Will Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann be the beginning of the end for river compacts? (probably not)

April 24, 2013

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From the Associated Press (Mark Sherman) via the Washintgon Post:

The Supreme Court appeared skeptical Tuesday of a claim by Texas that it has a right under a 30-year-old agreement to cross the border with Oklahoma for water to serve the fast-growing Fort Worth area. The justices heard arguments in a dispute over access to southeastern Oklahoma tributaries of the Red River that separates Oklahoma and Texas. The Tarrant Regional Water District serving an 11-county area in north-central Texas including Fort Worth and Arlington wants to buy 150 billion gallons of water and says the four-state Red River Compact gives it the right to do so. Arkansas and Louisiana are the other participating states and they are siding with Oklahoma.

Several justices pointed to the absence of an explicit approval for cross-border water sales in the agreement. “This clause, the one that you rely on, is kind of sketchy, isn’t it? Doesn’t say how they’re going to get it, if they’re going to pay for it. There’s a lot to be filled in,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said to Charles Rothfeld, the lawyer representing the Texas district.

To the contrary, Rothfeld said, “it is quite clear” that the four states have equal rights to the water in the stretch of the Red River at issue before the Supreme Court.

Justice Samuel Alito called Texas’ aggressive language “very striking. I mean, it sounds like they are going to send in the National Guard or the Texas Rangers.”

Rothfeld sought to assure Alito on that point. “Oklahoma’s brief suggests that the Texas Rangers are going to descend on Tulsa and seize the water. That is not what is contemplated,” Rothfeld said…

…the water district’s plans have been blocked by Oklahoma laws that govern the use of water within its borders, including a moratorium on out-of-state water sales. Lisa Blatt, Oklahoma’s lawyer, took issue with virtually every aspect of the district’s argument, including the claim that water drawn directly from the river is too salty…

Lower courts have ruled for Oklahoma, including the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that the Red River Compact protects Oklahoma’s water statutes from the legal challenge.

Legislation adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 said no out-of-state water permit can prevent Oklahoma from meeting its obligations under compacts with other states. It also requires the Water Resources Board to consider in-state water shortages or needs when considering applications for out-of-state water sales.

The Obama administration is backing the Texas district at the Supreme Court, saying Oklahoma may not categorically prohibit Texas water users from obtaining water in Oklahoma. But the administration takes no position on whether the Texans ultimately should get the water they are seeking in this case.

A decision is expected by late June.

From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Utah joined six other states that weighed in together on the Tarrant Regional Water District vs Hermann case that pits the water supplier for much of the Fort Worth-Dallas area against the state of Oklahoma. At issue is an interstate compact governing the division of excess runoff water that is to be shared equally by four states: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana…

The Texas district wants to dip into its share of Red River water by taking its fourth of the flow in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has responded that the district has no authority or right to cross the border to meet Texas water needs.

Oklahoma lawmakers, acting to protect their water resources, passed a moratorium on any water exports from the state, unless those exports have their express approval.

[Tim Bishop, an attorney representing the water district] said the state’s actions fly in the face of the compact’s provisions, shunning a congressionally mandated binding agreement…

The legal team points to areas like Denver and the Salt Lake City metro area as regions that depend on water supplies governed by interstate compacts — such as the Colorado River compact of 1922 that allocates that water among seven recipient basin states, including Utah. But Utah actually joined with Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Indiana and Michigan in urging the high court to refrain from unraveling the 10th Circuit decision. “We have a very strong interest” that Oklahoma’s position be upheld, said Norm Johnson, the natural resources attorney for the Utah Attorney General’s Office. “A compact does not equal permission to disregard the water laws of equal sovereign (states).”

Johnson said it should be telling that both lower courts have sided with Oklahoma and respected the right of states to govern what happens to the water within their boundaries.

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

At the heart of the lawsuit is whether the language of the Red River Compact — signed in 1978 by the basin states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and ratified two years later by Congress — gives entities in Texas the right to water that originates in a particular river basin in Oklahoma…

Tarrant’s legal team argues that if the Supreme Court upholds the federal appeals court ruling, which supported Oklahoma’s restrictions on out-of-state water sales, the justices would throw existing water compacts into chaos and would encourage protectionist policies from states wanting to guard water resources on their soil. The problem is that almost no one outside of Texas shares that view…

Tarrant has not found much sympathy in this case. Nearly all of the amicus briefs — filings from parties interested in the outcome but not directly involved — have sided with Oklahoma. Arkansas and Louisiana, the two other states bound by the Red River Compact, filed on behalf of Oklahoma, as did a group of water law professors and a pair of water districts in Colorado that draw from interstate rivers. Even states that are part of other interstate compacts — a diverse group including Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah — share Oklahoma’s position.

Seemingly the only groups supporting Tarrant are Texas-based organizations and the city of Hugo, Oklahoma, which would like to sell water to Texas. The U.S. Solicitor General also backs Texas.

Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy in New Orleans, told Circle of Blue that this case is mostly a compact issue and is not about the Commerce Clause.

“If you have water, you read the compact one way. If you don’t, you read it another,” said Davis, who co-signed an amicus brief supporting the Tenth Circuit’s ruling in favor of Oklahoma. “The fact that Texas has a growing need for water means it’s going to read as many rights into the compact as it can.”

Arkansas and Louisiana, in their amicus brief, wrote that the provision about the equal rights in sub-basin 5 “simply does not constitute a clear expression by the signatory states or Congress that this one phrase was added for the purpose of overriding the regulatory authority of the States over intrastate waters that was otherwise maintained throughout the Compact.”

The compact also makes clear that the states have the power to regulate water within their boundaries. And Arkansas and Louisiana — two wet states that use riparian law that differs from the rights-based system in the American West — have different legal traditions for water than their fellow Red River states.

More water law coverage here.


Snowpack/drought: ‘It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations’ — Roy Vaughan #COdrought

April 24, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snowpack in Colorado’s mountains continues to build slowly, but the state isn’t out of a drought yet. “It’s continuing to snow, but we’re not showing huge accumulations,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Even though we may not see significant snowfall, as long as it remains overcast and we have flurries, it prolongs the snowpack.”

Statewide, snowpack has improved to 90 percent of average statewide, with normal levels in the Colorado River basin, but lower levels across the southern part of the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel sites. Those numbers can be deceptive, because snowpack normally has begun melting off by this time of year. Snow moisture is only at 90 percent of peak in the Colorado River basin. [ed. emphasis mine]

Drought conditions remain severe for Colorado and the Arkansas Valley in particular. Reduced soil moisture will soak up more water than usual during runoff.

Temperatures are expected to be above average through the summer, while most models are showing below-average rainfall through the summer, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Reservoir storage is at about 70 percent of average statewide, compared with more than 100 percent at the same time last year.

A drought task force last week determined the state once again will be vulnerable to wildfires from May to July, both because of the drought and mountain pine beetle damage on more than 4 million acres of trees.

Precipitation for the year in Pueblo through Tuesday morning was only 1.07 inches, less than half of average and even less than Pueblo had received by this time last year. After light snow Tuesday, high temperatures are expected to climb into the 70s by the end of the week.

Here’s a post from Colorado Springs Utilities Re:Sources blog:

Lately, I’m feeling like a parent on a long road trip with an entire community in the back seat. You know the trip I’m talking about. It’s the one where the kids in the back seat ask “Are we there yet?” every five minutes. The difference is that the questions are “How’s our water supply with the recent snow; and is it enough to move out of restrictions?”

Yes, the snow is great; however we all need to be realistic about our expectations here. We didn’t get into this situation by simply missing a couple of good mountain storms. We got here with a couple of years of severely below average precipitation. While the recent snow fall is welcome relief from hot and dry conditions, we are not out of the drought yet. Even with all the recent snow, our watersheds are seeing a peak snowpack of about 85% of average. That means we still haven’t even reached an average winter yet, let alone a surplus of snow that will replenish our reservoirs.

There are 3 other key factors to consider.

1. Soil moisture. The ground has been extremely deprived of moisture for quite some time, meaning a lot of the snow is going to melt and sink into the ground.
2. Evaporation. When the temperatures do warm up and the snow begins to melt, a portion of that snow is lost to evaporation too.
3. Water rights. Not all of the water that makes its way into a lake or stream can be diverted to Colorado Springs. We can only harvest the water for which we have rights. The rest of it must be passed downstream to other users with senior water rights.
Not to be a negative Nellie, but we are in Stage 2 restrictions and expect to remain there throughout 2013. It’s a harsh reality, but we all need to come to grips with it.

On the bright side, we’re all doing a great job of conserving and we are currently meeting our savings goal! And, the snow and colder conditions locally mean customers will save even more because they will not need to water their landscapes.

So, don’t make me turn this car around. Let’s all appreciate the recent snow for what it is: an opportunity to make a few snowballs, a few snowmen (or women if you prefer) and a few trips down a hill on a sled. Let’s enjoy a brief winter wonderland, even if it is spring!

From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

The release of a voluntary watering schedule is a departure from some communities, which have implemented mandatory restrictions on irrigation, but Parker Water’s district manager, Ron Redd, is hoping that widespread cooperation will avoid the need for such drastic measures.

