USFS to hold a series of public meetings after NSAA lawsuit victory last December

April 15, 2013


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The U.S. Forest Service is turning to focus groups to help it deal with a water-rights directive that landed the agency a slapdown in federal court. Forest Service officials are to conduct focus-group discussions Tuesday about the clause, which they hope to publish in August and then begin the process of collecting public comment in preparation for adoption by February.

The process being undertaken is “bizarre beyond belief,” said Glenn Porzak, a Colorado water lawyer who represents the National Ski Area Association, which took the Forest Service to court last year to stop enforcement of the directive. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

It’s not a new approach, Forest Service spokeswoman Tiffany Holloway said. “Listening group sessions are just one of the ways that we engage the public in our decision-making,” she said.

The Forest Service was rebuffed by federal court in Denver when it demanded that the new ownership of Powderhorn Mountain Resort turn over new water rights in order to obtain a lease to operate the ski area in the Grand Mesa National Forest.

Powderhorn was the first resort in the nation to be subject to the directive. The court later found that the Forest Service had fallen short of public-involvement requirements in implementing the directive. Ski resorts, environmental organizations, community organizations and representatives of natural-resource industries are invited, each to their own listening session, the Forest Service said.

Ski areas are to be represented at a meeting Tuesday in Denver. Other meetings are scheduled in Salt Lake City; Lake Tahoe, Nev.; and Washington, D.C. “The sessions will focus primarily on the principal rationale underlying the ski area water rights clause: ensuring that sufficient water remains available to support ski areas and dependent communities,” Leslie A. Weldon, deputy chief of the National Forest system, wrote to participants. Officials have said the policy is needed to prevent ski areas from selling water rights to other users should they have more value than for snowmaking.

Since the policy was invoked with Powderhorn, municipal water providers, grazers and other industries and organizations that use federal lands have been told they could be subject to the same requirements. “We’re disappointed we haven’t been invited to participate” in the listening session, said Mark Hermundstad, the Grand Junction water attorney who represents the Ute Water Conservancy District. Ute Water filed an amicus brief in the Powderhorn case that “raised serious issues about how the Forest Service rules could be applied,” but won’t be allowed to direct them to the Forest Service listening process, Hermundstad said.

The Forest Service has “kind of awakened a sleeping dog” by extending the policy beyond ski areas, Porzak said. Municipalities and other users “are now focused on this issue,” he said. While the sessions are open to the public, “The intent is to have people of like interests/expertise to be able to have conversations with people of similar interests,” Holloway said. “We will not turn people away from any meeting but will ask that they allow the invitees to have a free conversation.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., whose 3rd Congressional District includes several ski areas, grazers, municipal water suppliers and others, said he was disappointed the Forest Service was conducting meetings far from where the effects of the policy will be most heavily felt. “When are they going to talk to the people who stand to be affected by this effort to trample all over state water law?” Tipton said via a spokesman.

More NSAA coverage here.

Water reuse in oil and gas operations is an expensive undertaking

April 15, 2013


From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

While Colorado’s drilling boom produces record amounts of gas and oil, the multiplying wells also are bringing up far greater quantities of a salty, toxic liquid waste — 15 billion gallons a year. If cleaned properly, all that liquid could become safe water to restore rivers, irrigate food crops and sustain communities in an era of drought and declining water supplies. Or at least it could be reused by oil and gas companies to reduce their draw of fresh water from farmers and cities. “You could use that water for anything,” said Steve Gunderson, water quality control director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We’ve got to do our best to make sure we protect our environment. In a state like Colorado, water is our future.”

But Colorado leaders have no policy for reusing oil and gas industry waste. More than half is injected untreated into super-deep wells — filling rocky voids from which oil and gas was extracted. Other waste is dumped in shallow pits, stored in evaporative ponds or discharged after partial treatment under state permits into waterways. Technology exists to clean liquid waste right up to drinking water standards, but it’s expensive, about three times as costly as buying fresh water for drilling and fracking, which runs about 17 cents a barrel, and burying waste untreated for about 70 cents per barrel…

Some companies, such as Encana, treat liquid waste to the point at which it can be reused for fracking more wells. They remove fracking gel and microbes, yet the liquid stays too toxic and salty to irrigate crops. Modern treatment methods — used in Wyoming and other states where geology does not allow safe burial — purify liquid waste so that water can be put back in rivers. This restores aquatic life and eventually helps fill drinking-water reservoirs…

High Sierra’s water-treatment plants near Front Range drilling fields use a combination of mechanical skimming, chemical reaction, reverse-osmosis filtering and biological treatment to transform truckloads of toxic black muck to crystal-clear water…

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, charged with both promoting and regulating the oil and gas industry, has issued 3,191 permits letting companies dispose of liquid waste in evaporative ponds, shallow pits and 300 super-deep injection wells. Disposal in pits and ponds can lead to toxic emissions and contamination of groundwater. Hundreds of the pits in eastern Colorado are unlined, pre-dating rules implemented in 2009. Even under those rules, operators can seek variances that let them avoid installing liners. And companies operating in Washington, Yuma, Logan and Morgan counties have until May 1 before new pits must be lined.

The liquid waste comes from drilling boreholes at oil and gas wells. First, drillers inject about 300,000 gallons of fresh water. Then frackers inject 1 million to 5 million more gallons, mixed with sand and fracking fluids, to loosen oil and gas in shale rock. This all blends with briny underground pools that are often saltier than seawater and laced with metals…

Spills can be devastating — as seen along Colorado’s once-pristine Spring Creek, a tributary of the North Platte River in a wildlife-rich area near Walden, west of Fort Collins. For more than a decade, Englewood-based Lone Pine Gas has been allowed to discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of what is supposed to be treated liquid waste into the creek under a CDPHE permit. State permits specify the levels of various metals, oil and grease, salts and chemicals that must be removed before discharging waste into surface waterways. But discharges by Lone Pine have degraded Spring Creek to the point that, according to a recent EPA emergency response assessment, aquatic life is impaired. Last April and August, EPA crews found oil-contaminated soil heaped in open, unlined piles and cattle drinking oily water from waste ponds. Lone Pine spilled oil into the creek in 2006 and in 2011 — material that blackened and poisoned creek beds, according to state and federal records. As recently as 2010, CDPHE officials renewed Lone Pine’s discharge permit without review, records show. Now state water-quality officials are suing the company and say they will toughen enforcement under a compliance plan backed by court order…

Today in Colorado, 51 percent of the 326 million to 398 million barrels a year of the oil and gas industry’s liquid waste is injected deep underground, state officials said in responses to Denver Post queries. Another 12 percent is discharged into creeks and rivers — about 1.6 billion gallons a year — under 23 CDPHE permits…

Most fracking now is done using recycled produced water, he said…

Industry leaders “are doing pilot projects right now that are protected by non-disclosure agreements” and investing in filtration technology, Ludlam said. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Denver: USFS to hold a series of public meetings after NSAA lawsuit victory last December

April 14, 2013

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Now, the agency will hold a series of public meetings, starting April 16 in Denver, to take input from the public and key stakeholders. Additional meetings are set for Salt Lake City on April 17, and Lake Tahoe, Calif., on April 18.

Forest Service leaders and technical experts from Washington, D.C., as well as from local and regional offices will be on-hand to take public comments and provide additional information on the water rights issue.

At issue is very specific language in ski area and other special-use permits that establishes the ownership and future uses of water that flows off public lands. The key for the Forest Service is to ensure that the water rights from water that comes from national forest system lands continue to stay with the permitted special use.

The ski industry and the agency have been at odds over the water rights directive for several years but say they are committed to a collaborative approach based on a long history of partnership. “Some resorts have water rights in their name, some are held in the name of the U.S. Going forward, we need a more cogent way of addressing this,” Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Daniel Jiron said in a January interview with Summit Voice.

“Our long-term policy objective is to make sure that ski areas and communities can depend on that water … The Forest Service must provide the resources to do that,” Jiron said. “We support the ski industry … I believe it’s an important part of our mission. We know that the current group of ski resort owners and operators are committed to their resorts and Colorado, but we have to plan ahead decades to protect public resources,” Jiron said.

More NSAA coverage here.

HJR13-1004 supports the NSAA’s position regarding water rights associated with ski areas #COleg

April 14, 2013


From the Craig Daily Press:

A Sen. Randy Baumgardner-sponsored water rights measure unanimously passed out of the Colorado Senate Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. House Joint Resolution 13-1004 calls on the U.S. Forest Service to rescind a 2012 directive that stipulates water rights revert to the federal government upon termination of a special-use permit.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Good rain south and central Denver #COwx #COdrought

April 14, 2013



Precipitation of .20 to .30 over the south metro area and central and east Denver, up to Brighton preceded a spike at the South Platte at Denver gage overnight. Click here for a crop of the 24 hour precipitation map from the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. Click here for the South Platte at Denver hydrograph from the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The spike is due to the inflows to the main stem from urban stormwater.

More stormwater coverage here and here.

Forecast news: Isolated mountain showers possible, red flag warning southeast, mountain snow tonight #COdrought #COwx

April 13, 2013

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

Breezy winds will develop across most parts of southern Colorado Saturday…and along with low humidities and already dry conditions…the fire danger is expected to increase over much of the eastern plains. A slight chance of rain and snow showers is still in store over the central mountains along and near the Continental Divide…with little or no precipitation elsewhere. Temperatures should climb to above average readings in all areas, with highs in the 60s and 70s over the plains and 50s to low 60s over the high country.

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

Strong gusty winds will develop in advance of a cold front this afternoon. The strongest wind gusts will occur over northwest Colorado with speeds upwards to 45 mph. For these reasons, a wind advisory is in effect for parts of northwest Colorado and a red flag warning is in effect for parts of west central Colorado. The cold front that moves into the region this evening brings snow to the high country with accumulations of 5 to 9 inches toward the divide. Showery and blustery weather will continue on Sunday and lasting into Wednesday has a bigger storm system develops over the Great Basin and shifts into Colorado. Heavy snow is possible across the northern and central mountains.

Snowpack/drought news: Northern Water sets a 60% quota, others pray for rain #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2013




From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Water officials say they did their best Friday to find middle ground in the differing requests of city representatives and farmers and ranchers. But in the end, it’s “a situation where we don’t have any water,” Jerry Winters said after he and the rest of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors set a 60 percent quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Northern Water board members said they set the quota at that mark to help meet the water demands of the region but also keep at least some of its limited water in storage for the future. The 60 percent quota struck a balance between the 50-60 percent quota some city officials had asked for and the 70 percent quota many farmers and ranchers had requested during Thursday’s water users meeting in Loveland. After hearing those suggestions from water users, the 12-member Northern Water board set its C-BT quota Friday morning to determine how much water will be released this year from the system — which, with its 12 reservoirs, is the largest water supply project in the region.

Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota every year in April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Northern Water officials. A 60 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 60 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

The C-BT Project collects water on the West Slope and delivers it to the East Slope through a 13-mile tunnel that runs underneath Rocky Mountain National Park. Northern Water’s boundaries encompass portions of eight counties, 640,000 irrigated acres and a population of about 860,000 people.

LaSalle-area farmer Frank Eckhardt said he had heard earlier in the week that the C-BT quota could be set as low as 50 percent, so he was relieved to hear it was set at 60 percent. “We’re going to need every bit we can get,” said Eckhardt, who sits on the board of directors for the Western Mutual and Farmers Independent ditch companies.

Eckhardt said his two ditch companies don’t own C-BT water, but like many other ag-water providers, depend heavily on leasing C-BT water from cities who own it. In last year’s drought, Eckhardt said, C-BT water “provided great relief” for his family’s farm.

Last spring, the Northern Water board puts its C-BT quota to 100 percent to help farmers, and could do so at the time because there was plenty of water in storage. But even with the C-BT quota set at 100 percent, the Eckhardts still had to leave about 500 acres of farm ground fallow due to water shortages, and diverted water away from about another 500 acres of planted acres to save other crops.

With the C-BT quota set at just 60 percent this year, Eckhardt said he and his family will likely leave even more acres unplanted this year. “Hopefully we can find some water to rent somewhere else,” Eckhardt said. “But I’m not sure where that’s going to come from. There’s just not much water out there.” For only the second time in 56 years, the quota set for the C-BT Project was limited this year by how little water is available, rather than based on the demands of the region.

In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent — although it rarely does — and still have at least some water in storage for the following years. But this year, a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, according to Brian Werner, a spokesman and historian with Northern Water. And the limited runoff from this year’s meager snowpack in the mountains isn’t going help much, Werner added.

The only other year the board has been so limited in the quota it could set was 2003 — following the historic drought year of 2002, said Werner, who’s been with Northern Water for more than 30 years.


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It was a different approach to “irrigation.”

Bishop Fernando Isern, accompanied by an entourage of more than 100 people, sprinkled holy water on a field near Blende on Friday as a symbolic way to bless all Pueblo County farms. And he prayed for rain. “We have to come back to basics,” said Isern, the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo. “Our forefathers for generations worked the land and did not have as much technology. But they had their faith.”

With the Arkansas Valley in the third year of drought, the event was staged at Milberger Farms on the kind of bright sunny morning that has become too typical lately. Statues of St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers, graced a table on the patio at Milberger’s as the bishop addressed the crowd. “We can give thanks to God for meteorologists and all of our technology, but all of that is useless if we don’t have rain,” Isern said. “It’s about giving all to the Lord and trusting in God.”

His prayer for rain was brief: “We seek God’s blessing on our land, seed and crops that it will produce. Unless the seed is planted, it will not yield fruit.”

His comments later were more informal: “In the three years I have been here, I have learned that moisture is an important issue.”

The Rev. Joseph Vigil, pastor at St. Joseph’s Church, and the Rev. Matthew Wertin, pastor at Sacred Heart in Avondale, along with altar boy Antonio Valdez, assisted in the ceremony. “St. Isidore ore was born in 1070 and died in 1130. He was the patron saint of farmers, and he was married to Maria, who is also a saint,” Vigil said. “People said that when he worked in the fields, they would see angels by his side.”

Those who attended pledged to be faithful, or at least willing to believe prayers for rain can work. “It’s so true, what the bishop said about getting back to basics,” said Lucille Corsentino. “Intervention does happen, although sometimes we are too proud or arrogant to see it.”

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District decided in a board meeting Friday morning that they will distribute only 60 percent of water shares from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in response to a second year of drought. Local farmers had pleaded at a meeting earlier this week for 70 percent of their share. Farmers contend that the 60 percent quota will mean planting fewer fields with crops that use more water, such as corn. That will have consequences for Weld County’s dairy industry, they say…

The decision to distribute 60 percent of shares this year should keep the city of Fort Collins from having to pass further water restrictions, according to Donnie Dustin, the city’s water resource manager. A quota of 50 percent or less would have overextended the city’s resource.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecasted the drought will persist or intensify in most of the state through June.

From The Mountain Mail (Lonnie Oversole):

Water restrictions for the 2013 irrigation season will again be on a voluntary basis. Salidans are encouraged to follow the same restrictions that have been in place in past years: Even-address numbers water on even calendar days, odd-address numbers water on odd calendar days. Also, the city recommends no watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and no one watering on the 31st day of the month. Should you choose not to follow voluntary water restrictions, there will be no enforcement or penalty.

Keep in mind if you water during the heat of the day, you will lose 50 percent of the water you apply to evaporation, which is the reasoning behind not watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The even/odd-day system has half the city watering on one day and the other half on the next day. This provides better water pressure for all customers and firefighting personnel.

