal on the November ballot.

If the average homeowner paid $9 per month, the fee would raise $50 million per year in the Pikes Peak region. That’s three times the amount generated by a stormwater fee sunk by the Colorado Springs City Council in 2009.

That money would address projects envisioned in earlier stormwater studies as well as new concerns caused by the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, Munger said.

The proposal would limit the administrative fee to just 1 percent — about $500,000 per year. It also would return the money to communities proportionately and include a 20-year sunset period for capital projects. A 13-member board weighted toward Colorado Springs would develop a master plan that would prioritize projects.

While the money would be redistributed on a pro rata basis, it still could be used for retention ponds or dams as envisioned by the Fountain Creek board.

“This will make El Paso County’s stormwater control efforts greater than it has ever been before,” Munger said.

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart asked Munger to explain why the Fountain Creek district could not administer the plan.

“What I would like to know is if you see a role for the district,” Hart said. “A lot has gone into forming this district, including trying to navigate the politics and differences between the two counties.”

Munger replied that the proposal is built on agreements that would be signed by Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake.

“We’re focused on getting voter approval,” he said.

Once the stormwater authority is formed, it could contract with the Fountain Creek district for projects. It might also accept new members, including Pueblo County, city of Pueblo and Teller County areas within the watershed.

“I don’t know why we couldn’t take advantage of this structure,” Munger said.

Recent estimates show a backlog of $740 million in El Paso County stormwater projects, but more could develop. At the end of 20 years, voters could be asked to renew the fee, Munger said.

More stormwater coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: The House turns thumbs down on HB14-1332 #COleg

April 26, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A groundwater bill supported by a group of local farmers and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley has been defeated. House Bill 1332 — aimed at providing relief for areas of Weld County and elsewhere where groundwater wells have been curtailed, and where high groundwater levels have caused damage — narrowly passed out of the House Appropriations Committee by a 7-6 vote Wednesday morning, but that afternoon was defeated 36-29 when it went to the House floor, according to Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, who sponsored the bill.

“It’s disappointing,” said LaSalle-area farmer Glen Fritzler, an outspoken proponent of the bill, whose groundwater wells had been curtailed in recent years, whose basement flooded and who also helped form the Ground Water Coalition. “It might be the end for us in this legislative session, but we’ll certainly try again next year.”

HB 1332 called for de-watering measures in areas of high groundwater, funding for more groundwater monitoring and studies, and potentially creating a “basin-wide management entity.”

The bill struggled for support from other water circles in the state.

Earlier this month, the Colorado Water Congress voted 20-3 against supporting the bill, and members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable — a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to discuss the region’s water challenges — spoke out against the bill.

Rather than support the proposed legislation, the roundtable voted in favor of having further discussions about the high groundwater levels and curtailed wells, and, if reaching consensus on the issues down the road, adding such suggestions to the South Platte basin’s long-term water plan and eventual statewide Colorado Water Plan, which are currently in the works.

The majority of South Platte Roundtable members said at that meeting that such measures, like the de-watering efforts, are more complex than they appear. They also said the state putting forth more dollars for more groundwater studies is unnecessary since the recent Colorado Water Institute’s study is available for further examination, and the State Engineer’s Office is in the midst of a separate groundwater study.

Furthermore, creating an entity for basin oversight would just add “another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.”

Wednesday’s defeat was another setback for LaSalle and Gilcrest area farmers, who, due to changes over the years in the state’s administration of groundwater, had their groundwater wells curtailed or shutdown several years ago. They’ve pushed for several other bills this year and in recent years that address the issue, but have been voted down.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. The pumping of that groundwater draws down flows in nearby rivers and streams — surface supplies owned and used by senior water rights holders. But, because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community struggle to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.

In addition to losing the ability to pump their wells, many of those impacted believe the lack of well-pumping and increased augmentation is what’s caused the high groundwater levels that in recent years flooded basements and ruined crops in saturated fields. Many believe, however, that the high groundwater levels in recent years were caused by a variety of factors, and the existing system for groundwater management is needed to protect senior surface water rights.