Recent snowfall has made for near-normal snowpacks and happy plants across Colorado, tempering drought conditions for now. But Parker Water is not affected by snowmelt like other communities because it relies on groundwater, and the inevitable Colorado dry spell could turn the tables on local vegetation.

First and foremost, customers are being asked to avoid watering their lawns until May, as the ground retains much of its moisture in the early spring months. Those with an address ending in an even number are instructed to water on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Property owners with addresses ending in odd numbers, as well as commercial properties, homeowners associations and multi-family residences, are being asked to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. There should be no watering on Fridays so the wells can recharge.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

This week’s spring snowstorm is causing minor flooding around Fort Collins after heavy, wet snow last week caused a roof collapse.

Businesses along Pinon Street off North College Avenue have been struggling for several days with melting snow filling their parking lots and, in some cases, their stores. Wool Hat Furniture co-owner Danelle Britt said she discovered water pouring into the store at 104 Pinon St. last week and had to shut down on Thursday and Friday to deal with it. On Saturday, she said, she spent half her time helping customers buy handmade furniture made from recycled wood and half her time rolling up her pants and wading around trying to fix the sump pump that was helping keep her year-old store dry.

The snow last week collapsed the roof of Discount Tire at 1751 S. College Ave.

From Denver Water:

As a majority of Colorado begins to see some much-needed relief from two years of hot and dry conditions, we all are talking about the many numbers associated with drought, with hope that the snow this spring will get us out of it. But, what numbers matter?

Here’s what the experts at Denver Water are looking at:

The big one is snowpack. We get our water from the Colorado River and South Platte River watersheds. But, it isn’t as easy as pulling up the latest report from the National Water and Climate Center to see what the snowpack levels are for those watersheds. Why? Because we need the snowpack levels above our diversion points within these watersheds, not the entire watershed.

…the snowpack that feeds our reservoirs in the Colorado River watershed is at 87 percent and the South Platte watershed is at 78 percent of average. So, while the complete watershed numbers are higher — Colorado River watershed is at 103 percent of average and the South Platte River watershed is at 90 percent of average — the areas within those watersheds that feed into our reservoirs are much lower.

Obviously, we are very excited to see these numbers increasing each week, but the snowpack levels that feed our reservoirs are still well below the normal peak.

What else are the experts tracking? Because of the past two dry winters, our reservoirs haven’t been full since July of 2011. So as we move out of April, we will look closely at our reservoir levels, the temperature, and the amount of rain or snow we get.

We will also monitor the conditions that determine how much of this snowpack will become water in our reservoirs because:

• Some will soak into the ground, depending on how dry it is and what plants need
• Some will evaporate
• Some may be passed downstream to senior water rights

As we continue to evaluate the conditions and crunch the numbers, we will continue to manage our water supply carefully. At this point, we are still in Stage 2 mandatory watering restrictions. The good news is you don’t even need to think about watering your landscape right now, because Mother Nature is taking care of that for all of us.

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krivonen):

Recent snow showers have boosted local snowpack levels much higher than at this time last year. Yesterday the snowpack in the Roaring Fork Watershed registered 107 percent of normal. It’s good news for anglers who dealt with warm and dry conditions last year…

The snowpack that feeds the Frying Pan River has increased too. The Frying Pan, along with the Roaring Fork River, are what make Basalt an internationally known fly-fishing destination. It’s an important sport for Colorado. In 2011, anglers spent $857 million in the state and supported more than 10,000 jobs. That’s according to a report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation…

Typically the snowpack in Colorado’s high country peaks in mid-April. Last year, snowmelt was more than a month early. This year is still a question mark. Meanwhile, parts of Western Colorado continue to experience severe and extreme drought, despite the added moisture this month.


‘We should be encouraging density’ — Jim Lochhead

April 24, 2013

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Reforming laws to provide more flexibility in how water is used and shared in Colorado will be critical in meeting demands as the state’s population rapidly grows, according to agriculture, environmental and municipal water experts who spoke Tuesday in Denver. Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, Western Resources Advocates Director Bart Miller and Denver Water CEO and Manager Jim Lochhead said the complexity of Colorado water law and the immense court costs associated with it have deterred some users from sharing the resource and taking other measures that would improve efficiencies. That needs to change, they told an audience at the University of Denver’s Sturm School of Law.

Other aspects of the state’s water law — like its “use it or lose it” language, which discourages conservation, Miller said — must be altered if Colorado is going to maximize its beneficial use of the resource and meet its rapidly growing demands.

According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative Study in 2010, the state could need as much as 630,000 acre feet of water annually (or 205.4 gallons) to meet the demands it will have by 2050.

Along with more flexibility in water laws, the trio of experts said urban areas need to grow within their existing boundaries, instead of sprawling outward, which takes up more arable land and forces municipal water providers to expand water infrastructure. Salazar said group housing can save anywhere from 40-70 percent in water consumption compared to individual homes. “We should be encouraging density,” said Lochhead, explaining that Denver’s current population density is about 4,000 people per square mile — much less than other major U.S. cities, particularly New York City, which has a population density of 27,000 people per square mile.

Across the board, the trio of experts said, Colorado residents, who consume 121 gallons of water per day, need to more closely resemble residents in countries such as Australia, who only consume 36 gallons of water per day.

Cities using less water will be critical in keeping water on the state’s farms and ranches, Salazar said, and also in protecting Colorado’s wildlife and recreation industries, which generate 80,000 jobs in the state and $6.4 billion in spending annually, Miller added.

Of the state’s eight major river basins, the Colorado River is most at risk, they said. According to stats shared by Miller, the Colorado River’s water demands began exceeding its supply in the mid 1990s. Weld County and much of the northern Front Range divert much of their water from the Colorado River basin.

More water law coverage here


Parachute Creek spill: ‘The actual benzene standard on the creek is 5,300 ppb to protect aquatic life’ — Todd Hartman #ColoradoRiver

April 24, 2013

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Weekend tests continue to show the presence of benzene in Parachute Creek downstream of a natural gas liquids leak, but at what the state Department of Natural Resources said are trace amounts. In fact, while the detections were somewhat below the standard of 5 parts per billion for drinking water, they are far under what’s allowable for the creek, agency spokesman Todd Hartman said in a press release. “Since Parachute Creek has not been designated as a drinking water supply by the state Water Quality Control Commission, the actual benzene standard on the creek is 5,300 ppb to protect aquatic life,” he said.

The creek does supply the irrigation system for the town of Parachute and its residents. However, there continue to be no benzene detections at the diversion point for that system, 2.7 miles downstream from where the leak is believed to have occurred.

Thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons leaked in a pipeline corridor near Williams’ gas processing plant up the creek valley. Williams says the source was a faulty pressure gauge on a natural gas liquids pipeline leaving the plant. High benzene levels have been found in groundwater since early in an investigation that started in March, but the first detection of benzene in the creek wasn’t until last Thursday.

On Saturday, benzene was detected 1,800 feet downstream from the pipeline corridor at 3.1 parts per billion, a level slightly higher than previous readings. That detection site is where groundwater is believed to be introducing benzene into the creek. No benzene was found at that location Sunday, and 3 ppb was detected Monday. Saturday and Sunday readings at monitoring points 2,500 and 3,700 feet from the pipeline area ranged from 1.5 to 1.1 ppb, with no results available for Monday.

Work continues on installation of an interceptor trench to strip benzene from groundwater above the creek contamination point, and to remove benzene at two locations in the creek. “Operators have drilled several additional monitoring wells to determine the extent of impacted groundwater. These new monitoring wells are not detecting benzene, an indication that delineation of the affected groundwater continues to improve,” Hartman said.

Also over the weekend, Bob Arrington, a retired engineer in Battlement Mesa and member of Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board, wrote Gov. John Hickenlooper, urging him to have the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rather than Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission lead the leak investigation. Arrington wrote that Williams has struggled with its own leak response, initially even doubting that the burst pressure gauge could leak that much fluid, and he argued that the commission doesn’t have the staff or training to oversee remediation.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

According to a report on Monday from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, benzene was detected during last weekend at the same three sites where it was first found on April 18. The water sampling and analysis is being conducted by personnel working for Williams Midstream, the company that owns a natural gas processing plant and some of the pipelines running underground in the area of the leak. The sampling sites, according to COGCC spokesman Todd Hartman, are at locations 1,800 feet, 2,500 feet and 3,700 feet, respectively, downstream from an above-ground valve set believed to be the source of leaking natural-gas liquids first discovered on March 8.

According to Hartman’s report on Monday, the concentration of benzene at the closest point to the valve set, 1,800 feet away, on Saturday was three parts benzene per billion parts water. In the subsequent two days, according to Hartman’s report, no benzene was detected at that location on Sunday, and 3 ppb was reported by Williams on Monday.

Analysis of samples taken at the more distant sites showed the concentration of benzene decreasing at each site and decreasing as samples were taken farther from the supposed source of the leak. At the 2,500-foot distance, according to results supplied to the COGCC by Williams, analysis detected 1.5 ppb on Saturday, and 1.4 ppb on Sunday. Results from Monday’s sampling were not available on Monday. At the site furthest from the leak, 3,700 feet downstream, samples tested out at 1.1 ppb on Saturday, and 1.2 ppb on Sunday. No results were available from Monday’s sampling…

Hartman’s report stated that Williams is working to build an “interceptor trench to strip benzene from the ground water prior to the point where it’s believed ground water enters the stream,” along with other efforts to clear the toxic chemical from the water.