The snowpack throughout Colorado is well below the normal average for this time of year, at 74 percent of average statewide on April 1. The Arkansas basin also was at 74 percent of normal April 1. In terms of snow totals, it would take an additional 6 feet of snow on average in Colorado to catch up to normal snowpack levels.

If the hot summer days yield little moisture in the form of afternoon showers, there is a good possibility that mandatory water restrictions could be implemented by summer’s end.

At their April 2 work session, city council decided to leave water restrictions voluntary with the ability to change to mandatory if conditions worsen. Water restrictions have been voluntary for the last 2 years. When comparing water totals to years prior when water restrictions were mandatory, there is little difference in water usage.

Buena Vista has implemented voluntary watering restrictions as well. Many Front Range towns and cities have instituted mandatory watering restrictions, with Lafayette allowing no outdoor watering until April 16 and after that only between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. After May 1, the city of Louisville will limit watering to only 2 days a week with no watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. In addition, the cities of Denver and Aurora have instituted similar mandatory restrictions, citing the worst drought in Colorado since 2002.

I would also like to take this opportunity to talk about routine bacteria sampling that occurs within the water distribution system. We are required, based on population, to take seven bacteria samples per month.
The samples are taken at sites predetermined by a sampling plan. The plan contains 21 routine sampling sites with seven alternate sites. If for some reason the routine site is not accessible, then an alternate site is used. The sampling each month is spread throughout the system rather than being concentrated in a certain area. Each site by year’s end will have been tested four different times.

The water distribution system contains many miles of piping to get the treated water to our customers. Chlorine residual is maintained throughout the distribution system to assure a level of water quality.
Chlorine levels are tested every time a bacteria sample is collected. Chlorine levels are also measured at every treatment point daily and at the surface water plant continuously. A predetermined site within the distribution system is also tested daily.

Another important aspect to good water quality is maintenance of the distribution or piping system. The key element is a good flushing program. This part of system maintenance is often mistaken by the public as a waste of water. Flushing rids the system of accumulated sediment and discolored water. Flushing also gets rid of old water or water that’s been in the system for periods longer than normal. This can occur in areas with lower usage or dead-end lines. Getting old water out of the system reduces the potential associated with the formation of disinfection byproducts. The city is currently flushing hydrants twice per year, in the spring prior to peak water usage, and again in fall when usage begins to drop off. Based on data recorded during flushing in past years, less water is being used to flush twice per year than was used when hydrants were flushed annually. Due to the current conditions we will not be flushing this spring. Last month, several hydrants were flowed and data collected to create a water model for the distribution system. Once a working model is in place, one of the many benefits will be to fine-tune the city’s flushing program.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan, an article titled “Northern Water gives Fort Collins the water it asked for,” written by Bobby Magill. Here’s an excerpt:

With below-average snowpack in the mountains and ongoing drought conditions in Northern Colorado, the board voted to give farmers and cities obtaining water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project 10 percent more water than the board previously said it would provide for 2013.

Last year, the board agreed to give C-BT water users 50 percent of the available water in the system. On Friday, the board increased that amount to 60 percent.

Fort Collins water resources manager Donnie Dustin said Thursday that if the amount of C-BT water, or quota, the city would receive stayed at 50 percent, the city might have to go to Level 2 water restrictions, which would mean Fort Collins residents would be allowed to water their lawn only once each week.

Dustin said the city was advocating for the 60 percent quota the board decided to provide, which would likely prevent Level 2 restrictions from going into effect.

Fort Collins gets nearly half of its water supply from the C-BT system, which pipes Colorado River water from Grand Lake on the Western Slope to Front Range reservoirs, including Horsetooth and Carter Lake. The C-BT system supplements the water supplies for 30 Front Range cities and towns and 120 irrigation companies.

At a meeting of Northern Water water users on Thursday, farmers asked to get more water than cities, but the board decided to give everyone the same amount.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

Board members of Northern Water, the agency that sells the water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project, made their decision Friday, a day after hearing from Eastern Colorado farmers they needed more, and from utility managers in Front Range cities they should hold the line…

The 60 percent quota declaration reflects concern from city water providers about low reservoir storage levels in this, the second year of Northern Colorado drought. At the same time it grants farmers an additional slice of the C-BT pie to get crops of corn, beets, onions and other water-intensive crops through the summer.

Members of the Northern Water board said their decision was not as simple as balancing city and agricultural needs. “It’s not as much of an agricultural versus municipal issue, it’s a situation where we don’t have any water,” Weld County board member Jerry Winters said. “If I spend my money and I’m broke that’s not good financial management. It’s the same with water.”

From The North Forty News:

Directors said they approved the 10 percent increase because it offers additional supplies and flexibility for all types of water users, but will still help keep water in reservoirs for next year. Although many farmers and ranchers asked for higher quotas than municipal water providers, this year’s quota decision comes to a simple formula, said Director Jerry Winters from Weld County. “It’s not as much of an agricultural versus municipal issue, it’s a situation where we don’t have any water. If I spend my money and I’m broke that’s not good financial management. It’s the same with water,” Winters said.

Director Bill Emslie from Larimer County also stressed that prudent quota-setting includes a range of considerations. “This is a decision that needs to have balance between demand and availability, as well as a consideration of the facts,” Emslie said. “We are all in this together, and we need to find middle ground.”

Directors have the option to increase the 2013 quota in subsequent meetings.

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

An April 9 blog post by Denver Water was headlined, “It’s raining, it’s snowing, the drought is still going.” The post notes that it would take about 6 feet of new snow over the next couple of weeks in the mountain watersheds Denver relies on to have a normal snowpack — and even if the snowpack were normal, they would still be in drought because of low reservoir levels left over from last year.

So … what did this past storm bring us? Practically nothing in the Grand Valley. 14.5 inches in Boulder. Over a foot in some mountain locations, but way less than six feet. Statewide, the storm bumped the total snowpack from 69% of the average for this time of year to 71%. So it’s safe to say that Denver’s drought is still on.

Why do we on the Western Slope care about Denver’s water supply situation? We share a reliance on the Colorado River and its tributaries — their water supply situation mirrors our own. Also, the implementation of an agreement over how to share Colorado River water has already affected management of the river.

In March, dismal snowpack data and low reservoir storage levels triggered an agreement between Western Slope interests, Denver Water and Xcel Energy to “relax” the senior water rights call on the river exercised by the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon. This will reduce water demanded by the power plant in order to allow junior rights upstream to fill Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Northern Water board decided Friday to provide water users with a 60 percent quota, about 10 percent less than is usually allotted. Board members said the amount of water being given out from the Colorado-Big Thompson project is meant to strike a balance between cities that want to remain conservative in their water use and farmers who say they need a higher amount to keep from fallowing acres of farm land this growing season.

‘The reach of Colorado water goes all the way to the Mississippi’ — Justice Greg Hobbs

April 13, 2013


From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The Fremont-Custer Bar Association on Friday welcomed Justice Gregory Hobbs, who spoke to a group of about 20 about water law and the history of water in Colorado.

The meeting, at DiRito’s, was part of the association’s effort to provide educational activities for its member attorneys. Friday’s event was open to the public and included several city council members and city employees…

Hobbs is vice president of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, which is a non-advocacy and non-political organization created by the General Assembly to provide information about water to Colorado citizens.

“The reach of Colorado water goes all the way to the Mississippi,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs discussed the nine interstate compacts Colorado has regarding the four major rivers with headwaters in the state, including the Arkansas River. The compacts control how much water Colorado citizens may use and how much must be allowed to leave the state in its rivers. The compacts result in Colorado being able to only consume 1/3 of the state’s snow melt water.

The concept of water rights for irrigation, Hobbs said, arose out of the necessity to irrigate lands a distance from the river for agricultural purposes. In the 1866 Mining Act, Congress severed water from land in the public domain, which made up most of the territory at the time…

The doctrine of water right favors settled uses, he said, meaning those with old rights take preference over newer uses. “The public always owns the water resource,” Hobbs said.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here and here.

Last day at Interior for Ken Salazar

April 12, 2013

CWCB: Next Water Availability Task Force meeting April 18 #COdrought

April 12, 2013


From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 18 from 9:30a-12noon & will be held at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

The agenda has been posted at the CWCB website.

More CWCB coverage here.

Parachute Creek spill: Jurisdictional questions unclear for Colorado’s response #ColoradoRiver

April 12, 2013


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

State agencies continue to discuss issues of jurisdictional oversight over the liquid hydrocarbons leak near Parachute, something that could have a bearing in terms of the amount of potential fines that could be imposed in the incident.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been leading the investigation into a leak of thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons in a pipeline corridor near Parachute Creek. “That may continue to be the case but we’re continuing to sort that out,” said Steve Gunderson, director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which also has been involved in the case.

The commission has issued notices of alleged violation against Williams, which has pipelines in the corridor serving its adjacent gas processing plant, and WPX Energy, which owns the contaminated site and has wells and other facilities in the area. Williams said this week it has determined that a faulty valve gauge on its natural gas liquids line coming from the plant is the source of the leak, but the commission said while that is a possible explanation, it is continuing to investigate.

By state law, the commission can impose fines of up to $1,000 a day per rule violation, although a bill now being considered by the Legislature would increase that to $15,000. Gunderson said daily fines for violations of his division’s rules can run up to $10,000 a day.

Commission fines also are capped at a total of $10,000 per violation, although that cap can be waived under circumstances such as when significant environmental impacts occur. The legislation now being considered would remove that cap.

Gunderson said while he understands why everyone focuses on penalties, the big costs for violators come from what regulators call “injunctive relief.” “It’s what we require the entity to do to fix the problem and prevent the problem from happening again,” he said.

The commission has rules addressing leaks and contamination related to exploration and production. Health Department rules govern groundwater and surface water contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency also has been involved in the Parachute case. “I cannot say yet how the jurisdictional issues are going to work out,” said Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, of which the commission is a part, said this week.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

An April 10 statement from Todd Hartman, communications officer for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), noted that Williams’ identification of a faulty gauge attached to an above-ground valve as the source “provides a possible explanation of a release in this area.” But, Hartman’s statement continued, “The investigation of the cause or causes of the impacts to soil and groundwater will continue until we can determine whether the release described by Williams accounts for the situation on the ground.”

According to statements from the COGCC and Williams, the company has continued drilling new monitoring wells along the banks of Parachute Creek to determine the overall size of the plume and to check for groundwater contamination.

According to the COGCC’s April 10 bulletin, three new groundwater monitoring wells about 50 feet south of Parachute Creek showed benzene at concentrations between 51 parts per billion (ppb) and 450 ppb. That is considerably lower than the levels of benzene found closer to the reported source of the leak.

Hartman also reported that surface water samples taken from the creek itself, about two and a half miles downstream from the plume, showed no sign of contamination. The samples were taken at about the spot where the town of Parachute takes irrigation water out of the creek.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

By April 2, [Juan Rodriguez, the Dallas-based deputy regional director of OSHA] said, a formal investigation had begun into reports that employees at the plume site were working without the proper protective gear. Rodriguez emphatically refused to disclose any details about OSHA’s activities at the plume site, but said the results of the investigation would be made public once it is completed. The investigation could take as long as six months, he said…

Meanwhile, a trio of men told the Post Independent this week they fear they have been poisoned from benzene exposure during weeks of work on the hydrocarbon spill…

The three workers all said no breathing devices were distributed to prevent the workers from breathing in fumes from the hydrocarbons.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Forecast news: Potential strong storm for the central Rockies Tuesday-Wednesday #COdrought

April 12, 2013

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

After a warm spring weekend, another strong spring storm will take aim at the central Rockies Tuesday and Wednesday next week. Depending on the track of the storm, it could bring enough cold air with it to drop some snow on parts of southeast Colorado. However, if the storm tracks too far north, it could just mean more wind for the plains. There is a lot of inherent uncertainty this far out, so stay tuned for the latest updates on this potential storm.

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

A fast moving disturbance brings scattered rain and snow showers across the western Colorado mountains, with a few light showers passing over the mountain valleys. On Saturday, winds will increase and become gusty ahead of a strong cold front. This cold front will bring more rain and snow showers to the western slope by Saturday night. This cold front will sit across Utah and Colorado for a few days next week and will bring more precipitation, colder temperatures and occasional gusty winds.

Snowpack/drought news: ‘Snowpack is not good. Reservoir carryover is not good’ — Tom Perkins #CODrought

April 12, 2013




Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current Colorado statewide snowpack map (NRCS), the current U.S. Drought Monitor map and the most recent drought forecast map from the Climate Prediction Center.

From the North Forty News:

April streamflow forecasts show a decline in parts of every Western state and most basins, according to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service water and climate experts.

NRCS hydrologists predict reduced spring and summer water supply for much of the West.

This month’s forecast is especially important because there probably won’t be significant snow accumulation after April 1, according to hydrologist Tom Perkins.

“April is usually the endgame. We’re not likely to make up this deficit. Snowpack is not good. Reservoir carryover is not good,” said Perkins.

Although other parts of the country got more snow, it didn’t have impact in the western mountains, he said.

“What fell in the West didn’t really amount to much,” Perkins said. “New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado are especially vulnerable because their reservoirs are at low levels due to sustained drought conditions.”

Water resource managers face difficult decisions due to this shortage, he said. Western states should prepare for potentially increased vulnerability to forest and rangeland fires and mandatory water restrictions. In addition, wildlife that depends on surface water is going to suffer.

There are a few exceptions to the dry forecasts. The North Cascades – including Washington and Western Oregon – and the headwaters of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers are near normal. “For the rest of the West,” Perkins said, “there is no silver lining. I think it’s going to be a long, hot, dry summer.”

According to NRCS Meteorologist Jan Curtis, most Western snowpacks peaked two to three weeks early this season and are now in decline. The best scenario would be for those snowpacks to melt slowly, providing a steady water supply through the spring and summer. This seems unlikely, given the above-average temperatures forecasted for the spring and summer.

“Although NRCS’ streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide valuable information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff,” according to Perkins.

In addition to precipitation, streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer.

The April forecast is the fourth of six monthly forecasts issued each year between January and June by the national center. The forecast compares the current level of water content in snowpack in the 13 Western states with historical data to help the region’s farmers, ranchers, water managers, communities and other stakeholders make informed decisions about water use and future availability.

The snowfall, air temperature and numerous other factors taken from remote climate sites ultimately contribute to water supply. Now that Western snowpacks have peaked, the Governor’s Drought Task Force of each Western state will begin meeting to discuss drought preparations.

NRCS will continue to monitor levels across the Western states to provide the most up-to-date water supply information each month. The next two forecasts will measure rate of snowmelt and refine streamflow predictions.

“USDA streamflow forecasts play a vital role in the livelihood of many Americans,” said Jason Weller, NRCS acting chief. “With much of this region greatly affected by drought, our experts will continue to monitor snowpack data and ensure that NRCS is ready to help landowners plan and prepare for water supply conditions.”

Since 1935, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. NRCS installs, operates and maintains an extensive, automated system called Snow Telemetry, or SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States and Alaska.

View April’s Snow Survey Water Supply Forecast map or view information by state.

Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor and U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map, which forecast drought conditions through March 31. For information on USDA’s drought efforts, visit And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS site.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

State climatologist Nolan Doesken, in his 36th year of tracking data, told his Loveland audience the record shows “spring matters.” And this spring, so far, holds some hope that a second consecutive year of drought in Northern Colorado might ease slightly. “I’m actually optimistic about this year,” Doesken said at the annual spring water users meeting hosted by Northern Water, the agency that distributes water to nearly a million people and almost 700,000 acres of Colorado farmland. “I’m not wildly optimistic. But there is snow falling, and actually quite a bit of it.”

Doesken said spring can make or break the water year for farmers and municipal water providers, and that this one is measuring up to lessen the effects of a drought that still will have the state in its grip. “Spring precipitation does two things for us,” he said. “It adds to supply, and it takes away from demand. We get a double whammy.”

From Grand Valley DRIP:

The snow survey taken on April 3 in the City of Grand Junction’s watershed on the Grand Mesa is showing a slight drop from the averages of this time of year in snow depth and water content. The snow depth is showing 83% of average for this time of year, and water content is 88% of average.

The full results of the survey can be found at:

Winter weather is not quite over yet, as evidenced by the snowstorms that moved through the state yesterday. The cold temperatures have also helped delay the spring snowmelt, unlike last year’s unusually early and warm spring.

However, the entire Grand Valley remains in a Stage 1 Drought, with voluntary watering restrictions in place. Water has begun filling the canals and laterals, and some homeowners have even begun watering their lawns. If you can delay your watering until the temperatures heat up, you can also avoid frozen sprinkler lines when the temperatures drop below freezing as they did the last two nights.

From the Tri-Lakes Tribune (Lisa Collacott):

Colorado Springs City Council approved “stage two” of the Water Shortage Ordinance for Colorado Springs Utility customers and because Donala has a contract for water transfer through the Northgate connection, Donala customers are required to comply with the twice a week irrigation schedule. Donala has their own watering standards program. Customers have been on restrictions for the past couple of years with mandatory watering limits to three times per week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The new schedule limits users to two days a week, putting Donala at “stage three,” beginning April 1…

The water district will follow an odd-even program. Odd day users can water on Monday and Friday, and even day users can water Tuesday and Saturday. There is no watering on Sunday. Customers can still use a hose to water plants, shrubs and trees as long as the hose has a positive shut-off nozzle which shuts the hose off when not in use.

From the Englewood Herald (Tom Munds):

Englewood residents won’t face mandatory lawn watering restrictions this summer but are urged to follow conservation measures…

The city’s plentiful raw-water supply is due in large part to the efforts of Englewood Mayor Charles Allen and water attorney Mark Shivers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the city began planning its water system. That was when city officials purchased senior water rights that are the foundation of Englewood’s supply of raw water. Over the years, Englewood has continued to secure valuable water rights. In 1987, the water utility spent about $200,000 on water-attorney fees in successful court actions to secure about 1,400 acre-feet of water. Fonda said the lawyer fees in this case were a good investment when the going price for water rights then was about $10,000 an acre-foot…

Englewood purchased land and built McClellan Reservoir in 1965. It is a major water-storage location for the city. In addition, Englewood has agreements for Denver to store water and release it as requested. The sufficient raw water supply also makes it possible for Englewood to meet the threshold of the water sales contract with Centennial Water District, which supplies water to Highlands Ranch. Fonda said the threshold is delivery of about 1,800 acre-feet of water to Centennial Water District, which brings about $1.8 million in revenue to the city. He said it would hurt the city financially if Englewood was not able to meet the water sales contract…

The effort to have customers switch from flat rate to meters began in 1985. “We find water use declines about 30 percent when a customer is on a meter,” Fonda said. “We now have about 80 percent of our customers on water meters.” The city installs a meter at a customer’s request or when a home is sold, installing about 300 meters a year.

From the Estes Park Trail (John Cordsen):

“At this time, we do not foresee the need for mandatory water restrictions,” said Reuben Bergsten, Utilities Director, Town of Estes Park. “If drought conditions warrant, we may request voluntary conservation efforts. Based on our experience during the 2002 drought, this was effective.”[...]

The water problem starts with the lack of snow in the high country. The recent snow aside, reporting areas west of Estes Park are drastically below historical levels. Through March, sites in the Big Thompson River watershed in Rocky Mountain National Park are close to being parched, with water equivalents ranging from a low of 30 percent of the 30-year average to 61 percent of the 30-year average. They are also well below the 2012 totals, which were also down.

The Deer Ridge Junction was just 30 percent of the 30-year average for water content in the sparse snow. The average snow depth at this junction not far from the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park was a scant 6 inches. This translated out to 1.3 inches of moisture. The 30-year average is 4.4 inches of moisture in the March readings. Bear Lake was on the other end of the spectrum with an average snow depth of 40 inches, which equates to 10.1 inches of moisture, or 61 percent of the 30-year average.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved new designations allowing farmers and ranchers around the West, including nine Colorado counties, to seek federal aid to get through the drought. All but a handful of Colorado’s 64 counties have been designated this crop year as either primary natural disaster areas due to drought or as contiguous to those counties. The USDA on Wednesday approved contiguous county designations for Jackson, Larimer, Logan, Moffat, Phillips, Routt, Sedgwick, Weld and Yuma counties, making producers there eligible to be considered for emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency.

2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 passes the state House unanimously #COleg

April 12, 2013


Another bill that seeks to ease the way for cities to lease water from farms is moving to the Senate. The state House unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would allow the Colorado Water Conservation Board to oversee up to 10 pilot programs to determine how other water rights could be affected.

“It would be another method to look at alternative ag transfers to see what works and what doesn’t,” said Alan Hamel, Arkansas River basin representative on the CWCB. “This is something on everyone’s mind in the third year of drought.” HB1248 would allow temporary transfer of water for only three years out of a 10-year period and prohibits any movement of water over the Continental Divide or out of the Rio Grande basin. It would allow transfers between the Arkansas and South Platte basins. The bill also limits fallowing to 30 percent of any farm.

The CWCB has supported several programs to weigh the impacts of transfers proposed by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, and this legislation furthers those efforts, Hamel said. “The CWCB supported it at last month’s meeting, and we’re excited about it,” Hamel said. “Ultimately, it could reduce costs when a change of use case goes to water court.” The bill moves to the Senate agriculture committee, whose chairman Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, is sponsor of the bill. House ag committee chairman Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is the House sponsor.

The Senate committee Thursday postponed action on HB1130, which is supported by Aurora and some Arkansas Valley farmers. That bill would give the state engineer authority over water transfers for a 30-year period. Opponents of HB1130 say it bypasses water courts for too long a time period.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Water court: Subdistrict No. 1 pumpers can claim water from Reclamation’s Closed Basin Project

April 12, 2013


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A water court judge ruled Wednesday that groundwater irrigators in the north-central San Luis Valley can claim water from a federal reclamation project to offset their pumping. The 45-page order from Judge Pattie Swift allows Subdistrict No. 1 to claim water from the Closed Basin Project, which pumps groundwater from the east side of the valley and sends it to the Rio Grande.

Objectors, which included five parties, argued, among other points, that the use of water from the project injured surface rights owners who were dependent on the Rio Grande and its tributaries.

Swift’s order said the project developed and delivered water to the Rio Grande that would have otherwise never made it to the river. “Thus the court cannot presume that pumping the Closed Basin Project wells causes injury to senior surface water rights,” the ruling said.

The subdistrict, which takes in more than 3,000 irrigation wells in the north-central valley, was created primarily to replace depletions to the river caused by pumping. The subdistrict purchased and leased over 10,000 acre-feet in 2012, including the Closed Basin Project water, and was ordered by the state engineer to return 4,724 acre-feet to the river.

In this year’s annual replacement plan, the subdistrict has again proposed using up to 2,500 acre-feet from the project toward its replacement obligations, although the proposal still requires approval of the state engineer.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

2013 Colorado legislation: ‘I think it’s important for the state to tell the feds to stay out of our business’ — Jerry Sonnenberg

April 12, 2013


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via Cortez Journal:

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said he expects his House Bill 1013 to die without a vote in May, when the Legislature adjourns for the year. His bill would have forbid the Forest Service from demanding that ski areas sign over their water rights in return for approval of their permits to operate on federal land. “I think it’s important for the state to tell the feds to stay out of our business,” Sonnenberg said.

Colorado law allows water right holders to sell the right to whomever they choose. But the Forest Service wants to make sure water used for snowmaking doesn’t get sold to condo developers or others who would use it for purposes other than skiing. “We’re committed to the long-term health of recreational opportunities and economic opportunities that the ski resorts provide for Colorado,” said Chris Strebig, spokesman for the Forest Service’s regional office in Golden.

But Sonnenberg’s bill would have amended Colorado water law to forbid the U.S. government from requiring anyone to surrender their water rights in order to get a land-use permit.

Legislators got calls urging them to kill the bill from Harris Sherman, who is the undersecretary of agriculture and the federal official who oversees the Forest Service. Many legislators know Sherman personally, because he directed the state Department of Natural Resources before he went to Washington…

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, opposes Sonnenberg’s bill, which she thinks oversteps the state’s authority. “It’s a state law on what the federal government can do on a special use permit or lease on federal land. I don’t think Colorado has the power to pass a law to that effect,” Levy said.

Legislators worked out a deal, which both Levy and Sonnenberg confirmed: The House will vote on a symbolic resolution that disapproves of the Forest Service’s practice on water rights, but Sonnenberg’s bill will “die on the calendar” – legislative slang for being killed without a vote on the last day of the year.

From The Denver Post:

The U.S. Forest Service has scheduled public meetings next week as it works to craft a rule addressing ski resorts and water.

Dozens of resorts with permits to operate on national forests have bought or acquired rights to use nearby bodies of water for snowmaking. The Forest Service had adopted a clause that said those resorts had to transfer their water rights to the federal government, so that the water rights would stay with the land. After the National Ski Areas Association sued, a judge ruled last year that the agency violated procedure in not seeking public comment before adopting the clause.

The agency now plans open houses April 16 in Lakewood, Colo., on April 17 in Salt Lake City, and April 18 in Lake Tahoe, Calif., to get input.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

[Drought] ‘It’s this slow, creeping death by 1,000 cuts’ — Chris Kraft #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 12, 2013


From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

A record crowd of 250 people attended the spring meeting of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District at the Ranch in Loveland. Farmers pleaded with Northern Water officials for at least 70 percent of their share of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project…

“The worst thing in the world for agriculture is a drought, which we’re in right now,” said Chris Kraft, a Fort Morgan dairy farmer. “It’s this slow, creeping death by 1,000 cuts.”

Northern Water board members are scheduled to decide Friday how much water they will distribute. Northern Water provides water to portions of eight counties with a population of 850,000 people and serves more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land. Farmers use about two thirds of the water coming from the project while cities use one third, while cities use one third, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said…

…Eric Wilkinson, Northern Water’s general manager, said that this year would mark the second time in the water wholesaler’s history that it would base its quota on “availability” of water rather than “need.”

Officials from several Northern Colorado cities argued at Thursday’s meeting that a quota of any more than 50 or 60 percent would overextend the already scarce resource. Donnie Dustin, the city of Fort Collins’ water resources manager, believes the city will face having a lower quota in future years if Northern Water adopts more than a 60 percent quota. However, Fort Collins doesn’t want Northern Water to go too low. The city would have to pass further water restrictions if Northern Water adopted a 50 percent quota, Dustin said…

Farmers contend that a 60 percent quota will mean planting fewer fields with crops that use more water, such as corn. That will have consequences for Weld County’s dairy industry, they say. “We got so many dairies in this country,” said Bill Markham, who farms corn, barley and sugar beets in Berthoud. “I don’t know where they’re going to get their feed.”

Kraft said a lower water quota would lead him to downsize his dairy farm. “If we don’t get the feed we need, we have to sell animals,” he said. “We’ll be shrinking down.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

For only the second time in 56 years, the quota set for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will be limited by how little water is available, rather than based on the demands of the region. After hearing suggestions from its water users Thursday, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors will set a quota for the C-BT Project today to determine how much water will be released this year from the system — which, with its 12 reservoirs, is the largest water supply project in the region. But, because reservoir levels are low and snowpack in the mountains is limited, the board will be restricted in how much water it can allow farmers and cities to use in 2013.

In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent — although it rarely does — and still have at least some water in storage for the following years. But this year, a quota of 87 percent would deplete everything in the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, according to Brian Werner, a spokesman and historian with Northern Water. And the limited runoff from this year’s meager snowpack isn’t going help much, Werner added. The only other year the board has been so limited in the quota it could set was 2003 — following the historic drought year of 2002, said Werner, who’s been with Northern Water for more than 30 years.

Although C-BT water is limited this year, it’s still needed — particularly by farmers, many of whom cut back on production last year while battling drought, and fear they’ll have to plant even fewer acres this year because of the water shortages.

The historic predicament now facing the 12-member Northern Water board was brought on by the combination of continued drought, the board setting a historically high C-BT quota last year, the expectation of more dry weather, and because the region’s water demands are continually growing due to increased population, according to some of the experts who spoke at Thursday’s water users meeting. And, as water demands have increased, the availability of stored water hasn’t kept pace, added Werner.

Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota every year in April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Werner. A 70-percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons of water.

Differences of opinion

Before setting its quota each year, the board takes suggestions from its water users. Thursday’s water users meeting drew about 250 people — a record-high attendance for Northern Water’s April meeting, Werner said. At the meeting, officials from local cities generally pushed for a quota of about 50-60 percent, wanting to keep it relatively low and save as much water as possible for the future. However, many farmers in attendance — who either are or will soon be planting crops, and need to know soon how much water they’ll have for the growing season — asked for a quota of about 70 percent.

The difference between a 50 percent water quota and a 70 percent quota amounts to more than 20 billion gallons of available water to northern Colorado.

Farmers said they’ll need as much water as possible to raise their crops and the feed needed by the region’s many dairies and feedlots. Many are worried that cutting back on planting again this year will have a negative trickle-down impact on the region’s overall economy — especially in Weld County, where agriculture is a $1.5 billion contributor. Each year, about two-thirds of the C-BT Project’s water goes to agriculture uses, but farmers and ranchers only own 34 percent of the water. To make up that gap, farmers and ranchers lease water from cities. However, because of the water shortages, many cities have said it’s unlikely they’ll have any extra water available in 2013.

Water officials from Greeley and Fort Collins said this would be the first time in about 10 years — dating back to 2003 — that they wouldn’t be able to lease extra water to local agricultural users. “You can get a flavor for the dilemma our board is in,” Eric Wilkenson, general manager of Northern Water, said to the crowd after hearing comments from concerned water users. But, with the C-BT’s overall reservoir levels 27 percent below average as of April 1, and snowpack in South Platte Basin 29 percent below average on Thursday and 24 percent below average in the Colorado River Basin, the Northern Water board can only do so much.

C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and about 860,000 people in portions of eight counties, according to Northern Water numbers.