2014 Colorado Legislation: SB14-192 would further regulate mining for radioactive materials #COleg

April 26, 2014

uranium

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Democrats in the Colorado Senate are considering a bill to place more controls over uranium mining that opponents say are duplicative and unnecessary. The measure, SB192, would require uranium and thorium mines to get a radioactive materials license from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and meet certain criteria for keeping contaminated materials out of the state’s groundwater supplies.

But opponents say federal and state regulations over such things are already stringent, and the proposed changes are being pushed by anti-nuclear energy advocates who want to stop all uranium mining.

Harold Roberts, chief operating officer of Lakewood-based Energy Fuels, the company that has been working to open the Pinon Ridge Mill in western Montrose County for the past three years, told the Senate Health & Human Services Committee that the measure is fraught with problems. He told the panel, which approved the bill Thursday on a 4-3 party-line vote, the measure only increases red tape, would spark more litigation and would have no impact on protecting public health or the environment.

“My point is, we’re highly regulated and I don’t see that SB192 would do anything to improve those regulations,” he told the seven-member panel.

Much of the testimony for the measure stemmed from residents who live near the Cotter Uranium Mill near Canon City, a uranium processing mill that was declared a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund clean-up site in 1984.

Opponents to the measure said that much has changed since then, and state and federal regulations today are far more stringent to prevent such a thing from happening elsewhere. Roberts said his proposed mill has spent more than a $1 million over the past three years in extra groundwater investigations and facility upgrades at the request of state regulators.

Last year, the company received a radioactive-materials handling permit from the state, but it is waiting to build the $150 million mill located near Naturita until the price of yellowcake, a uranium concentrate powder, increases. Currently, those prices are at a fraction of what they were before the recession began in 2008.

The bill heads to the full Senate for more debate.

More 2014 Colorado legislation here.


“Oil shale has been the next big thing in Colorado for over a hundred years” — Ed Quillen #ColoradoRiver

April 26, 2014
Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming -- via the BLM

Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Microwaving rock in northwest Colorado could turn the oil shale business inside out, said a Grand Junction inventor who is working to restart oil shale at a time when many are pulling away from it. Using equipment small enough to be loaded onto two trucks traversing the surface could result in minimal surface disturbance, said Peter Kearl, a Grand Valley native who heads Qmast LLC, http://www.qmast.com, the company pursuing the project.

Not only would his technology disturb little of the surface, it also would likely produce — rather than use — water, Kearl said.

It could be run using natural gas from the Piceance Basin itself as a fuel source and leave behind subterranean caverns that could be used for carbon sequestration, Kearl said.

Most approaches to developing oil shale, from retorting it above the ground to mining and in-situ heating in large expanses, have run afoul of environmental and cost concerns.

Rather than employing a “big-risk, big-reward” approach such as that of Royal Dutch Shell before it pulled out of oil shale entirely last year, Kearl said he’s hoping to use a more measured approach and achieve more reliable and regular results.

Several other oil shale ventures are pushing ahead in Utah, and Kearl acknowledged that it might be easier to test his technology across the state line.

“But I’m a Colorado boy,” he said, voicing his preference for developing oil shale in the Centennial State.

He has a geology degree from what was known then as Mesa College and a degree in hydrogeology from the University of Nevada.

It also helps that the richest, though deepest, deposits of the Green River Formation’s oil shale are in the northwest corner of Colorado. Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contain the world’s largest deposits of oil shale that contain as many as 4.2 trillion barrels of oil, according to recent estimates.

Applying microwaves to heat-
targeted areas of rock makes more sense than heating large areas using other methods of heating, Kearl said.

“The fundamental physics are definitely on our side,” he said.

The process would send the microwave equipment down a well to heat the hydrocarbon-bearing rock to the point that it would release crude oil that then could be collected by conventional drilling, he said.

The technology could tap shale on steep slopes from the side, allowing the oil to simply flow out, he said.

He presented his idea in 2012 at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory on the Stanford University campus.

The more targeted approach he advocates could prove to be a financial success, Kearl said.

A well 300 meters deep could produce revenue of $80 million, based on $100-per-barrel crude prices, he said.