From the Associated Press via KGWN.tv:

Aerators have been set up on Parachute Creek to flush out cancer-causing benzene that has been detected downstream from a hydrocarbon spill in western Colorado. Williams energy company crews also expanded their pumping of hydrocarbons from trenches dug along the creek.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


CWCB Drought Update for April #COdrought

April 23, 2013

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

Recent weeks have brought increased precipitation in the northern portion of the state and cooler temperatures have helped to maintain snowpack; levels in the northwest corner have reached near normal conditions and statewide snowpack has increased to 90% of normal. However, the southern portions of the state is experiencing rapid deterioration of conditions and the eastern plains have seen devastating dust storms. Storage remains below average and water providers are preparing for continued drought conditions throughout the spring and summer. CWCB is maintaining a new drought response portal, www.COH2O.co, with additional information on restrictions that have been implemented in specific communities.

 As of the April 16, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification. D1 (moderate) and D2 (severe) cover 69% of the state, while D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 25%. 14% of the state is now experiencing exceptional drought (D4), a decrease from last month.

 Spring snow storms have brought significant gains in the snowpack of the northern portions of the state; with the Yampa/ White, North Platte and Colorado basins all near normal at 98, 102 and 103% respectively. The lowest snowpack in the state is in the Upper Rio Grande basin (70%) while the Southwest basins is experiencing 71% and the Arkansas is at 79% of normal for the water year. The Gunnison and the South Platte have also seen increases and are now both at 88 % of average. *

 Despite recent gains in snowpack municipalities and water providers are still responding to drought conditions with both mandatory and voluntary watering restrictions throughout the spring and summer demand season. The CWCB drought response portal http://www.COH2O.co continues to help individuals determine the restrictions in their specific community.

 As of the first of April statewide reservoir storage is at 71% of average. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 105% of average while the lowest storage in the state is the Rio Grande River basin at 54% of average. All other basins range from 55% to 84% of average. Last year this time the state was at 108% of average reservoir storage.*

 Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values have largely decreased across the state over the last month and all values remain negative. Below average reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts contribute to these values and data reflect conditions on April 1, 2013. Recent storms have helped to increase streamflow forecasts by as much as 10% in portions of northern and central Colorado, a component of the SWSI, however despite the increase they remain well below average.

 The long term experimental forecast for April through June of this year is projecting above normal moisture for the eastern plains of the state. Additionally, the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA is forecasting above average temperatures statewide and persistent drought conditions across western portions of the state, with some relief possible on the eastern plains.

 The National Interagency Fire Center Predictive services outlook indicates normal wildland fire potential is expected across most of Colorado from May into July.

 A report from the USFS on Bark Beetles in the Rocky Mountain Region indicates that 4.2 Million acres of land in Colorado and adjacent lands in southern Wyoming have been affected by Mountain Pine Beetle, but the outbreak of the last decade is largely on the decline. However, Spruce beetle is on the rise and is expanding from southern Colorado north toward the Gunnison region.

More CWCB coverage here.


Snowpack/drought news: Statewide snowpack = 90% of avg, Upper Colorado = 103% #CODrought

April 23, 2013

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From 9News.com (Nick McGurk):

“Snow equates to water, and that’s good, so in the water business we’re happy. We’re smiling, and the farmers are smiling,” said Brian Werner with Northern Colorado Water.

Snowpack levels along the Colorado River are above average and the South Platte is at about 90 percent. Werner cautions that reservoir levels are still below capacity. “The caution here is that we had a lot of large holes going into 2013 that we’re not gonna get full. So, this is good. We like Mother Nature for this. As we like to say, there’s a lot of holes in there and no matter what happens we’re not going to get those full this year,” Werner said. Werner says Horsetooth Reservoir, a vital source of water for Fort Collins and Greeley, is about 18 feet below capacity but could rise roughly 5 feet more this spring.

One problem for reservoirs in Northern Colorado is that Lake Granby, the second largest reservoir in the state, won’t come close to filling this year because there isn’t enough snowpack in that area along the Western Slope.

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

When the dust layers deposited on mountain snow April 8, April 14 and the 61-hour monster of April 15-17 come under a scorching sun, the already measly snowpack could melt into nothing in no time, the director of the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies in Silverton said Thursday.

The albedo, the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface – dirt, sand, snow, ice – is key, Chris Landry said. Clean snow absorbs 5 to 20 percent of solar energy, but dust-covered snow absorbs 70 percent, Chris Landry said. The more energy absorbed, the faster the melt, he said. “Direct solar energy is bad news,” Landry said. “Air temperature is a relatively minor factor.”

The major dust event of the season so far – the sixth – occurred April 8, Landry said. The seventh occurred April 14. A break followed, then came the 61-hour assault. The dust arrives from northwest New Mexico and the Little Colorado River basin in Arizona, borne by wind from the south, southwest and west. “We’re retaining snow longer this year than last because of March and April storms,” Landry said. “But the water equivalent is no greater than last year.”

Runoff will surge when the three dust layers merge,” Landry said…

In a report to Montezuma County commissioners, John Porter, president of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said mountain precipitation in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins in March was 56 percent of average. Stream flow in the basins from April to July is expect to range from 46 to 61 percent of average, Porter said…

“There’s a potential that it’s going to be a less than average year,” Sterling Moss, director of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Durango, said Friday. “Soil moisture – 18 to 20 inches of depth – is half to two-thirds of what we should have after a normal winter.”[...]

Tom O’Keeffe from the Durango Rafting Co. isn’t sweating it yet. “The snowpack is 72 percent of normal, and it was 44 percent this time last year,” O’Keeffe said, “The current cold is not pleasant, but it holds off the melt.”

From TheDenverChannel.com (Alan Gathright):

The snowpack in Denver Water’s watersheds is 87 percent of average in the Colorado River watershed and it is 78 percent of average in the South Platte River watershed, said Stacy Chesney of Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility. Chesney cautioned that, as spring warms up, it can be hard to use snowpack depths to accurately gauge the percent of average normal snowpack. The problem is that snow normally starts melting by mid-April. This means that the average snowpack level starts to decrease, while the percent of average normal snowpack begins increasing even in the absence of additional snow, she said. [ed. emphasis mine]

Even if this year’s snowpack reaches normal peak levels, Denver Water reservoirs remain below normal after two years of drought. At this point, Chesney said, “It is too early to say how full our reservoirs are going to get.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Greeley will not impose additional watering restrictions for residents this year, Greeley Water and Sewer Board members decided on Wednesday. Sufficient storage, recent water purchases and past conservation practices led water board members to declare this year an “adequate water year,” meaning residents can count on watering their lawns three times per week with the city’s regular schedule. Greeley will continue its long-term rental agreements, which include about 4,500 acre-feet for agricultural users, but the board said the city will not lease any additional water this year.

Jim Hall, Greeley water resources manager, said officials are still waiting to hear a projection for Greeley’s shares from the Greeley-Loveland Irrigation Co. Depending on how much precipitation the area gets over the next few months, Hall said those shares could prompt the water board to come back in July to implement some drought restrictions or, if snow and rain continue to fall like the last few days, to allow farmers and ranchers to lease some water.

The past few weeks of heavy snow across Colorado have boosted snowpack significantly, Hall said, pointing to a 10 percent increase in the South Platte River basin, which is now at 85 percent of the state historic average. “What really hurt us was we didn’t get any early snow,” Hall said, adding that the rest of the year followed a fairly normal pattern.

Snowpack this year is 162 percent of what it was last year, “so we’re in much better shape,” Hall said.

The water board’s decision comes less than a week after the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors set a 60 percent quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, from which Greeley gets a hefty portion of its water shares. Northern Water cited low reservoir levels and lack of mountain snowpack for reducing the quota this year.

If the city implemented mild drought restrictions, residents would conserve an additional 2,000 acre-feet that could be leased to agriculture, said Jon Monson, director of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department. He said that would equate to about 800 acres of additional irrigated land — a blip of farmland on a map of the Greeley and Loveland farming areas. Monson said the drop in revenue due to a decline in water use would likely translate to a 0.75 percent increase in water rates for residents, and hiring “water cops” to ensure residents followed the additional watering restrictions would cost about $80,000. He said the total economic impact from leasing the water, including farmers buying seed and fertilizer and selling crops, would total about $900,000. While other communities implement watering restrictions, Greeley can enjoy a regular year because it has kept to a strict watering schedule since the 1900s, even during wet years, board members said. “I think the citizens of Greeley are going to benefit from that this year,” said Roy Otto, Greeley city manager.


Parachute Creek spill: Aerators set up to volatilize benzene in creek water #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2013

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Aerators have been set up on Parachute Creek to remove cancer-causing benzene, detected downstream from a hydrocarbons spill in western Colorado. Williams energy company crews also expanded their pumping of hydrocarbons from trenches dug along the creek to try to prevent seepage of super-concentrated benzene in groundwater into the creek.