Last April, concerns for farmers led the board to declare a 90 percent quota for C-BT water, the highest set in April since 1977. As drought persisted, the Northern Water board increased the C-BT water quota to 100 percent in May. The board could set that quota then because reservoir levels were high, due to above-average snowpack in previous years. With last year’s heavy water usage, reservoir levels dropped and are now expected to stay low since little snow has accumulated in the mountains.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy coverage here and here.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Diversions through the Gunnison Tunnel bumped to 600 cfs #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2013


From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

A recent flow measurement by the USGS has shown us that the Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel is currently running around 375 cfs. The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users could use more water to keep up with irrigation demands. Therefore, tomorrow morning, April 11th, diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will increase by 75 cfs or so, leaving 300 cfs in the Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel. There will be no change to Crystal releases. After this increase in diversion, flow in the Gunnison Tunnel should be around 600 cfs.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

CSU Research is Examining Water Savings from Different Farming Strategies during Drought #COdrought

April 11, 2013


Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

A team of Colorado State University agricultural and environmental scientists hopes to pinpoint best management practices in crop production to help conserve water in times of drought, and their project will provide farmers with an online tool to calculate water savings gained from different strategies. The research project is supported with a grant of $883,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Adaptation to Drought Conservation Innovation Grant. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., announced the funding last week. “We are taking a systematic approach to understand how to effectively manage water in the face of scarcity,” said Neil Hansen, associate professor in the CSU Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and project leader. “We want to maximize crop per drop, meaning crop yield per gallon of water. Water is short, and we’ve got to get as much as we can from the little we’ve got.”

The research is unique in its involvement of agricultural businesses and scientists from multiple disciplines. Assisting from the private sector will be Dupont Pioneer, Regenesis Management, Biochar Solutions, John Deere Water and 21st Century Ag Equipment. The project also engages area farmers through the West Greeley Conservation District and the Lower South Platte Irrigation Research Farm.

CSU researchers will conduct field demonstrations to examine how different approaches to soil, crop and irrigation management affect water conservation, yields and system adaptation to drought.

The project will examine water-saving benefits gained with adjustments in:

• Crop management, including use of cover cropping and drought-tolerant crop varieties;
• Soil management, including conservation tillage and soil amendments; and
• Irrigation management, including scheduling and variable rate irrigation, which uses space-based technologies to tailor water application to varying needs within a field.
• The project also will employ sensors to track soil moisture and crop stress.

“Colorado’s agricultural producers have been at the forefront of new conservation technologies that help more efficiently produce food, fiber and fuel for the country largely due to CSU’s leadership in agricultural research,” Bennet said. “This grant will help CSU continue to develop new ways for farmers and ranchers to protect their land, crops and water.”

The researchers will modify an existing online tool to help farmers understand how management practices will improve their water use.

The CSU team also will provide research results to farmers through field days, fact sheets and a web site; the researchers will develop a technical water-management guide for the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. “Ultimately, we want to help producers assess, ‘Am I using my water at maximum productivity?’” Hansen said.

The CSU research team was one of thirteen nationwide to receive federal Conservation Innovation Grants to develop approaches and technologies that will help producers adapt to extreme climate changes that cause drought. The USDA awarded a total of $5.3 million to these research projects. “USDA is working diligently to help American farmers and ranchers rebound from last year’s drought and prepare for future times of climatic extremes,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

More education coverage here.

U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s hydroelectric bill passes the House, Senate companion bill hearing April 23

April 11, 2013

Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

Today, the House passed with bipartisan support Rep. Scott Tipton’s (CO-03) legislation to create rural jobs by expanding the production of clean renewable hydropower. The bill passed the House 416-7 this year, a significant increase in bipartisan support from the 2012 vote of 265-154.

By eliminating duplicative environmental analysis on existing man-made Bureau of Reclamation conduits (pipes, ditches, and canals) that have received a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), H.R. 678 streamlines the regulatory process and reduces administrative costs for the installation of small hydropower development projects within those conduits. In doing so, the bill encourages increased small hydropower development, which will create new rural jobs in Colorado, add clean, affordable electricity to the grid to power homes and communities, modernize infrastructure, and supply the federal government with additional revenues…

“H.R. 678 is a commonsense piece of legislation to foster clean renewable energy development, create jobs in rural America, and do so without taxpayer cost while returning revenues to the Treasury, and by all measures, should be considered low-hanging fruit for congressional action,” Tipton said. “There has been a lot of discussion on both sides of the aisle about the need to pursue an all-of-the-above domestic energy strategy, and hydropower, as the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source, should be at the forefront of any comprehensive national energy policy.”

“Every day, water flows thousands of miles through canals, pipes, and ditches across the country, and every day we miss valuable opportunities to utilize this resource’s full potential,” said Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) an original co-sponsor of H.R. 678. “The greatest barrier to unleashing the next generation of hydropower is not technological; it is regulatory. For that reason, Congressman Tipton and I have been working to remove the obstacles the keep us from expanding one of the most reliable tools in our energy toolbox. ”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reported that H.R. 678 has no cost to taxpayers, and returns revenues to the treasury. The Interior Department has identified at least 28 Bureau of Reclamation canal sites in Colorado, and 373 nationwide, that could be developed for hydropower purposes.

Tipton amended H.R. 678 on the House floor to address concerns expressed by some of his Democrat colleagues, and at the request of the broad range of irrigation districts, water conservation and conservancy districts, and public utilities most directly impacted by the bill. This amendment removes the NEPA waiver in the bill and instead codifies the application of the Bureau of Reclamation’s categorical exclusion process under the National Environmental Policy Act for small hydropower projects covered by the bill.

This alternative provision would still ensure the streamlining of the approval process for clean renewable energy and help provide certainty for investors and job creators, while providing flexibility to the Bureau to adjust to changing circumstances moving forward.

“By advancing these projects under the Bureau’s categorical exclusion process, we ensure that all of the elements in that process are retained, including agency discretion for examining extraordinary circumstances. In addition, the amendment specifically mentions codifying the categorical exclusion process for small conduit hydropower,” said Tipton.

This approach is supported by Trout Unlimited in its March 19, 2013 letter, which states that “Congress could direct BOR to create a categorical exclusion for small conduit hydropower.” That’s exactly what this amendment does.

“The use of a categorical exclusion for small conduit hydropower development can mean the difference between private investment in a public good with a multitude of benefits, and unreasonable financial costs and lengthy delays that lead to untapped potential, Tipton said. “My hope is that this amendment, which is broadly supported by the diverse range of groups invested in the bill who are committed to ensuring continued environmental protection, will assuage any reservations about this effort to promote clean renewable energy and allow us to move forward united in our support.”

The Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act has been endorsed by the Family Farm Alliance, the National Water Resources Association, and the American Public Power Association, among others.

Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Jim Risch (ID), Mike Enzi (WY) and Mike Crapo (ID), have introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S. 306,), which will receive a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on April 23, 2013.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A measure that would allow irrigation districts and other organizations to generate electricity from ditches and small pipes passed the U.S. House on Wednesday. The measure by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., passed 416 to 7 with all members of the Colorado delegation voting in favor of the measure.

A companion measure sponsored by Sens. John Barasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, both of Idaho, all Republicans, is awaiting action in the Senate.

A previous version of the bill passed the House last year, 265-154, but no Senate vote was taken last year.

H.R. 678 would encourage increased development of small hydropower projects, create new jobs in rural areas of Colorado, boost the amount of electricity to the grid to power homes and communities, modernize infrastructure and supply the federal government with additional revenues, Tipton said in a statement.

The measure passed the full House after Tipton carried an amendment that included small-conduit hydropower projects on pipes and ditches built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as those that could be approved as categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Similar legislation for projects under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission already has passed the House and also is before the Senate.

The bill “should be considered low-hanging fruit for congressional action,” Tipton said. “There has been a lot of discussion on both sides of the aisle about the need to pursue an all-of-the-above domestic energy strategy, and hydropower, as the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source, should be at the forefront of any comprehensive national energy policy.”

Each megawatt of new hydropower generates 5.3 new jobs, according to estimates by the National Hydropower Association. That could mean as many as 1,000 new jobs in Colorado for developers, engineers, attorneys, financiers, concrete workers, plumbers, carpenters, welders and electricians, said Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association.

From The Denver Post (Allison Sherry):

Rep. Scott Tipton’s twice-attempted bill to bring hydropower development to rural areas across the country got almost unanimous support in the full House Wednesday.

In a 416-7 vote, the House approved the measure that will allow small hydropower development projects within existing man-made Bureau of Reclamation conduits — pipelines, ditches and canals. The proposal eliminates duplicative environmental analysis and streamlines the regulatory process to make that development easier…

All seven members of Colorado’s House delegation voted for Tipon’s measure Wednesday.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Source of Parachute Creek spill identified #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2013


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Williams said Wednesday that a failed pressure gauge on a valve for its natural gas liquids pipeline is the source of hydrocarbons contamination near its Parachute Gas Plant, and it estimates that more than 4,000 gallons of leaked fluids have yet to be recovered. The announcement comes six days after the company first publicly revealed the problem with the gauge. But it had said last week that the gauge was thought to have leaked far too little fluid to account for most of the 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons recovered to date. In a news release Wednesday, Williams said a preliminary analysis of meter data now indicates the gauge leaked from Dec. 20 until the leak was discovered and the gauge removed on Jan. 3. “By the time the leak was stopped … the company estimates up to 241 barrels of natural gas liquids entered the soil at the valve location,” it said.

A barrel is 42 gallons. About 100 barrels, or 4,200 gallons, remain unrecovered from the site. Williams estimates that 80 percent of what leaked vaporized before entering the soil.

High benzene levels have been found in groundwater monitoring wells in the contamination area. Williams on Wednesday reported a detection of dissolved benzene nearly 1,000 feet from the valve site — the farthest such detection reported so far. “The assessment is ongoing into whether the benzene is related to the natural gas liquids released from the broken pressure gauge … .” the company said. “Williams has opened a broader examination of the property in an effort to further determine the area of impact, collect samples for testing and capture additional hydrocarbon fluids from the soil.”

Natural gas liquids include substances such as ethane, butane and propane. The gas plant removes these marketable liquids from raw natural gas.

An official with the state Department of Natural Resources said the agency will continue to probe the cause of the contamination. “The area of an above-ground valve set has long been the focus of the source investigation, and the scenario outlined by Williams provides a possible explanation of a release in this area,” spokesman Todd Hartman said. “However, the investigation of the cause or causes of the impacts to soil and groundwater will continue until we can determine whether the release described by Williams accounts for the situation on the ground.”

Williams discovered contaminated soil March 8 as it did pipeline location work in preparation for the construction of a new gas processing unit at the plant. Last week, a Williams official mentioned the pressure gauge leak during a presentation before the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board. But he said the amount thought to have leaked was less than 25 gallons — not enough to even require a report to the state.

EAB representative Bob Arrington, a retired mechanical engineer living in Battlement Mesa, had challenged that idea, saying the amount of liquids recovered to date could leak from a gauge in a matter of hours. “It was a very likely suspect,” he said Wednesday.

Williams says water samples analyzed by independent laboratories indicate Parachute Creek hasn’t been affected by the hydrocarbons discovered in the soil. Tests have shown the occasional presence of what are called diesel-range organics in the water, but also have shown the concurrent presence of those organics upstream, which authorities have indicated suggest the organics may be coming from a source such as contaminated runoff from roads.

This week, for the first time, investigators reported benzene in groundwater on the opposite side of Parachute Creek from the valve area. Initially, authorities said benzene on that south side of the waterway was just adjacent to the creek, and three wells 50 feet south of the creek revealed no benzene. But Hartman said Wednesday that was based on preliminary field information, and benzene concentrations in those three wells since have been determined to range from 51 to 450 parts per billion. The safe drinking water standard for benzene is 5 ppb or less. Surface water samples taken Wednesday about 2 1/2 miles downstream, where the town of Parachute diverts water for irrigation, show no evidence of impact, he said.

A bill now being considered in the Legislature would require reporting within 24 hours of all spills of oil and exploration and production waste involving one barrel or more. Current Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules require reporting of general spills of five barrels or more within 10 days, and immediate reporting of spills of any size if they affect or threaten a surface water supply. Arrington called the bill a good idea. “There are certain chemicals that you spill just a small amount, it’s terribly deadly, and they’re dealing with hundreds of chemicals and the rule would apply to all of them,” he said. A tighter reporting requirement also would help ensure that companies get serious about their handling of substances, he said. “You have to have a heightened sense that it’s very important to do so,” he said.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Williams energy company officials announced Wednesday that a mechanical failure caused the hydrocarbons spill that has poisoned groundwater and forced a multi-agency scramble to protect Parachute Creek in western Colorado. A failed pressure gauge led to a leak that spilled 10,122 gallons of natural gas liquids from a valve, starting on Dec. 20, Williams spokesman Tom Droege said. Crews have cleaned up 5,964 gallons so far, Droege said. The leak was discovered and stopped on Jan. 3, he said.

Colorado environmental overseers weren’t so sure. Williams’ scenario “provides a possible explanation of a release,” state natural resources spokesman Todd Hartman said. “However, the investigation of the cause, or causes, of the impacts to soil and groundwater will continue until we can determine whether the release described by Williams accounts for the situation on the ground,” Hartman said…

Back on Jan. 3, Williams crews discovered and cleaned up natural gas liquids that, at that time, they estimated at less than 42 gallons — low enough that state rules do not require notification of authorities, Droege said in a prepared statement. Williams officials were not immediately available.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

In a release issued late Wednesday, the Williams Midstream pipeline company attributed the find to “preliminary analysis of meter data,” and said the leak was stopped on Jan. 3 after it was discovered. Williams crews have been working to locate the leak, determine the size of the plume and keep chemicals out of Parachute Creek since March 8, when the plume was discovered by Williams workers. The leaky gauge was part of a “valve set” on a four-inch natural gas liquids line that leads from a nearby natural gas processing plant to a tank farm on the other side of Parachute Creek. The company believes the leak began on Dec. 20, 2012, and estimates that “about 80 percent of the leaked volumes [of liquids] vaporized before entering the soil.” The company statement on the leak estimates that approximately 241 barrels (about 10,000 gallons) of natural gas liquids soaked into the soil, of which about 143 barrels (or roughly 6,000 gallons) has been recovered.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-258 would allow a developer to prove up water supplies at each stage of development #coleg

April 11, 2013


From the Denver Business Journal (Dennis Huspeni):

Senate Bill 258, introduced Tuesday, is sponsored by state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. If passed, the bill would declare that “each application included in the definition of development permit constitutes a stage in the development permit approval process.”

Its introduction follows a recent ruling from a District Court judge that halted the proposed Sterling Ranch development, which calls for a 12,050-home community in northern Douglas County. Eighteenth Judicial District Judge Paul King ruled that Douglas County commissioners erred when they agreed to rezone the 3,400-acre site in 2011. Commissioners also had decided the developer, Sterling Ranch LLC, could prove it had enough water to serve the community later as each platting of the development was approved. But on Aug. 22, King ruled that the commissioners, in allowing the developer to take an incremental approach later in the planning stages, “exceeded its jurisdiction and abused its discretion.” King’s Nov. 9 order states he followed the letter of the 2008 Colorado law when making his ruling striking down the Board’s decision.

Government and business leaders filed an amicus brief asking King to reconsider, fearing his ruling would strip local governments of their ability to control development and landowners of the right to develop their land, and would have negative economic ramifications for the entire state.

The new bill states: “With respect to the definition of ‘development permit’ as used in connection with the statutory provisions requiring that land development be supported by an adequate water supply, the bill modifies the definition to clarify that each application included in the definition of the term constitute a stage in the development permit approval process.”