Kearl and his partners are working to arrange financing of $5.5 million for a test. That step is difficult because the federal government appears to be uninterested in making available any more land for research, demonstration and development leases.

The effective ban on experimentation “thwarts inventiveness,” Kearl said.

So he’s also looking for a small parcel of land, a quarter of an acre would do, on which to test his technology, including his estimate that he could produce about half a barrel of water for each barrel of oil he produces.

The patented microwave technology he’s considering wouldn’t require a large electricity supply, he said, because the process also would produce natural gas, which could be used to fire the generators for the microwave equipment.

Read the post with Ed’s quote here.

More oil shale coverage here and here.


Snowpack/runoff news: Howelsen Hill slide

April 26, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From Steamboat Today (John F. Russell):

The city’s Open Space and Howelsen Hill Facilities superintendent wasn’t totally surprised by what he saw on the face of the city-owned ski area, but this mudslide was something he had hoped he wouldn’t see this spring.

“I never know what to expect,” Robinson said before he climbed up the steep slopes to get a closer look at what was happening. “Just about every year, something is moving up here.”

A few minutes later, Robinson was investigating what might have caused the hill to slide and was snapping a few photos to record the slide’s progress.

He has been watching the hill since Tuesday when two small cracks appeared halfway up the slopes between the first and second exits for the Poma lift. Robinson said he could see the cracks getting larger and the hill changing every day. Today when he showed up, it was easy to see where large chunks of the hill had broken loose and two rivers of mud reached for the bottom of the hill.

“Each day it has progressed a little bit more,” Robinson said. “We noticed it on Tuesday for the first time. The next morning we saw the highest crack, which is visible now. Each day it has changed a little bit and shifted down hill with gravity.”

Robinson said he has talked to soil engineers, and Northwest Colorado Consulting has been working with the city on all the slides that Steamboat has had throughout time. He said it’s a wait-and-see approach right now.

“We are hoping that it will stay in place, and if it comes down, we will have to see what the recommendations are for putting it back together,” he said.

This isn’t the first slide on Howelsen Hill’s steep-pitched slopes. Last year, there was a small slide just below this year’s slide. In 2011, the city repaired a slide area near the Alpine Slide, and in 2004, a section of Howelsen Hill’s largest ski jump slid.

Robinson said it would take some time before crews could begin to repair the damage. He thinks that heavy equipment will be brought in to push the soil back up the hill, where it will be packed and eventually seeded in order to keep the ground in place.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

Many county officials and land managers are bracing themselves for a runoff season comparable to 2011, which ripped up roads, clogged culverts, surged rivers, flooded farms and caused a lot of distress for county residents.

The latest snow data will be reported on May 1, but according to this month’s Natural Resource Conservation Service snow survey, snowpack for the Upper Colorado River Basin was at 144 percent. In 2011, April’s snowpack was at 135 percent.

“My guess is to be ready for a year like 2011,” said Mark Volt, snow surveyor for the NRCS, in am email. “(It) all depends on if it keeps snowing and how fast it warms up now.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Jamestown is on the rebound #COflood

April 26, 2014

Here’s a report about Jamestown’s recovery from TheDenverChannel.com (Jaclyn Allen, Brad Bogott, Brian Hernandez). Click through for their photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

In the middle of September’s flooding, Jamestown was cut off by floodwaters on all sides, leaving only destruction in its wake…

Mayor Tara Schoedinger said things are getting better every day in Jamestown. But she added that the process has been tough.

“The last 7 1/2 months have been, probably, the most difficult in our lives,” said Schoedinger.

With the help of federal funding, engineering experts have come in to stabilize the river that runs through the town.

“We have to understand how the stream behaves, how it moves material and then we design ways for the water to come down the stream to make their way through town without causing the kind of damage we saw last September,” said Marco Aieta with the engineering company AMEC.

Graeme Agget with AMEX said he’s confident that the river is this a lot more stable than it was back when they started the repair work

“It really is about survival. This is a small mountain town and if we can’t put the infrastructure back in play for people to live here they’re going to have to find someplace else to go,” said Aieta.


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