Test results released Monday showed benzene in surface water at levels around 3 parts per billion, said Kirby Wynn, Garfield County’s liaison to the oil and gas industry…

The benzene detected last week, at 2.7 ppb, was below the federal drinking water standard of 5 ppb. The limit for benzene in Parachute Creek is 5,300 ppb, set by Colorado’s Water Quality Control Commission at a level deemed protective of aquatic life because the creek isn’t designated as a drinking water supply…

Absorbent booms have been laid across the creek, including near the headgate for Parachute’s reservoir, town administrator Bob Knight said. Farmers and ranchers near Parachute use the reservoir water for irrigating crops. They rely on springs and other sources for drinking water, Knight said. Knight said he’s keeping headgates closed and that he’d prefer not to have benzene or diesel at any level in town water. “I’d like to keep the people assured that the water going into the reservoir is the same quality it has always been. That’s our goal.”[...]

Western Colorado residents, meanwhile, were pressing lawmakers to treat the spill from Williams’ gas plant, built by the creek and slated for expansion, as a warning. “There’s inadequate safety regulation to protect public health and the environment,” Grand Valley Citizens Alliance president Leslie Robinson said. “With all the drilling along the Colorado River, we know anything could happen. There should be increased setbacks from waterways and residential areas.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


South Platte Basin: The lack of augmentation water sources will keep some farmland out of production this year

April 23, 2013

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Weld County is still home to potato festivals and dotted with spuds-growing artifacts, but the local tater industry has little to contribute anymore to the area’s vast legacy. A shell of what it once was, Weld’s potato acreage took another hit this year as the last large-scale grower of the crop — Strohauer Farms in LaSalle — plans to raise half of its potatoes outside of the state, citing water issues as the reason for doing so. The Potato Day Festival for about 25 years has been a staple of autumn activities in Greeley — a community where the potato is credited as being the first commercially viable crop locally grown. But since 1987, Weld County has gone from growing 3,855 acres of potatoes on 66 farms to what’s expected to be about 550 acres this year, grown by just two farmers.

Harry Strohauer — owner of Strohauer Farms, which grows nearly all of the remaining potatoes in Weld County — and others point the finger at water issues to explain why spuds production has decreased so sharply. Strohauer said he’d rather keep his crops growing near LaSalle — the only place his family has farmed since coming here in the 1940s — than in New Mexico, where he’ll plant 500 of his 1,000 total potato acres this year. The climate along the northern Front Range and his soil close to home are ideal for growing the crop, and Weld’s proximity to large markets (the Denver metro area) and the infrastructure (Interstate 25, U.S. 34 and U.S. 85) add to the local benefits. “But the truth is, with how we manage things in this state, we just don’t have a reliable source of water anymore,” said Strohauer, who’s an executive committee member for the National Potato Council and has spearheaded Strohauer Farms since he was 16 years old, following his father’s death.

As the region’s population has grown, so have the overall demands for water.

The tightening of water supplies and the uncertainty of the resource in dry years has become too much for some farmers, including potato growers, who stress that potatoes are an “unforgiving” crop if not fully irrigated — especially if you’re trying to meet the standards of King Soopers, Whole Foods and others, as Strohauer is.

But making life particularly difficult now, Strohauer says, is the inability to pump groundwater wells. In the mid-2000s, augmentation requirements were made more stringent in Colorado. Augmentation water is required to make up for depletions to the aquifer. Over time, pumping water out of the aquifer depletes surface flows in the basin needed by senior, surface water users.

Prior to the state’s rule changes in the mid-2000s, farmers were only augmenting for about 10 percent of the water they pumped out of the ground, according to some estimations. During the severe drought of 2002, surface flows were meager and some senior surface water users said well-pumpers were taking too much out of the aquifer and not putting enough back in. In the end, the state’s augmentation requirements were changed, and owners of certain groundwater wells — wells considered “tributary” to stream flows — now have to augment as much as 100 percent for the water they pump out of the ground. Strohauer said now, with those changes in place, it would cost tens of millions of dollars to own enough augmentation water and take other measures needed to get all of his wells pumping again at full capacity. Like Strohauer, many other area farmers haven’t been able to get their wells fully pumping again, or at all in some cases.

Strohauer said he isn’t exaggerating when he claims it’s easier to haul his farm equipment and fly to and from his new farmground in New Mexico than it is to grow potatoes near his Weld County home and deal with some of the water rules in Colorado. In New Mexico, Strohauer has no augmentation requirements. He can pump as much water out of the ground as needed without having to make up for his depletions. But he doesn’t at all believe that’s the best way to manage groundwater either, he added. “I’m not against augmentation, by any means,” stresses Strohauer, who, in addition to his groundwater wells, owns senior surface water rights. In many years, though, that surface water isn’t enough to fully irrigate his potato acres, and the groundwater wells are needed to provide immediate, supplemental relief in dry times. “I agree that we need to be augmenting more than we once were. But I think things have swung way too far the other way.”

Like others in the LaSalle and Gilcrest area, Strohauer has seen his basement flood from high groundwater levels in recent years. High groundwater has also flooded fields, causing some crops — including some of Strohauer’s potatoes — to rot. Strohauer and others believe the high groundwater levels have been caused by “overaugmenting” the aquifer since Colorado changed its rules in the mid-2000s, while others believe it stems from the wet years of 2010 and 2011, among other issues.

Complaints of high groundwater levels and the inability to pump wells led to a legislative push last year for a comprehensive study of groundwater activity in the South Platte River basin — a study that’s under way now by the Colorado Water Institute and is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

“Maybe this study will show us something new,” said John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s adviser on water, noting that other efforts — including similar groundwater studies and water-cooperative pilot projects — are under way in Colorado. “There’s no doubt ag across the state faces water challenges. We live in a semi-arid region.

“We need to get to a point where we’re making the most beneficial use of what limited water we have, and we’re going a lot of different routes to get there.” Until that happens, Strohauer is considering planting more acres elsewhere, he said.

Water issues have affected other farmers in Weld County.

Sakata Farms in Brighton, which grows crops across southern Weld County, has reduced its acreage from 4,000 to 2,500 in the past four years, and brought commercial broccoli growing to an end in Colorado when it stopped production of that crop a couple years ago. Bob Sakata, owner of Sakata Farms, has said water uncertainty is the main reason for cutting back on production.

“You just hate to see this happen, but we have to grow somewhere,” said Strohauer, explaining that it’s taken him years to develop his contracts to sell potatoes to large grocers, and those contracts could come to an end if he falls short on production just one year. “We want to stay to here. I don’t want to see potato acres keep disappearing in Weld County. But it’s getting harder to stay here.”

More from the Tribune:

Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Council in Monte Vista, said shortages have had a major impact on growers in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, where more than 90 percent of the state’s potatoes are grown. Since the Colorado drought of 2002, the southern part of the state has had little relief, and because of that, restrictions on groundwater-pumping have been put in place and potato acreage has decreased significantly.

In 2002, Colorado altogether was planting about 77,800 acres of potatoes, but is only expected to plant about 53,000 acres this year, largely due to tight water supplies in the San Luis Valley, Ehrlich said. The state’s potato production from 2002 to 2011 steadily dropped from about 3 billion pounds to 2.3 billion pounds — about a 25 percent decrease.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


American Rivers names the Colorado River most endangered for 2013 #ColoradoRiver

April 22, 2013

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Without the Colorado River, there would be no Mesa Park Vineyards in Palisade. The 10-acre operation is totally reliant on the river’s water, Brooke Webb of the family-owned operation said Wednesday. That’s part of the reason Webb joined in a news conference by American Rivers announcing that the Colorado River has been named the conservation group’s most endangered river for 2013. Without the river, there would be no Palisade peaches, no area wine-making, she said. It likewise is responsible for 15 percent of the nation’s crops and $26 billion a year in recreation, she said. “We want to preserve our way of life and for the river to be there for future generations,” said Webb, also part of the National Young Farmers Coalition.

The river, a lifeline to millions, also is sapped by such high demand. American Rivers said in a news release that the Colorado River tops its list for this year due to “outdated water management that is inadequate to respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought.” The group said a recent U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study showed there isn’t enough water in the river to meet the river basin’s current water demands, much less support future increased demands. It said the river is threatened by the possibility of diversions of 300,000 additional acre-feet of water to the Front Range, and a possible 10 to 30 percent reduction in the river’s flow by 2050 due to climate change.

Coconino County, Ariz., Supervisor Liz Archuleta said the white-stained sandstone bathtub ring of Lake Powell, which currently has a water level 102 feet below capacity, “serves as a clear reminder of the overuse of the Colorado River.”

The river provides drinking water to 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles.

“Today the river is so dammed, drained and diverted that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the sea,” American Rivers president Bob Irvin said. “Now is the time to put the Colorado River on the path to recovery.” The organization says one way to do that is to adequately fund “21st-century” water management practices that optimize existing infrastructure and emphasize efficiency and conservation.

Jim Lochhead, manager and chief executive officer of Denver Water, said he thinks American Rivers overstates the problem involving the river and doesn’t “really add to the conversation, frankly.”