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

It will be standing room only at the Northern Water board meeting Thursday #ColoradoRiver

April 10, 2013

Snowpack news: Upper Rio Grande River Basin snowpack = 62% of avg #codrought

April 10, 2013

Click here to view today’s Basin High/Low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Down in New Mexico they watch inflows from Colorado closely:

Reclamation’s Fiscal Year Budget Request is more than $1 Billion

April 10, 2013


Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Dan DuBray):

President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request released today identifies a total of $1.050 billion for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, continuing the President’s commitment to be prudent with taxpayer dollars while setting consistent spending priorities for Reclamation. The budget request for the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier and second-largest producer of hydroelectric power includes the proposed transition of the Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA) into the bureau’s budget, instead of the departmental budget. On a comparable basis to include CUPCA funding, this amounts to a decrease of $26.8 million below the FY2012 enacted level and $33.4 million below the initial 2013 Continuing Resolution, P.L. 112-175.

“The Reclamation budget announced today reflects this administration’s commitment to creating and sustaining jobs, while striving to meet water delivery requirements in the West,” Commissioner Michael L. Connor said. “The FY 2014 budget reflects many difficult budget choices, with cost-cutting actions, in order to fund the highest priority requirements—promoting efficient water deliveries and power generation, while also actively implementing critical river restoration programs. We’re proud also to have funding in this budget to support our goals of strengthening tribal nations by implementing water rights settlements.”

The proposal for Reclamation’s Water and Related Resources account of $791.1 million includes $373.3 million for resource management and development activities. This funding provides for planning, construction, water conservation activities, management of Reclamation lands, including recreation, and actions to address the impacts of Reclamation projects on fish and wildlife. The request also emphasizes reliable water delivery and power generation by requesting $417.8 million to fund operation, maintenance and rehabilitation activities at Reclamation facilities, including dam safety.

The budget emphasizes Reclamation’s core mission to address the water needs of a growing population in an environmentally responsible and cost-efficient manner; and to assist states, tribes and local entities in solving water resource issues. It also emphasizes the operation and maintenance of Reclamation facilities in a safe, efficient, economic and reliable manner—ensuring systems and safety measures are in place to protect the public and Reclamation facilities.

Reclamation’s funding request addresses administration, departmental and bureau priorities, including America’s Great Outdoors Initiative through ecosystem restoration, renewable energy, water conservation and the WaterSMART Program, strengthening tribal nations and youth recruitment activities.

The budget request proposes to transition the CUPCA Program into the Bureau of Reclamation as part of broader administration efforts to implement good government solutions, ensure consistent treatment of federal water projects, consolidate activities when possible and reduce duplication and overlap. The FY 2014 CUPCA budget is $3.5 million.

Specifics of the budget request include:

America’s Great Outdoors Initiative – Reclamation has a responsibility to focus on the protection and restoration of the aquatic and riparian environments affected by its operations. Highlights of Reclamation’s AGO ecosystem restoration activities, many of which support Endangered Species Act (ESA) recovery programs, include:

  • $152.5 million for the Central Valley Project (CVP). Within this total, $14 million and an additional $2 million in the CVP Restoration Fund is for the Trinity River Restoration program; and $38.2 million continues court ordered actions for drainage services in the West San Joaquin Division, San Luis Unit.
  • $27.8 million Lower Colorado River Operations Program, of which $18.2 million is for the Multi-Species Conservation Program to provide long-term ESA compliance for river operations.
  • $26 million for activities consistent with the settlement of Natural Resources Defense Council v. Rodgers as authorized by the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act to restore and maintain fish populations, and restore and avoid adverse water impacts.
  • $21.2 million for ESA recovery implementation programs, including $10.1 million to implement the Platte River Endangered Species Recovery Implementation Program and $8.5 million for the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basin Endangered Fish Recovery Programs.
  • $18 million for the Klamath Project, which supports studies and initiatives to improve water supplies to meet the competing demands of agricultural, tribal, wildlife refuge and environmental needs along with facilities operations and maintenance activities.
  • $37 million for the California Bay-Delta Restoration Fund activities aligned with the Interim Federal Action Plan issued Dec. 22, 2009— including $25.5 million to address the degraded Bay-Delta ecosystem; $9.9 million for smarter water supply and use and $1.7 million for a renewed federal-state partnership.
  • $53.3 million for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund to continue funding a variety of activities to restore fish and wildlife habitat and populations in the CVP service area of California.
  • $25.9 million for the Middle Rio Grande Project, of which $10.2 million is targeted to support environmental activities developed through the Endangered Species Act Collaborative Program.
  • $18 million for the Columbia and Snake River Salmon Recovery Project for implementation of the biological opinions for the Federal Columbia River Power System.
  • WaterSMART Program – The FY 2014 budget for Reclamation proposes $35.4 million for the WaterSMART Program – Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow — to assist communities in stretching water supplies and improving water management. The WaterSMART Program components include: WaterSMART Grants funded at $12 million; the Basin Studies Program funded at $4.7 million; the Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program funded at $14 million; a new external water resources grants program — the Shared Investment Water Innovation Program — funded at $1 million; the Water Conservation Field Services Program, funded at $3.4 million; and the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, funded at $250,000.

    Strengthening tribal nations – The total budget for Reclamation’s implementation of Indian Water Rights Settlements in 2014 is $99.7 million in current funding. Of this amount, Reclamation is proposing establishment of an Indian Water Rights Settlements account of $78.7 million to ensure continuity in the construction of five of the authorized projects and to highlight and enhance transparency in use of these funds.

    This includes $18.2 million to continue implementation of the four settlements authorized in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. These settlements will deliver clean water to the Taos Pueblo of New Mexico, the Pueblos of New Mexico named in the Aamodt case, the Crow Tribe of Montana and the White Mountain Apache Tribe of Arizona. The budget also includes $60.5 million for the ongoing Navajo-Gallup Water Supply project (Title X of Public Law 111-11). Additionally, $60 million in new permanent authority is available in 2014 for the Indian water rights settlements.

    The budget also requests $21 million in the Water and Related Resources Account for on-going settlement operation and maintenance functions including the Ak Chin Indian Water Rights Settlement Act, San Carlos Apache Tribe Water Settlement Act, Colorado Ute Settlement Act Animas-La Plata Project and Nez Perce/Snake River Water Rights Act which is part of the Columbia and Snake River Recovery Project.

    Other project highlights include –

  • $40 million for rural water projects to undertake the design and construction of five projects and operation and maintenance of tribal features for two projects intended to deliver potable water supplies to specific rural communities and tribes located primarily in Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota.
  • A total of $15.4 million is provided for the Yakima River Basin. This includes $7.4 million to operate and maintain existing project facilities and $8 million for the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, which will continue funding grants to implement conservation measures and monitor the effects of those measures on the river diversions.
  • $88.1 million for the Dam Safety Program to continue dam safety risk management and risk reduction activities throughout Reclamation’s inventory of dams. Corrective actions are planned to start or continue at a number of facilities. A major focus continues to be modifications at Folsom Dam (California).
  • $27.8 million for site security to continue Reclamation’s ongoing site-security program that includes physical security upgrades at key facilities, guards and patrols, anti-terrorism program activities and security risk assessments.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation, throughout the 17 western states, is committed to helping meet the many water challenges of the West. A driving force behind bureau initiatives is resolution of water issues that will benefit future generations and providing leadership on the path to sustainable water supplies.

    Colorado Springs Utilities plans to spend $6 million on efforts to mitigate the Waldo Canyon burn scar

    April 10, 2013


    From the USDA Blog (Mike Stearly):

    The U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs (Colo.) Utilities recently announced a new 5-year partnership to help restore the areas burned by the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire that tore through part of the west side of the city in 2012.

    Through the partnership, Colorado Springs Utilities will invest approximately $6 million in support of the watershed health goals and activities over the next five to 10 years. The Forest Service will complete on-the-ground project planning and treatment in areas that complement Colorado Springs Utilities investments.

    During an event at the Flying W Ranch – a 60-year-old tourist attraction destroyed in the fire – Harris Sherman, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, met with Congressman Doug Lamborn, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, and representatives from the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, El Paso County Commissioners and the city of Colorado Springs.

    “This partnership will ensure improved water quality for the residents of Colorado Springs,” Sherman said. “Collaborating on watershed restoration will have a long-term positive impact on forest and watershed health and allows us to accomplish more on-the-ground projects.”

    The innovative partnership between Colorado Springs Utilities and the Forest Service is preserving and protecting crucial watersheds that provide water to Colorado’s second largest city. The signing of the agreement establishes work to reduce wildfire risk, restore burned areas, minimize erosion impacts and coordinates pre-suppression wildland fire efforts.

    “This agreement … solidifies a critical partnership with the Forest Service, a partnership that has benefited our water supply and community for decades,” said Gary Bostrom, chief water services officer for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Our ongoing relationship with the Forest Service will help us channel customer rate dollars in the most efficient way possible to protect our most vital resource and the forest that surrounds it.”

    The human-caused Waldo Canyon fire started June 23, 2012, and left a scar of more than 18,000 acres, cost millions of dollars to fight, caused the evacuation of 32,000 people, destroyed 346 homes and killed two people. The fire has since been labeled the largest, most expensive and destructive fire in Colorado’s history.

    More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here and here.

    Drought/snowpack news: Snowfall totals from the recent storm disappoint, more storms on the way #codrought #cowx

    April 10, 2013




    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker/Tracy Harmon):

    The winds and snow started in the San Luis Valley just after dawn Tuesday. Wind gusts reached as high as 36 mph. Volunteer spotters reported 4.1 inches of snow in Creede, 1.5 inches in Alamosa, 1.4 inches near Monte Vista and 1.5 inches near Villa Grove in Saguache County…

    Monarch Mountain reported 8 inches of new snow while Salida residents reported 6 inches. Nathrop weather spotters reported 7 inches of snow. Custer County residents reported 3 to 4 inches of snow. Light snow fell throughout the day in Canon City but there was no measurable accumulation.

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    Wednesday will be a less windier day, but still chilly across southeastern Colorado. Expect a few mountains snow showers through the day with light accumulations expected. Temperatures will be in the mid 30s’ and low 40′s across the San Luis Valley, eastern plains, and I-25 corridor. Expect teens and 20′s in the higher elevations. By the end of the week..temperatures will rebound into the 50s and 60s once again.

    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    The low pressure system that brought the unsettled weather of late will exit the area early this morning, although scattered snow showers will linger over the mountains of Colorado today. Another disturbance seen off the Pacific Northwest Coast will push through Thursday and Thursday night bringing another round of precipitation, including several inches of mountain snowfall. Temperatures will be well below normal the next two days, with freeze warnings for central and southern sections of the region where the growing season has already begun. An extended period of unsettled weather is expected Saturday through early next week, with rain, snow, and windy conditions at times.

    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Region #ColoradoRiver

    April 10, 2013


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary from the Colorado Climate Center. Click here for all the summaries.

    Parachute Creek spill: ‘We don’t know the extent of this thing yet’ — Todd Hartman #ColoradoRiver

    April 10, 2013


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

    Work crews at the site of a hydrocarbon leak have found evidence that unknown hydrocarbons are present in ground water on both sides of Parachute Creek. According to an update provided by the state, new evidence of hydrocarbons has appeared in a monitoring well on the south side of the creek, although test results to identify the compounds were not available as of Monday evening…

    A leak from a pipeline, storage tank or other equipment in the area is believed to have caused the plume, although the precise source of the hydrocarbon leak has yet to be found, according to Williams.

    Early reports from the plume site, about four miles up the creek from the town of Parachute, had put the size of the plume at 200 feet by 70 feet by 14 feet deep. Some unofficial reports have expanded the estimate to nearly twice that size, but a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources said on Monday that any estimate at this point would be sheer guesswork. “We don’t know the extent of this thing yet,” said Todd Hartman, public information officer for the DNR and the commission.

    According to reports, water samples from several wells have shown benzene in the water at levels ranging from 1,900 parts per billion to 18,000 parts per billion…

    In addition to the new wells, according to Hartman’s statement, Williams has begun digging a series of trenches “designed to lower the ground water level and remove liquid hydrocarbons and contaminated water from near the stream’s edge.”[...]

    Hartman also reported the appearance of a form of diesel fuel or diesel oil, known as “diesel range organics” or DRO, attached to the absorbent “booms” deployed by Williams in case hydrocarbons are spotted in the creek. According to Hartman’s report, samples taken on March 9, one upstream of the site and the other adjacent to the site, both showed the presence of the diesel-like substance. But, the report continued, “subsequent sampling at the March 9 locations have not revealed DRO, nor has DRO been detected in any other surface water sampling locations throughout the investigation.”

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    State environmental overseers on Monday concluded that no benzene has seeped into the creek. The creek flows into the Colorado River. The Williams energy company runs a gas-processing plant along the creek. However, benzene at elevated levels, far above state limits, is being detected in groundwater. And state authorities said “diesel range organics” at levels from 213 to 349 parts per million have been detected in spongy boom material that was laid out across the creek over a 10-day period. The source of the spill has not been identified. “We know that, within 10 feet of Parachute Creek, groundwater monitoring wells are showing high levels of benzene contamination and in some cases hydrocarbon liquids,” state natural resources spokesman Todd Hartman said. “Our understanding of the groundwater and water level data is that, at this point, it’s a losing stream, meaning the creek recharges the groundwater. But we are still taking measures to move contamination away from the creek.”[...]

    Williams’ former environmental supervisor Doug Parce, directly involved in the early days of the response, said the diesel most likely comes from road runoff. Williams’ crews “are going to keep doing whatever we can” to protect the creek, Parce said. “We’re not just going to sit back and watch things develop … We’ve determined that the flow vector is from the creek into the groundwater, not the other way around.”

    From (Eli Stokols):

    On Tuesday, for the first time since the leak was initially detected, harmful compounds known as “Diesel Range Organics” were detected in a sample taken from the creek itself, which flows directly into the Colorado River — although that sample, inexplicably, was found upstream from the epicenter of the hydrocarbon leak itself. That upstream location showed the chemicals at 3.3 parts per million, just below the 5 parts per million state health limit. Tuesday’s samples of surface water from Parachute Creek closer to the spill site and downstream from it tested negative for chemicals.

    So far, groundwater contamination has been detected within 10 feet of the creek itself closer to the leaking pipeline. “It is too close for comfort and it makes us nervous,” Matt Lepore, the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told FOX31 Denver. “We are seeing contamination in some of the bore-holes we’ve done within 10 feet of the creek. So everyone’s still on very high alert. “We’re trying to move quickly and that’s a bit of a relative term. We got to poke holes in the ground with drill rigs and take samples.”[...]

    “There’s 30 million people downstream from Parachute who use the water of the Colorado River,” said Dave Devanney, who lives nearby in Battlement Mesa and is part of a citizens group that’s raising concerns about oil and gas development in the area…

    According to Bob Arrington, a retired engineer, the 30-inch pipeline where the leak most likely occurred runs beneath the creek, which could explain the contamination on both sides of the creek. “It could have been leaking for years,” Arrington told FOX31 Denver.

    Lepore concedes that a gradual, long-term leak may be causing the hydrocarbon leak. “The operators who have the pipelines are transporting through the pipelines what is, for them, valuable product; and they monitor those flow lines and they monitor that pressure,” Lepore said…

    The ongoing environmental contamination here comes just as the state legislature, now entering its final 30-day stretch, takes up a series of Democratic bills dealing with the oil and gas industry. One of them, House Bill 1267, would increase the fines that can be imposed on companies like Williams Energy, which is responsible for the leaking pipeline in Parachute. Currently, the state caps the fines that can be imposed for environmental mishaps at $1,000 per day and caps the total fine at $10,000 — those fines are the lowest in the country and haven’t been updated for decades. H.B. 1267, sponsored by Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette,would increase the maximum daily fine to $15,000, set a minimum daily fine of $5,000 for violations that adversely impact public health, safety or welfare and remove any cap on the total amount of fines that can be imposed as a result of any one incident…

    Devanney, who’s well aware of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s background as a geologist and what he views as a governing bias that favors the oil industry, hopes the Parachute situation puts more pressure on him to sign the measure into law. “He is an oil and gas guy, and that’s a concern. Everyone else in the state seems to march to the same drum as ‘Gov. Frackenlooper’,” Devanney said. “Hopefully this will be a wake-up call…

    Just Tuesday, the House gave final approval to House Bill 1269, also sponsored by Foote, to clarify that the COGCC’s primary mission is to protect public health and the environment, not to maximize energy development of the state’s mineral resources. The legislation, which now heads to the Senate, also requires commissioners to disclose their financial ties to the oil and gas industry they’re charged with regulating and to tighten recusal rules in cases of conflict of interest.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating whether its regulations are being followed regarding protection of workers who have responded to a liquid hydrocarbons spill near Parachute. The federal agency is trying to determine if any employees involved with the response and cleanup have been exposed to any hazardous materials, said Herb Gibson, director of OSHA’s Denver area office. He said it hasn’t drawn any conclusions, and the investigation probably will last a few months. He said he can’t say what triggered the investigation, but that it pertains to Williams and any other employers involved with the response.

    Some 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons have been recovered in a pipeline corridor near Parachute Creek that contains lines serving Williams’ nearby natural gas processing plant. Williams and contractors have been involved in vacuuming out fluids, digging interceptor trenches, sampling water and other activities.

    Williams spokesman Tom Droege said it’s his understanding “that OSHA did perform a routine inspection on our site last week.” “We fully accommodated the agency with the site visit and provided the information they requested,” he said. “We follow all safety standards as required by OSHA,” said Droege, who said he’s not aware of any violation in connection with the leak response.

    When the investigation began to focus on a high-odor leak hot spot near a valve set, Williams halted work until it could bring in special monitoring and protective equipment, Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said at the time.

    Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she’s heard from workers who said they weren’t provided respirators earlier, and learned later that they were working around dangerous benzene that had been detected in groundwater tests. “I’m just glad that OSHA’s getting involved. In these incidents I think (companies) should assume that they’re dealing with dangerous chemicals and hand out respirators and protective gear from the start and not after testing is done,” she said.

    On Tuesday, state officials said two more monitoring wells across the creek from the investigation site, on its south side, showed groundwater impacts, after the first impacts to a well across the creek were reported Monday. The two wells, adjacent to the creek, showed benzene levels of 3,300 to 2,600 parts per billion. The federal drinking water standard for benzene is 5 or less ppb. Three other wells about 50 feet from the creek’s south side showed no benzene, but a well 200 feet east of the creek had a benzene level of 1,200 ppb.

    Also, for the first time since March 9, creek sampling showed diesel-range organics in the water. But as on March 9, DROs also were found in an upstream sample, suggesting a possible intermittent source separate from the hydrocarbons leak, such as stormwater contamination. Sampling 800 feet upstream of the investigation area, on the other side of a road bridge, showed DROs at 3.3 parts per million. Two locations in the investigation areas produced readings of 3.1 and 1.4 ppm. Samples from three sites downstream showed no DROs.

    Kirby Wynn, Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, said there’s no drinking water standard for DROs, although there can be for individual compounds within the range of such organics.

    More Parachute Creek spill coverage here.

    Take a photo tour of Arches National Park courtesy of the USGS #ColoradoRiver

    April 9, 2013

    Remediation work has been unsuccessful at Silver Bell Mine tailings site

    April 9, 2013


    From The Watch (Gus Jarvis):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More water pollution coverage here.

    Grand Mesa cloud-seeding program history and results #ColoradoRiver

    April 9, 2013


    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Sharon Sullivan):

    For 50 years, humans have attempted to modify the weather for the purpose of increasing snowpack, to fill up reservoirs, reduce hail, and even prevent rain. The scientific practice of cloud seeding has been utilized on Grand Mesa since the 1990s. Two years ago, the Water Enhancement Authority stepped up its Grand Mesa program by doubling the number of cloud seeders to 16. “We’re trying to increase snowpack on the Mesa, to fill up the reservoirs,” said Mark Ritterbush, the Grand Junction water operations supervisor and secretary for the Water Enhancement Authority (WEA).

    The WEA is comprised of the City of Grand Junction, Powderhorn Ski Mountain Resort, Collbran, the Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District, and Overland Ditch and Reservoir Company. Funding for the cloud-seeding program comes from those entities, as well as Delta County, the Colorado River District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and lower Colorado River basin states.

    Meteorologists determine where to place the cloud-seeding machines on the Mesa. Oftentimes, they’re located on private property where landowners are paid rent to host the machines.

    In China, cloud seeders — many of them farmers — are paid to use anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers to release pellets containing silver iodide into clouds, according to Wikipedia. Other areas disperse the precipitation-enhancing agents via airplanes.

    On the Grand Mesa, cloud-seeding machines consist of tanks on the ground filled with a silver-iodide solution containing chemicals such as acetone. The solution is sprayed across a propane-fueled flame, causing the particles to drift with the wind current up into the cloud. The condensation nuclei turn into ice crystals, ride along with the cloud and fall out as a snowflake. Silver iodide is used because its crystalline structure is almost identical to ice, Ritterbush said.

    “A meteorologist (John Thompson of Montrose) watches storms as they come in,” Ritterbush said. “He calls and tells (the landowners) when to turn it on. Rarely are all 16 cloud seeders running at the same time.”


    There is an ongoing debate regarding the effectiveness of cloud seeding versus letting nature take its course, Ritterbush said. Ten years ago, the National Academies of Science released a report saying, that after 30 years of research, there is no convincing proof of intentional weather modification efforts. “In nature, it’s hard to set up an experiment with a control,” Ritterbush said. “It’s a conundrum how to compare.”

    Yet, studies suggest cloud seeding can increase snowpack 5 to 15 percent, which makes the program’s annual cost of between $30,000 and $40,000 cost-effective when you factor in the extra water, Ritterbush said. The cost variable is due to weather conditions, how often seeding takes place, and the cost of silver, Ritterbush said. According to the World Meteorological Policy Statement, “a well-designed, well-executed program shows demonstrative results,” said Joe Busto, who runs the weather modification permitting program out of Denver for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    The Grand Mesa has been a forum to introduce new equipment and different seeding technologies, Busto said. The topography is ideal for setting up cloud-seeding machines at a high elevation, he said. “There’s a rich history of research on the Grand Mesa, during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s,” Busto added.

    Arlen Huggins, a semi-retired research scientist with the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., is familiar with the Grand Mesa project. Huggins said there is plenty of convincing evidence that modifying weather is effective for increasing precipitation. He mentioned prior Bureau of Reclamation studies, plus a recently completed five-year experiment in Australia. “There’s a lot of evidence related to snowfall enhancement,” Huggins said. “It makes it a viable option for increasing water supply.”

    The Water Enhancement Authority is in the process of collecting data comparing seeded areas versus non-seeded areas on the Mesa, Ritterbush said.


    So, what happens when silver-iodide particles hit the ground or land in lakes or rivers? While there has been no monitoring for silver in western Colorado’s environment, researchers in Australia have spent millions searching for traces of the mineral, Ritterbush said. In Australia, where lake beds and soils have been tested, they “just don’t find it near toxic levels,” Busto said.

    Huggins, who is considered a cloud-seeding expert, said he’s often asked about potential risks of silver toxicity in the environment. “It’s a minuscule amount of silver being released,” Huggins said. “The silver iodide amounts released are not harmful. (The particles) are not soluble in water. It cannot be taken up by aquatic species. It does not bio-accumulate.”

    There are approximately 106 cloud-seeding sites in Colorado, including Summit County, Gunnison, Telluride and the Dolores area, the West and Eastern San Juan mountains. Vail and Beaver Creek have the oldest program, having cloud-seeded for 38 years. Most permits are issued from November through March and sometimes into mid-April, Busto said. “We monitor snowpack, avalanche hazards, and suspend programs when needed,” he said.

    A 2010 statement from the American Meteorological Society states that “unintended consequences of cloud-seeding, such as changes in precipitation or other environmental impacts downwind of a target area have not been clearly demonstrated, but neither can they be ruled out. Continued effort is needed toward improved understanding of the risks and benefits of planned modification through well-designed and well-supported research programs.”

    More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.

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

    April 9, 2013


    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Will Lake Nighthorse recreation facilities be online in by 2014?

    April 9, 2013


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

    Almost two years after the reservoir was filled in June 2011, local government officials have not allowed kayaking, bird watching or mountain biking on the 5,500-acre site. Lake Nighthorse might be a case of politics proving to be a bigger obstacle than the laws of physics.

    About two miles from downtown Durango, the lake is a temptation for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts, but it is not yet accessible to the public. Officials now are saying 2014, but they have delayed the opening before.

    To venture onto the property without permission literally is a federal offense, although judging by footprints and pawprints, people and their dogs apparently have made the trek. “We’ve had to chase out people with kayaks and canoes,” said Tyler Artichoker, facilities manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

    After budgeting almost $200,000 to open the lake this summer, Durango Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz laid out a series of complications that has moved the goal of opening the lake to the summer of 2014. The city first must annex the land so it can provide law enforcement. The Bureau of Reclamation must approve a lease agreement with the city and do an environmental assessment of the city’s master recreation plan, which was developed after much public input and consensus building about the kinds of recreation to allow. Jet skis are out. The master plan calls for a “family beach” to distinguish it from other kinds of beaches. The bureau’s environmental assessment then must be made available for public comment, which is expected to happen in April.

    Once the bureau signs off on the lease agreement, the city plans to get assistance from the Colorado National Guard for help with land clearing. An entrance station and boat-inspection area also must be built with funding from a state grant…

    “If you can name a governmental entity, it has a stake in Lake Nighthorse,” Rinderle said.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    Lower North Fork Fire: ‘The public is under the impression that everything has been taken care of’ — Sharon Scanlan

    April 9, 2013


    From the Canyon Courier (Daniel Laverty):

    On March 26 of last year, hell came to 4,000 acres 6 miles south of Conifer. As the battle to fully control the Lower North Fork Fire continued for a week, residents waited and watched as they learned about three neighbors who lost their lives and homeowners who lost everything in a blaze that was sparked when a prescribed burn escaped in high winds. The Colorado State Forest Service had overseen the burn on March 22, 2012, on land owned by Denver Water 6 miles south of Conifer to reduce fuels in the area. The subsequent weekend was quiet, but about 1:15 p.m. March 26, high winds carried embers across the control line, resulting in two small spot fires. The State Forest Service asked for containment help from the North Fork and Elk Creek fire departments, but the blaze was declared escaped about 2:30 p.m.

    Before containment a week later, the Lower North Fork Fire burned 4,100 acres, destroyed two dozen homes and claimed three lives. ‘You remember where you were’

    State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, was at the state Capitol on March 26 last year, serving on the state’s Joint Budget Committee. “It’s one of those days where you remember where you were,” Gerou said. “We were in the final stages of closing the budget, and I received e-mail alerts about the fire. It was a really tough day because I was down in Denver, and that’s not where I wanted to be.”

    Gerou said she spent most of the day watching for e-mails and checking online for updates while staying in contact with Jeffco Sheriff Ted Mink and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    As the flames approached

    Sharon Scanlan and her husband, Tom, lost their home off Kuehster Road. Tom was out of town on March 26, and Sharon was in Denver when she heard about the fire. She raced home to do whatever she could before the flames reached her house. She did what mountain residents know to do — turned off the propane, prepared the windows and filled the bathtub with water. Sharon even left a note on her door to let firefighters know their above-ground pool in back was filled with water. Sharon gathered her animals — a canary, a dog and two parrots — and walked down to the barn to check on her horses. “At that point, I could see and hear the fire,” Sharon said. “The whole forest below our property was on fire. I saw a tsunami of flames. It was surreal.”

    The flames were getting closer. Sharon calmed her horses, loaded them into their trailer and drove away safely with her animals. “As I drove out, I found myself kind of laughing at myself because here I had gone through all of that silly stuff of taking care of the windows, putting water in the bathtub and leaving a note on the door,” Sharon said, “and within 10 minutes, my house was burning down.”

    Now it’s been a year since, according to Sharon, “the whole mountain was on fire.” With the anniversary, “I had a desire to maybe leave town this week,” Sharon said. “But (the victims) may have a little gathering.”

    She still hasn’t worked through the emotions of losing everything. “It’s amazing how, in the blink of an eye, you can find yourself weeping. It’s not just your house; it’s all of your possessions.”

    Sharon’s mother had died just a month before the fire. Her mother’s wedding ring and other mementoes were lost to the flames. “I miss talking to her,” Sharon said, holding back tears. “But I’m glad she doesn’t know what we’ve been through this past year.”

    From the Canyon Courier:

    One year after a state-overseen prescribed burn re-ignited in high winds and torched 4,100 acres south of Conifer, officials have made several changes to address some of the glitches in procedures and protocols that were apparent during the horrific blaze. But for victims of the Lower North Fork Fire last March, the changes have amounted to too little, and have come decidedly too late. “The public is under the impression that everything has been taken care of,” said Sharon Scanlan. Her husband, Tom Scanlan, says that in fact the victims have received virtually no restitution or aid from the state. The home belonging to the Scanlans was destroyed along with 22 other houses. Three of their neighbors died.

    And yet despite a bill approved in last year’s legislative session designed to help compensate victims for their losses, litigation and inaction so far have left many victims on their own in trying to reclaim lives decimated by the fire, Tom Scanlan said. “I’m incredulous that the attorney general has delayed compensation of the victims here,” said Scanlan, who has been a spokesman for the fire’s victims and was part of a group that conducted independent research into the blaze and its causes. “The legislature … specifically directed that a speedy compensation process be established, that homeowners could go through the state’s claims board. We’ve all had to hire lawyers at our own expense, and it’s done nothing but delay the process. … There is no justice happening in any of this.”

    State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, who last year sponsored the bill that suspended the state’s liability cap related to damage claims from the fire, agrees that the victims continue to face a frustrating ordeal. “It’s been a very frustrating process,” Gerou said. “The attorney general is dragging his feet because he doesn’t want the state to take any responsibility, because he doesn’t want to have to deal with the payouts that could happen with all of the insurance companies.”

    A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office said that because of the large amount of litigation involved, and the nature of some of the claims, the AG’s office has been unable to move forward. “The state regrets that the process to compensate claimants of the Lower North Fork Fire is moving slowly,” said AG’s spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler. “However, it is the nature of some of the claims that is preventing us to move … more expeditiously.”

    The current total of claims is about $73 million and, according to Tyler, some are duplicative and some involve losses that insurance companies have already covered.

    Changes resulting from the fire

    Several procedural and practical changes were made in the wake of the Lower North Fork Fire:

    • Jefferson County is now using a new emergency-notification system, CodeRED, after the previous system came up wanting. Several hours elapsed last March between the first 911 calls from nearby residents who reported smelling smoke, and the emergency-notification calls urging an evacuation. Notification calls also went to homes nowhere near the blaze, while some houses in the path of the flames did not receive alerts.