“The situation is not as bleak as portrayed by this announcement,” he said. He said he thinks the group overemphasizes the worst-case scenarios on climate change and isn’t realistic about the amount of Front Range water diversions that might actually occur. Denver Water spent roughly a decade seeking permits for a 15,000-acre diversion and has nearly reached a deal with Western Slope entities under which any further diversions only would occur in partnership with the Western Slope, he noted. But he said obviously there are issues involving the river, including California’s overuse of water from it over the last two decades. “I think that the states and the Department of Interior are clearly working together to address those issues in an incremental way,” he said.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs, said he hadn’t had a chance to look at the report. But he added, “Anything that brings more attention to the (Bureau of Reclamation) basin study is very positive.” He said looking at possible future water shortages can lead to overstating the problem today, but he added that for the river to not reach the sea now already is a problem.

That said, Kuhn takes issue with the idea that the river suffers from antiquated management. Colorado water law has a long history but isn’t necessarily antiquated, and the river’s management also involves six other states grouped in upper and lower basins, and Mexico, he said. He said American Rivers probably has underestimated the importance of agreements in recent years that address matters such as water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and the river situation in Mexico. Such agreements aren’t easy to reach, he said. “The kind of progress that’s been made is maybe incremental but it’s significant,” Kuhn said.

The Colorado River has made American Rivers’ annual list of the 10 most endangered rivers six times, and was named the most endangered three of those times. In coming up with its annual list, the group considers factors such as whether a river faces a serious threat. Last year, the Green River was ranked second due to proposals to pipe water from it to the Front Range, and the Crystal River south of Carbondale was ranked eighth because of a river district reservoir proposal there.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Citizens Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Citizen Advisory Group gets update on de-commissioning roadmap

April 22, 2013

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From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The road map integrates the paths of the various authorities that cover different parts of the site, said Jennifer Opila, radioactive materials unit leader with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The documents cover the requirements for 1988 Consent Decree/Remedial Action Plan (CD/RAP), Cotter’s operating license and the Comprehensive Environment Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund).

The document originally was published in July 2012, prior to the “pause” that is in effect at the site. CDPHE and the Environmental Protection Agency accepted public comments on the document at that time and released the current version at the end of March.

“This is the road map in its final stage at this time,” Opila said. “For now, we are not planning on taking formal comments on this version of the road map.”

However, she said the document is fluid and subject to change as the process moves forward, so the agencies will be accepting informal comments over time.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


The NSAA offers a fresh start in negotiations with the USFS over water rights ownership

April 22, 2013

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

“Our new approach assumes that all previous water clauses are no longer in effect, null and void, and unenforceable. It would result in a consistent water policy across the board going forward,” said NSAA policy director Geraldine Link. The ski industry comments came as the Forest Service held a series of hearings around the West in the early stages of developing a new water rights clause that eventually will become part of agency permits for businesses operating on public lands…

For the ski industry, its partially a financial issue. Resorts have spent millions of dollars developing and perfecting water rights under state law, and to the NSAA, any permit language requiring a transfer of those rights is unacceptable and illegal.
A required transfer would impair the value of the resorts’ investments and could hinder their ability to finance capital improvements, the NSAA wrote.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The U.S. Forest Service will pay $125,000 to the National Ski Area Association for its attorney fees in a case the association brought to stop the agency from demanding new water rights. U.S. District Judge William Martinez approved an agreement between the agency and association after the ski areas sought $163,000 in attorney fees for the case, according to court papers.

The agreement to pay attorney fees drew a scathing response from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., who said that $125,000 is “a lot of money, especially when it’s at taxpayer expense and at a time when the Forest Service should be dedicating as many resources as possible to addressing the hazardous conditions of our forests to prevent wildfire.”

The ski areas sought attorney’s fees under a federal law that requires the Forest Service to pay attorney’s fees if a judge “concludes the Forest Service’s position was not substantially justified,” Geraldine Link, the attorney for the National Ski Area Association, said in an email.

The association filed suit last year after the Forest Service required the new ownership at Powderhorn Mountain Resort to surrender new water rights to the agency in exchange for a permit to operate the ski area on national forest lands.

Although the agreement includes a provision in which the Forest Service admits no allegations, Link said the deal makes it clear “that taxpayer dollars are being used in defense of an unlawful federal water grab.”

Martinez rejected the ski-area water rights directive after finding that the Forest Service had failed to meet public-participation requirements in drafting it.

If the Forest Service moves forward on the directive, “the costs will be even greater to the businesses, farmers, ranchers and communities that rely on these water rights for their livelihoods,” Tipton said.

The Forest Service conducted the first of several focus-group open houses nationwide on Tuesday in Denver. Officials anticipate publishing a draft directive later this year in the Federal Register, then conducting a public-comment process before adopting a new directive.

Concern about the consequences of such a policy extends beyond the ski industry. “We’re very concerned about the implications of such a clause targeted to one industry because if it’s successful and because it’s outside Colorado water law, could the U.S. government demand similar rights of agriculture, municipal water users, anyone who develops a water right that originates on public land?” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, a Western Slope advocacy organization.

More water law coverage here.


Snowpack/drought news: Dust events in April expected to affect runoff #COdrought #COwx

April 22, 2013

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From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

Dust blown in from the Southwest settled on snow over many of Colorado’s mountains during last week’s storm and will eventually affect how fast the snowpack melts and possibly how much water the state can hold onto. Researchers say the dust kicked up from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah by southwesterly winds fell in Steamboat Springs, Summit County, Vail, Aspen and the San Juan mountains. Dust also was scattered in the snow that fell along the Front Range but it’s likely that dust could have been carried by southeasterly winds from other areas too, including parched Southeastern Colorado, the San Luis Valley and the Arkansas River Basin, state climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

Jeffrey Deems, a research scientist for NOAA in Boulder, said dust on top of snow can absorb up to twice as much sunlight as clean snow, speeding up melting. He compares the effect to wearing a dark T-shirt on a sunny day.

This week’s dust storm was the second widespread one in Colorado’s mountains this season. Another storm on April 8 left a thick layer of dust in the state’s snowpack, which has now been boosted to 79 percent of the peak average thanks to this week’s storm. ‘‘It’s kind of a mixed blessing now,’’ Deems said of the new, dusty snow.

More snow is in the forecast but whenever the dust layers from this week and earlier this month are eventually exposed, there will be a significant speed up in the melting of the snow at that time, said Chris Landry of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton. The center is studying the impact of dust on snow for water providers across the state and periodically checks sites at mountain passes across the High Country for dust. If clean snow keeps falling the impact will be delayed, Landry said, helping farmers without storage who don’t need irrigation water just yet and rafting companies hoping to attract customers to big flows later in the season.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Barbara Cotter):

Colorado Springs Utilities expects to take a $17 million bath because of watering restrictions this year, but it has no plans to push for a rate hike to make up for the budget shortfall.

“Our approach is to look internally,” Utilities spokesperson Patrice Lehermeier said Thursday. “We’re already running a pretty tight shop, but we’re looking at maybe cutting other programs. So it’s a little bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul, internally, at least, while we look at where to make further reductions in other programs.”

With the Pikes Peak region facing a persistent, severe drought, the Colorado Springs City Council approved Utilities’ request for two-day-a-week landscape watering restrictions beginning April 1, with the goal of saving 5.8 billion gallons water through Oct. 1, compared with same six-month period last year.

But when customers use less water, their bills drop, and Utilities gets less money. From 2002 to 2005, when watering restrictions were in place, Utilities lost $24.4 million. Rates did go up, though Lehermeier said the increases were tied to projects and other items not related to the restrictions.


Benzene detected in Parachute Creek #ColoradoRiver

April 22, 2013

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From KDVR.com:

For the second straight day, the cancer-causing chemical benzene has been detected in Parachute Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, downstream from a hydrocarbon leak at a Williams Gas facility that was first detected more than a month ago.
Sampling of the creek on Friday detected benzene at 2.7 parts per billion, similar to Thursday’s detection of benzene at 2.8 parts per billion — the first time benzene, which has been found in much higher and hazardous concentrations in groundwater just feet from the creek, has been detected in surface water.

The state drinking water standard for benzene is 5 ppb. While the current samples are just trace amounts below that standard, the groundwater contamination levels were 3600 times the standard last month. “Sampling at three more points downstream of those detections did not detect benzene,” said Todd Hartman with the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources, in an email to reporters Friday. “Sampling back upstream, above the initial benzene detection, also did not reveal contamination.”

Samples for benzene taken at the point where the town of Parachute diverts water for its irrigation supply 2.7 miles downstream of the gas facility continued to show no detection of benzene.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Benzene has been found in Parachute Creek for the first time since testing began in response to a natural gas liquids leak north of Parachute. Williams and the state Department of Natural Resources said in news releases that the carcinogen was found Thursday at multiple locations, but in amounts below Environmental Protection Agency safe drinking water standards of 5 parts per billion.

Williams said an initial result came back Thursday showing a detection of 2.8 parts per billion. The state said another detection at the same location was 2.7 ppb. Williams said the initial detection was about 1,200 feet downstream from where a pressure gauge on a natural gas liquids line leaked thousands of gallons. The state said the point was about 1,800 feet downstream. No benzene has been found upstream of the leak site.

In response to the detections, Williams did real-time sampling farther downstream Thursday and tests showed benzene at 1.5 ppb 680 feet from the first detection point, and 1.1 ppb 1,900 feet from the first point. Samples taken Thursday where Parachute diverts water for its irrigation supply showed no benzene. Williams said benzene floats on water, dissolves only slightly in it and evaporates quickly from the surface.