    • Evacuation alerts have been fine-tuned to more clearly inform residents of the severity of a threat. A three-level evacuation protocol, conceived by the Elk Creek Fire Department, has been adopted statewide. The top level —Stage Three — advises simply, “Leave immediately.”

    • A new protocol for prescribed burns was called for in a report by the Lower North Fork Fire Commission, whose findings recommended consultation with local fire departments and a host of safeguards and monitoring requirements.

    The commission, which has been strongly criticized by Tom Scanlan and others for failing to assign responsibility for the disaster, was created by the legislature last year to investigate the wildfire and recommend changes that would prevent future blazes like the Lower North Fork Fire.

    A community that pulled together

    In the days while the fire still burned and in the weeks and months that followed, a devastated community pulled together with fund-raisers, firefighter feeds and moral support. The Mountain Resource Center in Conifer coordinated an avalanche of donations of food, clothing, furniture and gift cards for victims. The number of donations became so great that the MRC created two lists: items needed by victims and items people were willing to donate. Area organizations such as the Rotary Club of Conifer offered the services of its members, who were willing to run errands, drop off items or do whatever was necessary to help the community. The Conifer Area Chamber of Commerce put together an event to feed hungry firefighters at Conifer High School, with hundreds of community members offering to serve. Journey Church provided two dozen volunteers to help the American Red Cross at the evacuation centers, first at Conifer High and later at West Jefferson Middle School, to aid some of the 900 families who left their homes.

    Pets and other animals from the burn area were welcomed at foster homes and at the Jeffco Fairgrounds and Foothills Animal Shelter. Jefferson County HEAT — the Horse Evacuation Assistance Team — worked long hours to help keep the large animals safe, and since the fire, it has had an outpouring of new volunteers.

    Looking ahead

    The litigation against the state that now includes insurance companies as well as individual victims remains active, and the state has said that compensation as a result of Gerou’s legislation must wait for the legal process to run its course. Tom Scanlan said that while he and some other victims have received payouts from their insurance companies for homes and belongings incinerated in the fire, they will continue to seek restitution for other damages and for the decline in property values. “We aren’t going to go away,” he said.

    Gerou said there have been positive changes in the aftermath of the disaster, including new emergency protocols. “There has been legislation having to do with controlled burns and how the state functions in emergency management during a fire,” she said.

    But at least so far, that has provided limited comfort for the victims still trying to reassemble their lives. “It’s very disappointing,” Gerou said. “The tough thing about it is that when you have a state that does this to individuals, we all think we can count on our state to do the right thing. But basically what the state of Colorado is telling these victims is, ‘It’s OK if I burn down your house; it’s OK if I kill your wife or kill your parents.’ “There’s a whole group of people that have lost faith in their state government.”

    HB13-1044 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes the state house, now on to the state senate

    April 9, 2013


    From email from State Representative Randy Fisher:

    I’m pleased to announce that one of my top priority bills for the 2013 legislative session, HB-1044, was passed in the House on third reading on April 5. If the bill becomes law, it will authorize the use of graywater recycling in Colorado and will provide Coloradans with a powerful and readily available water conservation tool.

    HB-1044 has its roots at CSU where professors Larry Roesner and Sybil Sharvelle have conducted foundational research and development on graywater systems. Drs. Roesner and Sharvelle are the co-directors of the Urban Water Center at CSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Both professors have spent countless hours at the Capitol advocating for passage of HB-1044. They have earned my respect and gratitude for their efforts to help write and advocate for the bill.

    “Graywater” consists of the discharge from fixtures other than toilets, kitchen sinks, and dishwashers that is collected and recycled within residential, commercial, or industrial facilities with minimal treatment in accordance with public health standards. HB-1044 amends Colorado’s public health statutes to allow more efficient first-use of water by enabling the recycling of graywater within the facilities in which it is generated. Graywater reuse is an important municipal and industrial water conservation tool that has the capability of reducing per capita water consumption by up to 30%.

    The Coloradoan newspaper had a very positive editorial about HB-1044 in its Sunday, February 3, edition. Here is a link to the article:

    A critical vote on the HB-1044 occurred last week when the House Appropriations Committee voted to approve a small general fund appropriation required by the health department for rulemaking. The approval of the appropriation paved the way for consideration of the bill in the House. The Senate will begin deliberation on HB-1044 in the coming days.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    Drought news: Augmentation releases from the City of Albuquerque are destined for a mostly dry Elephant Butte Reservoir #nmdrought #codrought

    April 9, 2013


    From The Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

    …before I got to Ghost Ranch on Friday afternoon, I took the turnoff to Abiquiu Reservoir. In drought-parched New Mexico, this is the one reservoir that has a lot of water. It glistened blue-green beneath a bowl of rust-red cliffs, shimmering in a brisk afternoon wind. For fans of cooperation, there is hope in plans for a release beginning today or Wednesday out of Abiquiu, a big slug of municipal water now in storage to try to boost the meager flow of the Rio Grande. The water is part of whatever the opposite of a “rainy day fund” might be, water the Albuquerque agency has been importing into the Chama Basin from the headwaters of the San Juan River and stashing at Abiquiu for later use. Even in this dry year, Albuquerque has a smartly acquired stockpile.

    For about three weeks, Albuquerque will release about 200 million gallons of that water per day, running it down the Chama, into the Rio Grande north of Española, and down through Albuquerque to eventually to drought-depleted Elephant Butte Reservoir. It’s not a donation. Under its water rights permits, Albuquerque is required to make up some of the water its groundwater pumping indirectly sucks out of the Rio Grande as the river flows through the metro area.

    The most efficient way for Albuquerque to do that is to move the water in the dead of winter, when evaporation losses are lowest, sending it down to Elephant Butte to make up for the impact of pumping on the river. Moving it now instead, Albuquerque will lose about 10 percent to 15 percent of it to evaporation, according to John Stomp, the Albuquerque water utility’s chief operating officer.

    The Greeley Water Conservation newsletter is hot off the press

    April 9, 2013

    Harris Sherman will say adiós to the USDA on May 8

    April 9, 2013


    Here’s the announcement from the USDA:

    Statement from Under Secretary Harris Sherman

    “After four years of having the privilege to work alongside the enormously talented, hard working people at USDA, and especially my colleagues in the United States Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, I am today announcing my upcoming departure from USDA.

    We have worked together to accomplish tremendous things in the past four years. With the Forest Service, we developed a new Planning Rule for management of our national forests and grasslands, accelerated restoration of millions of acres of forests and watersheds, and supported traditional forest products and other uses of the national forests. We expanded recreation opportunities and supported thousands of recreation-related jobs, protected Native American sacred sites, and invested in our young people and veterans by giving them jobs and training opportunities. We worked with partners around the country to create new public-private partnerships, fostering an ethic of collaboration. In addition, we protected communities from catastrophic wildfires, supported State and private forest landowners, and conducted critical forest research.

    With NRCS, we invested in landscape scale conservation from the Chesapeake Bay to the Everglades to the Bay Delta. We enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation practices, expanded the application of voluntary certainty and safe harbor agreements with individual landowners, introduced new programs and technology that will support the ability of private landowners to implement conservation practices and protect wildlife, and assisted Gulf Coast states and landowners in addressing water quality impacts to the Gulf of Mexico. We also played a leadership role in responding to natural disasters from Hurricane Sandy to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

    I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish. I thank the President and Secretary Vilsack for their leadership and for having given me the opportunity to serve my country in this role. While this has been a very difficult decision for me, I believe it is a good time to transition to new leadership and I have every confidence that my successor will continue to achieve the results that I’ve witnessed from NRCS and the Forest Service over these past years.”

    Statement from Secretary Tom Vilsack

    Over the past four years, Under Secretary Harris Sherman has led a comprehensive push to enhance and modernize the ways in which we conserve our forests and protect our natural resources. Under his leadership, USDA carried out a record level of conservation work alongside farmers, ranchers and forest landowners. He led the way to a modernized forest planning policy that recognizes the multiple uses of our forests, and will lead to more resilient forests and greater rural economic opportunity. Harris helped target our conservation efforts in priority areas, and forged new partnerships that have strengthened a collaborative approach to landscape conservation and forest restoration. As a result, even in a time of tighter budgets, USDA is in a position to continue achieving positive results in conservation for decades to come. I appreciate his service to our nation, and I wish Harris Sherman all the best in the future.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The Coloradan who has headed the U.S. Forest Service is leaving after a tumultuous four years when the agency did battle with ski areas and fought some of the state’s most destructive blazes. Harris Sherman, a former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, will leave his post May 8 as undersecretary of natural resources and the environment in the Department of Agriculture. Sherman said now is “a good time to transition to new leadership” in the spot, which includes direct supervision of the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    He joins fellow Coloradan Ken Salazar, who served four years as secretary of the interior, in leaving the administration in President Barack Obama’s second term.

    In his letter of resignation, Sherman listed a new forest planning rule as a major accomplishment, as well as protecting communities from the ravages of wildfires. Sherman brought “Colorado common sense to the Obama administration and its management of our national forests and public lands, which create jobs and are a big part of our high quality of life,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. Udall lauded in particular Sherman’s work on the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which allows ski areas to increase tourism and job creation throughout the year.

    During Sherman’s tenure, the Forest Service also became embroiled in a court fight with the National Ski Area Association over the agency’s demand that ski areas turn over new water rights in order to obtain permits to operate in national forests. A federal judge ruled that the Forest Service had failed to involve the public in drafting the directive and ordered the agency to reconsider the directive and seek public comment. The Forest Service has yet to announce plans for public meetings to discuss the directive.

    From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

    “As you know, I am a Westerner at heart and, after four years, I am feeling a strong ‘tug’ from that direction, particularly from my family in Colorado and California,” he wrote. “Although this has been a difficult decision for me, I think it is a good time to make a transition.”[...]

    In his letter to Forest Service employees, Sherman outlined his agency’s achievements over the last four years, including forest planning rules, land conservation, public-private partnerships that assisted in forest and watershed restoration projects, expanded recreation opportunities at ski areas and streamlining review and approval processes. “We worked with partners around the country to create new public-private partnerships, fostering an ethic of collaboration,” he wrote. “I marvel that in the face of declining budgets, record fires and temperatures, and challenging forest health conditions, we have achieved so much.”

    Sherman’s departure comes as the Forest Service installs sequestration budget cuts and begins harvesting public input on a controversial plan to control water used by ski areas on public land. Sherman said he will remain at the USDA through May 8 to assist in the transition toward a new undersecretary.

    Parachute Creek spill: ‘The source of [diesel-range organics] is unknown’ — Todd Hartman #ColoradoRiver

    April 9, 2013


    From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Groundwater monitoring wells have found contamination as far as 800 feet from the presumed center of a hydrocarbons leak near Parachute Creek, and also across the creek from the leak site, as the area of known contamination keeps growing.

    In addition, what are called diesel-range organics (DROs) were detected in an absorbent boom that had been in place in the creek itself, in the first sign of potential contamination of creekwater related to the leak. And state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said a creek water sample on March 9 in the investigation area also showed the presence of DROs. However, spokesman Matthew Allen of the Environmental Protection Agency said the levels of that substance in the boom after accumulating over 10 days was very low, and it is believed to have come from other sources upstream.

    The DROs also were found in an upstream sample March 9, and Hartman said subsequent tests at those two sites and other surface water sampling locations since then have shown no more hits for the substance. Kirby Wynn, oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, said the developments are of great concern to the county. “It’s certainly an alarming shift in the situation,” he said.

    The developments were made public exactly a month after Williams first reported contaminated soil just east of the creek March 8 in a pipeline corridor that goes beneath the waterway. Three pipelines in the corridor serve Williams’ adjacent gas processing plant.

    Some 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons have been removed from the leak site, and the leak source hasn’t been determined. The investigation has centered on the area around an above-ground valve set for a 4-inch natural gas liquids line that leaves the plant, and around a nearby interceptor trench.

    High levels of benzene in groundwater previously had been reported as far as 325 feet from the primary investigation site, and as close as 10 feet from the creek. But no groundwater contamination previously had been found on the other side of the creek from the leak site.

    State investigators and Williams previously have said the creek appears to be a “losing creek,” meaning groundwater beneath it appears to flow away from it toward the central leak site, helping protect it from the contamination. With contamination now across the creek, Hartman said he doesn’t know what that means, but added, “We believe it’s a losing stream all around at this stage,” meaning the flow on the other side of the creek also is away from it. “I have no indication right now that would indicate we feel differently about that,” he said.

    Hartman said a thin layer of liquid hydrocarbons was found in a monitoring well 800 feet east of the primary investigation area and in the first monitoring well installed on the creek’s south side, across the creek from the leak area. “Laboratory analysis of the groundwater from these wells was not available as of (Monday) afternoon,” he said in a press release. “Additional monitoring wells are being installed along the southern bank of the creek to the northwest. Tests are ongoing to determine whether the liquid hydrocarbons are similar to those recovered near the primary interceptor trench and above-ground valve set.”

    Hartman said Williams has undertaken additional measures on the north side of the creek to protect it, including digging a series of trenches to lower the groundwater level and remove liquid hydrocarbons and contaminated water near the stream’s edge.

    Authorities previously have said there has been no evidence of impact to the creek from the leak. Hartman said he was referring to benzene contamination. Benzene is a carcinogen and byproduct of oil and gas development.

    Hartman said WPX Energy, the landowner in the area, replaced its absorbent booms in the creek and did lab analysis on the spongy boom material previously in place for 10 days. It showed diesel-range organics at 213 to 349 parts per million, and no detections of benzene or gasoline-range organics. “The source of DRO is unknown,” he said.

    Williams has placed two additional booms. One is downstream of any groundwater monitoring wells where hydrocarbons have been detected. Another is upstream of the investigation area, and was placed to determine if any DROs are entering the area from upstream.

    Allen said anything can transport DROs into a creek, such as someone walking into the creek with contamination on their boots. Allen said chemical compounds making up diesel can be found in nature, but DROs wouldn’t be expected to show up naturally in a creek.

    If pollutants are found to be impacting the creek, the EPA has authority under federal law to take additional measures to address the situation, he said. But he said it sounds as if the levels detected were low enough that the EPA investigator involved determined it didn’t require new action by the agency. “It wasn’t anything that sparked concern,” he said.

    Wynn said more information needs to be gathered about the DROs, but they “may be of great concern.”

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, part of the Department of Natural Resources, has led the investigation. But the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also have been involved. Said Hartman, “We are in a great deal of communication with both CDPHE and EPA about this site and their involvement could increase.”

    Allen said if the EPA’s involvement escalates, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would take over the investigation. Often in such instances a “joint unified command” involving the EPA, state agencies and responsible parties all work together to respond to a problem, he said.

    On Thursday, Williams revealed that a pressure gauge on the valve set was discovered Jan. 3 to have been leaking. But the company says the gauge probably leaked fewer than 25 gallons, and wouldn’t explain benzene having traveled hundreds of feet in groundwater by now.

    But Bob Arrington, a member of the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board and a retired mechanical engineer with pipeline experience, says he thinks such a gauge could leak 6,000 gallons in just 4 1/2 hours. “I know if you lose a pressure gauge it can gush out on you,” he said. He also said groundwater moves fast enough to explain the benzene’s travel.

    Williams spokesman Tom Droege said Monday he can’t speculate about the contribution caused by the Jan. 3 leak. “We’re definitely looking at it, though,” he said.

    More Parachute Creek spill coverage here.

    Potential snow accumulation map from the NWS Boulder office #cowx #codrought

    April 8, 2013

    The Water Information Program Spring 2013 newsletter is hot off the press

    April 8, 2013


    Click here to read the newsletter.

    Grand Junction: Aspinall Unit operations meeting April 25

    April 8, 2013


    From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

    The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users began diversions through the Gunnison Tunnel [last] week. Consequently, releases from Crystal Dam are about 750 cfs, the Tunnel is currently diverting about 400 cfs, with the balance through the Canyon/Gorge. Reclamation plans to continue to operate in accordance with the Aspinall Operations Record of Decision and to allow the Black Canyon Water Right to be met. As the Tunnel increases diversions over the next few weeks, mild fluctuations in the Gunnison River in the Canyon/Gorge may occur.

    The April 1 Blue Mesa forecast for unregulated April through July runoff is 315,000 ac-ft which is 47% of average. The April Operations Meeting will be held on April 25th in Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office, 2764 Compass Drive Suite 106, beginning at 1:00 p.m.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

    The latest ENSO discussion is hot off the press #codrought @cowx

    April 8, 2013


    Click here to read the discussion. Here’s an excerpt:

    Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored into the Northern Hemisphere summer 2013.

    During March 2013, ENSO-neutral continued, with slightly above average SSTs in the eastern portion of the basin. Weekly values of all the Nino indices were between -0.5°C and +0.5°C during the month. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) increased to near-average during the month as an area of above-average temperatures at depth moved eastward into portions of the eastern basin. The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) again contributed to increased atmospheric variability over the tropical Pacific. Low-level winds were near average, and upper-level winds were anomalously westerly across the equatorial Pacific. Convection was enhanced over the western equatorial Pacific and suppressed in the central basin. Collectively, these features indicate the continuation of ENSO-neutral.

    2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB13-041 and SB13-074 #coleg

    April 8, 2013


    From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

    SB13-074: Irrigation Water Right Historical Use Acreage — Hodge/Sonnenberg. Concerning the resolution of ambiguities in old water right decrees regarding the place of use of irrigation water.

    SB13-041: Protect Water Storage Long-term Use — Hodge & Roberts/Fischer & Sonnenberg. Concerning the protection of stored water and preserving supplies for drought and long-term needs.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    Forecast news: Major winter storm to bring widespread moisture to Colorado starting tonight #codrought #cowx

    April 8, 2013

    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    Mid to high level clouds are moving across the area this morning ahead of a low pressure center that is currently centered over central Nevada. The yellow lines are isobars or lines of equal pressure. They also indicate the strength of the pressure gradient. When the lines are far apart the pressure gradient is low, when they are close together or ‘tight’ the pressure gradient is high. As you can see in the while circle, the yellow lines are very close together indicating a tight pressure gradient which will cause strong surface winds. Today, the forecast area will see strong winds for much of the day as this gradient approaches and moves over Utah and Colorado. Snow is also expected and with strong winds, blizzard conditions are likely. As such, a blizzard warning has been issued for northeastern Utah and the valleys of northern Colorado. In addition to the blizzard warning, winter storm warnings and advisories have been issued, wind advisories and high wind watche! s have been issued, a Red Flag Warning has been issued and a Freeze Warning has been issued for Wednesday morning.

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    A potent spring storm system is expected to bring a variety of active weather to most of southern Colorado today through Tuesday. In the immediate future…strong winds will develop across the region…with Red Flag Warnings in effect in the San Luis Valley and most of the southeast plains. The combination of strong winds…low humidity and already dry conditions will create explosive fire growth potential. Strong to severe thunderstorms could develop over the extreme eastern plains by late afternoon. As the system marches into the state tonight…a variety of winter conditions are expected…including a Blizzard Watch along the Palmer Divide…and Warnings…Watches and Advisories over the southern mountains and along the I-25 corridor…as well as a good chance of snow from the mountains eastward.

    From the National Weather Service Boulder office:

    Very complex spring storm taking aim on Colorado. Potential for heavy snow & severe wx including tornado threat.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    A winter storm watch has been issued for Larimer County as a spring storm bears down on Fort Collins. After a high near 60 degrees Monday, temperatures will drop sharply, turning evening rain into snow around 9 p.m. according to the National Weather Service. Overnight Monday, temperatures will continue to drop to around 19 degrees, with snow accumulation from three to seven inches and winds in the mid-20 m.p.h range according to the weather service. Tuesday, cold, wind and snow are expected to continue with another three to five inches possible according to the weather service. Snow is forecast to taper off Tuesday evening with cold lingering throughout the week.

    From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch) via The Greeley Tribune:

    The National Weather Service gives the Greeley area a 90 percent chance of snow — up to 7 inches — Monday night, after a forecast high of 63 degrees this afternoon. Rain and thunderstorms are expected to roll into the region in the afternoon with a southwest wind gusting up to 31 mph, forecasters said Sunday afternoon. Rain is expected to turn to snow about 9 p.m. with the heaviest snow after midnight.

    Northern, central and western portions of the state are under a winter storm watch from late tonight through Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said. An area east of Sterling to Limon on the Eastern Plains could pick up nearly a foot of snow from the storm, forecasters said. “A strong spring storm system will bring very strong winds and heavy snowfall to the region late Monday night through Tuesday,” forecasters stated Sunday, adding that snow drifts could range from a few inches to a few feet. Visibility could fall to zero at times, the agency stated.

    The Greeley area has a 90 percent chance of additional snow Tuesday morning, but the afternoon threat is blowing snow with a north wind delivering gusts up to 28 mph. The high temperature in the city Tuesday could reach only 24 degrees. Partly sunny skies return to the metro region Wednesday with a forecast high of 36 degrees — which is 24 degrees colder than the 30-year average of 60, according to weather records.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Paul Shockley):

    Hold off on the shorts, at least for a few days. A significant storm system packing potential for rain late Monday and trace amounts of snow in the Grand Valley after midnight is on the way, bringing with it potential freezing temperatures in its wake, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “There’s a good chance of seeing below freezing temperatures (by Wednesday morning) and those apricots and cheery trees blooming are going to be at risk,” said Ellen Heffernan, meteorologist with the local Weather Service office. “It’s something we’re looking at closely.”

    Overnight on Monday could bring minimal amounts of snow in the valley but potentially a foot of snow in the mountains, she said.

    Separately, the Weather Service released data this week suggesting a chilly start for the Grand Valley for 2013. For the period of Jan. 1 to March 31, the average temperature was 29.9 degrees, the 14th coldest year on record dating back to 1893. The three-month stretch this year was the coldest for Jan. 1 to March 31 since 1988. The coldest temperatures over that three-month period came in 1933, which recorded an average of 27.1 degrees. Blame January’s inversion for this year’s colder-than-normal data for Jan. 1 to March 31, meteorologist Jim Daniels said. “We were running on the coldest January on record right up until the end of the month,” Daniels said.

    Drought/snowpack news: Residents of Zinno Subdivision in Pueblo County opine the severity of water restrictions #codrought

    April 8, 2013




    From KRDO (Dana Molina):

    Residents of the Zinno Subdivision in Pueblo County said they recently received a letter stating their new water restrictions. According to the letter, each household can use only 62 gallons of water a day. Exceeding that limit results in fines. Outdoor watering results in a $1,000 fine. A second violation of outdoor watering restrictions results in a customer’s service being shut off. Residents said these are too strict to follow. “There’s no way I can live in fear every day,” [Melinda Ingo] said. “I have four children. I have to do laundry, I have to do dishes.”

    The Joseph Corporation gets its water rights from the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association. In its letter to residents, it says the water restrictions come from the CWPDA.

    But according to residents, the problem is how their neighborhood is being treated. A letter from the CWPDA refers to it as a farm unit.

    David Stanford, utilities manager at the Joseph Corporation, said the area once was a farm unit. And that tapping into another water source would result in extremely high rates.

    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    March snowfall increased snowpack in the Arkansas River basin to 74 percent of average, up from 71 percent March 1. Natural Resources Conservation Service data indicate snowpack percentages in the upper Arkansas basin ranging from 66 percent at Twin Lakes Tunnel to 88 percent at Porphyry Creek. While the numbers remain below average, snowpack stands at 122 percent of 2012 levels in the basin.

    Reservoir storage in the basin stands at 55 percent of average and 64 percent of 2012 levels.

    Phyllis Ann Philipps, state conservationist with the NRCS, said March snowfall “produced a nominal increase” in statewide snowpack, from 73 percent of average March 1 to 74 percent on April 1. Most major basins saw slight improvements to snowpack percentages during March, she said. “While the state snowpack remains well below normal, the good news is that most basins continue to accumulate snow and have yet to reach their peaks for the year.”

    However, the southwest portion of the state saw significant decreases in snowpack percentages this month. The Gunnison and Upper Rio Grande basins saw declines of 3 and 11 percent, respectively. The combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins lost 12 percentage points. These basins have likely reached their peak snowpack for the year and are headed into the melt phase, Philipps said.

    Colorado River basin snowpack, which supplies transbasin diversions into the Arkansas basin, increased from 70 percent to 74 percent of average. The South Platte and North Platte basin snowpacks increased by 6 percent.

    The NRCS reports that Colorado receives approximately 20 percent of seasonal snow accumulation during March, but this year’s March snowfall was well below normal. April 8 is the average date of peak snowpack in Colorado, leaving “almost no chance that the snowpack will reach normal conditions before beginning to melt.”

    Reservoir storage remains well below average statewide, and all major basins in Colorado are expected to see below-average streamflow runoff this spring and summer.

    From The Denver Post (Jordan Steffen):

    Heavy snowstorms and cooler temperatures helped boost Colorado’s statewide snowpack to 74 percent of average in March — almost double the levels at this time last year. Snow surveys showed that Colorado’s snowpack increased 1 percentage point from March 1 to April 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. That marks the third consecutive month that Colorado’s snowpack jumped by a percentage point…

    All major basins in Colorado are expected to see below average runoff this spring and summer, according to the conservation service.

    Reservoir levels in the state also remain below normal. As of April 1, average reservoir levels are at 71 percent of normal, 5 percentage points higher than this time last year.

    Permitting water projects: ‘…maybe we’re having the federal government check too many boxes’ — Randy Ray

    April 8, 2013


    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    New water-supply projects could come to fruition much faster if a Colorado congressman has his way in Washington. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., is piecing together a bill aimed at speeding up the federal permitting process for new water endeavors, if they are endorsed by the governor of that state.

    Many regional water projects have been in the federal permitting stages for years, with participants having spent millions of dollars along the way, and they still have no guarantee the projects will be built.

    Brian Werner — a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is overseeing efforts to build the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP — said the project has been in its federal permitting phase since 2004, with the 15 participating cities and water districts having already spent about $12 million. He suspects the process will go on for yet another year. Gardner said it’s taking “way too long.”

    The details of his bill aren’t finalized, but Gardner said it could call for federal agencies to say “yay” or “nay” on a proposed water project within six to nine months after a governor puts his support behind it.

    Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has yet to endorse NISP, which would supply its partners with 40,000 acre feet of new water supplies annually, if ever built.

    Opponents say water-storage projects like NISP could interfere with river flows and impact wildlife, fisheries, forests and recreational use.

    Gardner and others say that — with future water shortages expected for a number of regions — new water-supply projects must get a “yay” or “nay” quicker, so those projects can get built or participants can go back to the drawing board. Agriculture, the biggest user of water, will suffer the most if these lulls continue, Gardner added.

    Participants of large-scale, water-supply projects must work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and others to make sure all needed wildlife-, habitat- and environmental-protection measures are taken before dirt is moved. “No doubt; mitigation efforts need to be taken,” said Randy Ray, executive director with the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley. “But maybe we’re having the federal government check too many boxes.

    “I’d like to see the federal government have more faith in the state, the local water districts and the engineers who are working on these projects.”

    Without new water-supply projects in the region, farmers and some water experts worry that growing cities will continue buying up farmland and agricultural water rights in the future to meet their growing needs.

    The Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water project in northern Colorado, has seen its water go from 85 percent owned by agricultural users, to now 34 percent owned by agricultural users. Many farmers have sold rights in times when farming wasn’t profitable. Farmers who need water today now depend on leasing it from the cities who own it. But in dry times, like this year, cities say they don’t have enough water in storage to lease to agriculture.

    If Colorado had NISP-like projects in place already, Werner and others say, the above-average snowpacks of recent years would have filled those reservoirs, local cities and farmers would have more water in storage now and they would be in much better shape to endure the ongoing drought. Instead, during 2009, 2010 and 2011, a total of about 1.4 million acre-feet of water above what’s legally required flowed from Colorado into Nebraska, according to Werner. “Even if we could have captured just some of that in new reservoirs, how much better off would we be right now?” Werner asked.

    Colorado’s ag industry has a $40 billion impact on the state, the second-largest contributor to Colorado’s economy, behind oil and gas.

    But according to the 2010 Statewide Water Initiative Study, the South Platte River basin in northeast Colorado could lose as much as 190,000 acres of irrigated farmland by 2050 due to water shortages. Farmers and water experts agree that conservation and water-sharing projects could help Colorado meet its growing water needs, but they say new water-storage projects will also be needed.

    Ray didn’t want to comment specifically on Gardner’s bill, but he stressed the need to speed up the federal permitting process for new water projects. He explained that the Central Water and others have been discussing the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project since the 1980s, but are still working with the federal government to get all permitting in order. “It needs to change,” he said “Because we’re not getting anywhere.

    “And we really need to get somewhere.”

    More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

    Greeley: NWS Weather Spotter training April 22 #cowx

    April 8, 2013


    From The Greeley Tribune:

    A weather spotter training class, presented by the National Weather Service, will take place at 7 p.m. April 22 at the Weld County Administration Building, 1150 O St. in Greeley. The training is free and open to the public and hosted by the Weld County Office of Emergency Management and the City of Greeley Office of Emergency Management. Attendees will learn about different types of tornados and thunderstorms, how to spot and report severe weather and how to stay safe in the event of tornados, floods and lightning.

    To make a reservation, call Gracie Marquez at (970) 304-6540 or email

    ‘As long as there is water in the river, Florence would have water’ — Craig Lis

    April 8, 2013


    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Charlotte Burrous):

    “We’ve got enormous issues,” said City Manager Mike Patterson. “We also have a lot issues that we’ll always have, capital and improving our system. Storage is another huge issue. The city’s water right is very substantial. We could put a call on just about anybody on the river. As long as there is water in the river, Florence would have water.”

    During the meeting, Lis responded to criticisms made about annexation.

    “He really addressed the city’s growth potential and assured everybody, we are actually in very good shape in terms of Florence’s water rights,” Patterson said. “(Lis also) addressed the shortages that are occurring already.”

    Rockvale is already on water restrictions, but Patterson said he did not know what those were.

    “It would take a significantly worse situation from where we’re at now (to affect Florence),” he said. “There would have to be no water in the river for Florence to be in that situation because Florence does have a very significant water right and a very senior water right (1861).”[...]

    “(The meeting) was filled with caution, but it was really very optimistic about the city’s future,” Patterson said. “There were some strong cautions there. One of the things Florence has to be aware of is every year, there are potential amendments (that could go) to the people and there are some things that could go through the legislature. Although

    Florence has done a great job in protecting its water and its senior water rights, there are things that are out of our control that could dramatically impact our water future. There’s an element of ‘use it or lose it’ so we have to be very careful with our water.”

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


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