Williams is installing aeration, or air-sparging, technology to remove benzene near the initial detection point and 1,900 feet farther downstream. It also has added an additional boom below the initial detection point.

Parachute’s diversion site is 2.7 miles downstream of Williams’ gas plant.

High benzene levels have been found in groundwater on either side of the creek, but benzene hadn’t previously been detected in the creek despite frequent testing. Authorities have said that’s because the groundwater below the creek apparently flows away from it. But the state said the situation appears to be different at the initial point of benzene detection in the creek, with groundwater flowing toward the stream. That point is the farthest downgradient from the valve site where benzene has been detected in groundwater, and the groundwater detection there was 440 ppb Monday, prompting surface water sampling nearby the next day, the state said.

Part of Williams’ response is building a 200-foot-long groundwater interception trench adjacent to the creek at that point, , the state said.

Williams said that it is continuing twice-daily sampling at Parachute’s diversion point. “As a precautionary measure, the city of Parachute’s irrigation gate on Parachute Creek will remain closed until additional data is collected,” it said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The discovery of benzene in Parachute Creek this week is causing heightened anxiety about the possible ramifications of the natural gas liquids leak in that watershed.

“It is of great concern to see it in the creek,” said Kirby Wynn, oil and gas liaison for Garfield County. He said the county is hoping to organize a public meeting in the Parachute area as early as next week and to have investigating agencies along with Williams, the company that has said it is responsible for the leak, provide updates and answer questions.

Williams and the state Department of Natural Resources on Thursday reported the first detection of benzene in the creek since monitoring began last month. The benzene levels were within the Environmental Protection Agency standard for safe drinking water. Groundwater monitoring wells on each side of the creek have shown much higher benzene levels.

Williams says the leak is the result of a faulty pressure gauge on a valve set for a liquids pipeline from its natural gas plant up the creek valley. It discovered the faulty gauge and removed it Jan. 3 but thought that less than 25 gallons had leaked. It now estimates that some 10,000 gallons entered the soil and groundwater, of which about 6,000 gallons has been recovered.

The town of Parachute’s diversion point for its irrigation supply is about 2.7 miles downstream of the valve area.

Judith Hayward, a former Parachute town trustee, previously has expressed concern about the safety of using the irrigation water for gardening once the watering season begins. She said Friday she also worries that some town residents may not be fully informed about the continuing developments involving the leak. “It seems like every other day or so there’s a new finding. I just have so many questions as to what a community can really do to protect themselves,” she said.

A benzene measurement Friday at the point where the substance was first detected in the creek earlier this week 1,800 feet downstream of the valve set was 2.7 parts per billion. That’s little changed from an earlier reading of 2.8 ppb. A sampling site 680 feet downstream of the point of initial detection showed benzene at 1.5 ppb Friday, and one farther downstream read 1.2 ppb. Sampling sites even farther downstream, including at the town diversion point, show no benzene.

Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray said the detections in the creek are “well below the regulatory standard, the allowable standard.” The EPA drinking water standard for benzene, a carcinogen, is 5 ppb.

Steve Gunderson, director of the state Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a prepared statement Friday, “Although the benzene levels in the creek are below state drinking water standards, their presence reinforces the need to assure that the cleanup of this spill is done as expeditiously as possible.”

CDPHE is meeting regularly with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and EPA “to discuss the cleanup and the appropriate measures to be taken,” he said.

Williams and regulators on Friday finalized plans that workers will begin implementing over the weekend to address benzene in the creek, including air-sparging systems that remove benzene through aeration.

Samples upstream of the valve area continue to show no sign of benzene that would indicate a possible source separate from the natural gas liquids leak.

Bob Arrington is a retired engineer in Battlement Mesa who pointed to the pressure gauge as the likely source of the large volume of contamination first found in March, even when Williams still thought the gauge had leaked only a small amount. He also predicted benzene ultimately would show up in the creek where it did, at a gradient pinch point where groundwater was more likely to flow into the creek rather than away from it. He said Friday that even benzene below EPA standards can cause some cancer cases. He thinks Williams should begin doing groundwater monitoring where the creek enters the Colorado River and work its way upstream, as a precautionary measure.

Gray said Williams already has tested groundwater downstream to the point where it is getting readings of no benzene in the groundwater.

Given the extent of the groundwater contamination that has been discovered, Arrington also challenges Williams’ contention that about 80 percent of what it calculates escaped from the gauge, or about 40,000 gallons, vaporized into the atmosphere rather than reaching the ground. He thinks a lot less may have vaporized because of the cold weather at the time of the leak. “I think when you have something like that you have to look at it from the worst possible case and do your planning accordingly,” he said.

Gray said the estimate of the percentage that vaporized and evaporated comes from a standard industry model created using EPA guidance.

Meanwhile, Hayward is concerned about Williams’ plans to build another natural gas liquids line that will go under the creek in the same corridor that holds the existing line that had the leaky gauge. “The fact that these pipelines are going under our creek … who let that happen?” she asked.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Lawsuit over Red River Compact and Oklahoma water law could impact river compacts across the U.S.

April 22, 2013

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From NPR (Joe Wertz):

The [U.S. Supreme Court] will hear oral arguments [Tuesday] in the case of Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, et al. The case pits Oklahoma against Texas over rights to water from the river that forms part of the border between them. Depending on how the court decides, it could impact interstate water-sharing agreements across the country…

The future looks bright for this part of Texas, but it also looks dry. Drought has hit Texas particularly hard over the past couple of years. Water officials say the north Texas region’s growth is outpacing the water supply nearby.

“All of the locations — watershed locations — close by have been tapped for us,” says Linda Christie, government relations director for the Tarrant Regional Water District. The district is the water authority for an 11-county stretch of north Texas that includes Ft.Worth. “So now we’re going to have to go 200, 300 miles. And most of it would be water that is being pumped uphill.”

The Red River, less than 75 miles from Fort Worth, seems like an ideal solution to the Tarrant Water District’s problem. Fed by the Rocky Mountain snow pack, the river runs southeast on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas and Oklahoma already have a formal agreement on how to share water from the Red River. In 1980, Congress ratified the Red River Compact, giving the two states — along with Arkansas and Louisiana — an equitable apportionment of water from the river and its tributaries.

But what’s “equitable” is arguable. And that’s what the Supreme Court case is all about.

The Red River lies entirely within the state of Oklahoma. Texas argues that it can’t get its share of the Red River watershed from the Texas side of the river, so it needs to reach across the river into southeastern Oklahoma to get it…

Texas has tried to buy Oklahoma water from the state, its cities and towns, and its Native American tribes. But Oklahoma lawmakers have blocked those efforts with a string of laws restricting out-of-state water exports.

The view in Texas is that Oklahoma isn’t even using its full allocation of Red River water. Oklahomans respond that Texas hasn’t gotten serious enough about conservation.

In 2007 — citing the compact — the Tarrant District sought permission from Oklahoma regulators to tap the Kiamichi River, a Red River tributary located entirely within Oklahoma. Oklahoma said no, arguing that the compact does not supersede the state’s own authority over a water resource within its borders. The dispute has been in court ever since.

The lower courts have agreed with Oklahoma so far. But Christie says the Tarrant Water District is encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case. And the Obama administration has sided with Texas, too. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the U.S. solicitor general worried about the impact to North Texas’ population growth, and argued that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals improperly assumed Oklahoma’s laws preempt the Red River Compact’s authority.

State and local policymakers and water authorities throughout the country are closely watching the outcome of the case, says Stephen Draper, a water expert who helped write guidelines for interstate water sharing for the American Society of Civil Engineers. Here’s why: The Red River Compact contains a lot of the same boilerplate language used in other state-to-state water sharing agreements.

If Oklahoma’s protectionist water laws are upheld, Draper says other states could be inspired to pass similar laws of their own.

More water law coverage here.


Snowpack/drought news: Colorado River snowpack = 99% of avg (highest %), Rio Grande = 67% (lowest %) #COdrought

April 20, 2013

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From the Associated Press via ABC15.com:

Dust blown in from the Southwest settled on snow over many of Colorado’s mountains during this week’s storm and will eventually affect how fast the snowpack melts and possibly how much water the state can hold onto. Researchers say the dust kicked up from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah by southwesterly winds fell in Steamboat Springs, Summit County, Vail, Aspen and the San Juan mountains. Dust was also scattered in the snow that fell along the Front Range but it’s likely that dust could have been carried by southeasterly winds from other areas too, including parched southeastern Colorado, the San Luis Valley and the Arkansas River Basin, state climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

Jeffrey Deems, a research scientist for NOAA in Boulder, said dust on top of snow can absorb up to twice as much sunlight as clean snow, speeding up melting. He compares the effect to wearing a dark T-shirt on sunny day.

This week’s dust storm was the second widespread one in Colorado’s mountains this season. Another storm on April 8th left a thick layer of dust in the state’s snowpack, which has now been boosted to 79 percent of the peak average thanks to this week’s storm. “It’s kind of a mixed blessing now,” Deems said of the new, dusty snow.

More snow is in the forecast but whenever the dust layers from this week and earlier this month are eventually exposed, there will be a significant speed up in the melting of the snow at that time, said Chris Landry of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton.

Here’s an article about the April 8 dust storm written by Chase Olivarius-Mcallister for the The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Monday’s gusts rained red mud from Arizona and New Mexico dust onto Durango, making the sky an ominous shade of mottled pink and reducing visibility. Wind speeds were as high as 30 mph at the airport, and anyone in a car should drive at prudent speeds, Aleksa said. Drivers traversing mountain roads, where winds were fiercest, should take particular care, he said.

Click here for a Modis satellite photo of a dust storm out of northeast Arizona moving toward four corners, and the San Juans.

From the Windsor Beacon (Sam Noblett):

“At least now we have enough to get it started rather than germinating by irrigation,” said Harold Stromberger, who operates his farm in Windsor near Colorado Highway 392 and Weld County Road 21. Still, Stromberger has had to adjust his practices to plan for the reduced water allocation by switching to a few barley crops, which are more resistant to drought than his normal corn crops. He made the choice to switch to barley instead of allowing his land to sit idle. He planted the barley in mid-March and hopes to plant corn crops this weekend, depending on weather.

“You do a lot of hoping in agriculture,” said Stromberger. “Hoping for storms like this and rain.”

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Aguilar):

“Things were looking pretty dire here,” Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Wednesday. “These are the first storms that have given the snowpack a real boost.” And a significant boost, at that. On April 8, the snowpack level in the South Platte River watershed was 70 percent of normal for that date. On Wednesday, it was measured at 83 percent of normal. Statewide, the snowpack was at 67 percent of normal 10 days ago, and on Wednesday it hit 83 percent of normal, Hultstrand said.

As of Wednesday evening, Boulder had received 34.9 inches of April snow. The record for the month is 44 inches, set in 1957. This month’s snowfall follows nearly 23 inches in March…

“We’re playing catch-up with our snowpack, and we’re also playing catch-up with our reservoir storage,” Hultstrand said. “Things can dry up really fast around here.”

So far, Broomfield and cities and towns in Boulder County are holding their ground with water restrictions. Louisville, which imposed the strictest limits in the county earlier this month — with a mandatory twice-a-week outdoor watering schedule starting May 1 — doesn’t plan to back off its restrictions for now.

“Things are looking better, and all this moisture means that no one needs to do any irrigating until at least early or perhaps even mid-May,” City Manager Malcolm Fleming wrote in an email. “However, the snow pack is still down and it will take more than this to fill the reservoirs that are very low.”

Lafayette Public Works Director Doug Short said officials aren’t going to consider easing Lafayette’s restrictions, which limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., until they see the state’s May 1 snowpack and runoff projections. That means the paddleboat and canoe program at Waneka Lake remains dry-docked for now.

Jody Jacobson, spokeswoman for the Boulder Public Works Department, said the city is also awaiting next month’s hydrological data before making a final decision on whether to impose water restrictions…

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the snowpack in the Boulder Creek watershed on April 1 was at 69 percent of normal for that date, while the levels in the St. Vrain and Big Thompson watersheds were 55 percent and 59 percent of normal, respectively. The service wasn’t able to provide updated numbers for mid-April.

Like much of Boulder County, Broomfield partly relies on supplies from the Colorado Big Thompson project, which transports water from the west side of the Continental Divide to the Front Range. Broomfield Public Works Director David Allen said Wednesday that he plans to recommend to the City Council next week that it stick with a voluntary twice-a-week watering schedule across the city.

Here’s a report about the second dust storm of the month on April 16 from Shane Benjamin writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

The dust storm was the result of a low-pressure system centered over Utah and Nevada that contributed to a strong southwest flow over this part of the state, said Joe Ramey, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. The dirt was rising out of New Mexico, he said. Some residents said they could feel and taste the grit in their teeth. “Even up here in Grand Junction our skies are hazy with dust,” he said…

A dust storm April 8, combined with light rain, coated cars and dirtied windows in the Durango area. Some of the dirt gets deposited on the snowpack in the San Juan Mountains, which turns the snow a dark color and increases the rate of the melt…

The average snowpack as of Tuesday in Southwest Colorado was 71 percent of normal, he said – second lowest in the state. The lowest was in the Rio Grande basin, east of Wolf Creek Pass. The average snowpack across the state was 77 percent, he said.

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

Watering restrictions have been imposed on Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District bulk water users. Such action took place at the RMW board of directors meeting held April 11.

RMW manager Tracey Garcia said the district was forced to enact the restrictions due to drought and the less than average snowpack. Primarily affected by the restrictions are the Custer County Road and Bridge Department that uses the water for road grading, Custer County School for its ball fields, and the towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe for its municipal parks. The restrictions limit the amount of water bulk users can purchase and use by one-third to one-half.

Not affected, said Garcia, are those residential users who rely on bulk water for cisterns, as well as other residential customers. She also noted that RMW hopes to only limit the watering restrictions to large bulk users, however, she encourages all customers to conserve. “The district is hoping to only limit those users and not pass along the restrictions to residential users,” said Garcia…

“Green lawns, unfortunately, should not be anyone’s priority this year,” said Garcia. “Instead, only water newly planted trees as necessary. “

Garcia said Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District currently has 355 acre feet of storage in the Lake DeWeese reservoir, however, the current total of water in the storage vessel is around 115 acre feet. Additionally, RMW secured an additional 75 acre feet of water last year through the Pueblo Board of Water Works, however, it is unknown if that source of water will be available again this year.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Mike Wiggins):

The biggest snowstorm of the season Wednesday layered the Grand Valley with a thick, wet blanket of flakes that triggered accidents across the region, the closure of the school in De Beque and anxiety among peach farmers whose trees have already flowered.

The storm dumped as much as 7 inches of snow in some areas of the valley and more in the higher elevations, according to the National Weather Service. Officially, 4.6 inches accumulated at Grand Junction Regional Airport between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The 3.8 inches of snow that fell Wednesday made it the third-snowiest April day on record in Grand Junction and accounted for the most snow on a single day this season, coming in just ahead of the 3.6 inches that fell in the city on Dec. 19, 2012, according to the National Weather Service…

The owners of Red Barn Farm & Gardens, 3419 U.S. Highway 6, posted on their Facebook page that the forecast was not looking promising for their fruit. “The apricots are all gone, cherries in the valley will be slim pickings, if any, and peaches are heading out very quickly with this snow and cold temperatures. Pray for a warm weather change and some tasty fruit this summer! I hope you all love pears, tomatoes, and the regular garden veggies, because that’s about all we might have!” the post said.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Double-digit jumps in snowpack figures this month have left Randy Schwalm and other local farmers using a facial expression seldom seen in the ag world during recent months. “We’re actually smiling today,” said Schwalm, a Windsor-area crop grower.

Snowpack in the South Platte River basin had hovered around 65-70 percent of average through the end of March, but, as of Wednesday, had jumped up to 85 percent of average, thanks to recent snowstorms.

Snowpack is needed to provide runoff that fills the region’s reservoirs, rivers and irrigation ditches.

Snowpack in the Colorado River basin, from which the northern Front Range also diverts much of its water, saw snowpack increase from 74 percent of average on April 1 all the way up to 95 percent of average on Wednesday.

Along with the snowpack upswings, there’s been plenty of moisture in Weld County. The National Weather Service said 4-5 inches had fallen on areas along the Larimer-Weld County line on Wednesday. The Greeley area didn’t receive nearly that much snow Wednesday, but had gotten plenty in recent days. As of Tuesday, the city had received 43 percent more precipitation than normal in 2013, and area farmers are elated.

Schwalm said the recent moisture means farmers won’t have to irrigate immediately after planting their crops during the upcoming weeks. While the local moisture will save a round of irrigation, the additional snowpack in the mountains, too, will help extend the irrigating season. “Those seeds in the shed are starting to look a lot better,” Schwalm said.

Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, said the sharp increase in snowpack recently doesn’t mean the Northern Water board of directors will increase its water quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which is the largest water supplier in the region. The Northern Water board of directors set a below-average quota of 60 percent earlier this month, based on low snowpack at the time and low reservoir levels. The board sets a quota each April to determine how much water can be released from the C-BT’s system, and how much water needs to remain in its 12 reservoirs. Werner said the board will take another look at its quota during its meeting in May, and consider increasing it. “There’s no guarantee, though” Werner said of the board increasing the quota based on recent snowpack increases. “The recent snow has been a big boost, but our reservoirs are awfully low. We need to get those filled back up.”

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Natural Resources Conservation Service snowpack telemetry data for Thursday indicate the Arkansas River basin snowpack stands at 76 percent of average. However, SNOTel data from upper basin sites indicate significant snowpack gains during April. Fremont Pass snowpack reached 68 inches Thursday, up from 49 inches April 2. The Brumley SNOTel site southwest of Leadville shows a snow depth of 35 inches Thursday, compared to 26 inches April 2.

Late-season snowstorms also increase the possibility of a successful flow program for the multi-agency Voluntary Flow Management Program, White said. The program maintains minimum flows for the fishery throughout the year and provides enhanced flows for rafting and kayaking from July 1 through mid-August.


2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1130, sans the thirty year term, passes the Senate Ag committee #COleg

April 20, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A watered-down version of a controversial bill that would expand state authority to approve water leases is making its way through the Legislature. The legislation, HB1130, was approved this week by the Senate agriculture committee. It would alter the state’s interruptible water supply statute. The statute now allows temporary transfers of water from farms to cities with approval from the state engineer for three years in a 10-year period.

Aurora, supported by farmers on the High Line Canal, is backing the legislation. Aurora leased water from the High Line Canal in 2004-05. Numerous water interests, particularly in the South Platte basin, opposed the original legislation as an end-run around water court. Originally, the bill allowed the state Division of Water Resources to approve water transfers for up to 30 years without going to water court.

The legislation, as amended by the ag committee, now limits renewal to just one 10-year period, and only in the Lower Arkansas Valley (water districts 14, 17 and 67 in water division 2). Aurora argued for two renewal periods in order to give cities more certainty of supply.

The bill also strengthens water court appeals and state engineer notification procedures, while giving opponents 126 days, rather than 30, to respond to notifications.

The bill also prohibits transfer of water across the Continental Divide, at the request of Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who chairs the Senate ag committee. It does not prohibit transfers from the Rio Grande or Arkansas River basins using interruptible supply.

The bill was sent to the Senate floor on Wednesday, and could be approved by the Senate as soon as Monday. The House would then have to reconsider the legislation, since substantial changes were made.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Arkansas River: Late season snowfall expected to give rafting revenue a shot in the arm #COdrought

April 20, 2013

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to see the big spike in late season snow water equivalent in the Arkansas River Basin. Whitewater sports are a big business along the Arkansas River mainstem above Lake Pueblo so the snowfall translates to economic activity this summer.

Here’s a release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

A steady stream of March and April snowstorms in the high country have managers at Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) anticipating a good run-off this spring and steady flows for rafting throughout the summer.

“The snowpack in the Upper Arkansas River Basin is much better this year than at the same time last year,” said Rob White, AHRA Park Manager. “We are looking forward to a great spring and summer season for whitewater boating.”

White said that as of April 18, the snow levels in the upper Arkansas basin are more than double what they were at this time last year. “Last year we received very little if any precipitation in March and April, while this year we have been more fortunate. The mountains that surround the Arkansas River Valley are continuing to receive snow,” he said.

The Arkansas River is the most commercially rafted river in the United States and an abundant supply of whitewater and gorgeous scenery are just two of the reasons why the river is so popular. “Browns Canyon and the Royal Gorge provide two of the most spectacular stretches of scenery and whitewater that you can find. Also, with the spring snowpack increasing every day, we are very excited about this year’s whitewater season,” said White.

Not only will there be a good spring run-off, but the late season snowstorms also increase the possibility of a successful flow program for the multi-agency Voluntary Flow Management Program (VFMP). The VFMP maintains minimum flows for the fishery throughout the year and provides enhanced flows for rafting and kayaking from July 1 through mid-August.

“In a year like this, we potentially have the best of both worlds; the fishery on the Arkansas River is the best it’s been in years due to low flows last season, while the late season addition to the snowpack promises to provide an abundance of whitewater,” said White.

The AHRA is managed through a cooperative effort between the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In addition to AHRA, Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 other state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, all of Colorado’s wildlife and a variety of outdoor recreation.

Here’s a report from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Rafters are rejoicing at the late winter snowstorms that are bringing more water to the Arkansas River for rafting and kayaking this summer. The steady stream of snowstorms in the high country have extended through March and April, boosting snowpack totals to double what they were this time last year, said Rob White, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area park manager.

There is more than twice as much snow as at the same time last year, White said. “The spring snowstorms that the Arkansas River Valley have been receiving are of tremendous benefit to the agricultural, municipal and recreational communities,” he said. “We are looking forward to a great spring and summer season for whitewater boating.”

The Arkansas River is the most commercially rafted river in the United States, so an abundant supply of whitewater is just what rafters have been hoping for. That’s because not only will there be a good spring runoff, but the late season snowstorms also increase the possibility of a successful flow program through mid-August.

Last year, rafting outfitters experienced a nearly 19 percent dive in visitor numbers, making it the worst year since droughtand fire-stricken 2002. Arkansas River rafting customers went from 208,329 in 2011 to 169,486 in 2012, resulting in a nearly 16 percent drop in economic impact to the region.

Last summer, the rafting industry brought in $20.5 million in direct expenditures to the Arkansas River corridor and a total economic impact of $52.5 million when factors such as meals, lodging and gasoline are considered.

More whitewater coverage here and here.


Northern Water plan in conjunction with NISP could restore streamflow in a section of the Cache la Poudre

April 19, 2013

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Northern is discussing raising flows in the stretch that runs from the mouth of Poudre Canyon to an area near Gateway Park. The river normally runs at a trickle in that section, but Northern Water says it could increase flows 30 to 40 cubic feet per second from June to September. That would amount to10,000 to 20,000 acre feet running through the five-mile section…

Northern Water is exploring the possibility as part of its $490 million Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP)…

As part of the reservoir project, Northern Water has proposed that the irrigation company leave the water in the stream through the five-mile stretch and allow Northern to divert it farther down and pump it back up to the proposed Glade Reservoir, where it would be stored for the irrigation company’s use.

Under this scenario, Northern Water would receive credit from the Corps of Engineers for adding water to the river as it draws from the river during spring runoff to fill Glade.

However, the irrigation company believes it would lose out on credit from the Corps of Engineers if Northern Water moved the diversion downstream. It wants credit for its Halligan-Seaman Water Management Project, which involves expanding Fort Collins’ Halligan Reservoir and Greeley’s Milton Seaman Reservoir.

Northern Water and North Poudre Irrigation Co. value those credits because they give the water companies standing to remove water from other places of the river at various times for storage in reservoirs.

“We’re not going to give up potential mitigation credits on our project,” said Steve Smith, operations manager for the irrigation company. “They actually would be in competition with ours.”

Both the irrigation company and Northern Water said they intend to keep negotiating to see if mutually acceptable terms can be reached.

More Cache la Poudre River Watershed coverage here and here.


Colorado River ‘Most Endangered,’ but not lost — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver

April 19, 2013

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Here’s a look at the current state of the Colorado River from Hannah Holm writing for the Grand Junction Free Press. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

This week brought a mix of gloom and sunshine to the water picture for the Colorado River Basin.

Gloom came in the form of a report by the conservation group American Rivers, which declared the Colorado to be the “Most Endangered River in America.” The report highlights the fact that the river no longer meets the sea, as well as information from last fall’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which showed that the river is already over-tapped, and imbalances between supply and demand are likely to get worse in the future.

The figurative sunshine came, first of all, in the form of literal gloom: The skies darkened, and rain began to fall, then snow, and more snow (even in Grand Junction), and a slight uptick in the snowpack trend-line turned into a real spike, bringing snowpack levels in Colorado’s part of the Colorado River Basin up above 90% of the average for this time of year, and double what it was at this time in 2012.

Of course, 90% is still below average, but considering that one month ago the snowpack was just barely catching up to where it was at the beginning of last year’s historic drought, this counts as very good news. It means our wildfire danger will be lower, more crops can grow, and water managers won’t pull out quite so many hairs. Mandatory water restrictions are less likely (here anyway — Denver’s are still on), and rafting may be more fun.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


NSAA vs. USFS: ‘There is a fundamental difference of opinion that will be hard to overcome’ — Jim Pena

April 19, 2013

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From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

The Forest Service on this week launched the first of several public meetings and forums as it outlines a contentious push to secure water rights used by ski areas on public land. “There is a fundamental difference of opinion that will be hard to overcome,” said Jim Pena, the Forest Service’s acting deputy chief, acknowledging ski area opposition to the agency plan to revamp permits with new regulations addressing the ownership of water rights.

The public meeting on Tuesday was sparsely attended at the Forest Service headquarters in Lakewood. Ski area officials huddled together while leading agency officials — the landlords of 122 U.S. ski areas, including 22 in Colorado — stood ready to answer questions that didn’t come.

It’s a complex issue, as is any that deals with Colorado’s byzantine water right laws. And probably not something that stirs the public. But for ski areas, the Forest Service push to secure water rights owned by resorts operating on public land is a critical issue.

The National Ski Areas Association, which successfully sued to overturn early versions of the water clause, met with the agency before the public hearing and offered two options that would deflect the Forest Service need to take ownership of water rights used on public land. (That invite-only forum is one of several the agency is holding with resort communities, ranchers, conservation groups and other stakeholders as it scripts the new ski area permit water clause.)

The association’s options would require ski areas to prove sufficient water is available for every new project and any ski area sale would include options to sell ski-operation water rights to the buyer, the local community or the Forest Service. “We are excited about having ideas and offering something new,” said the association’s public policy director Geraldine Link, who led the industry’s lawsuit to overturn the water clause. “We are staying let’s start over. We think there is a way to address Forest Service concerns without the seizure of assets.”[...]

Pena said federal ownership may not be the only answer, hence the public meetings. The agency owns roughly 21 percent of the country’s ski area water rights, shares ownership of 4 percent and the remaining 75 percent is owned by ski area operators. Regulations that require water rights remain connected to public lands would prevent ski area operators from selling water rights as a commodity that eventually may be worth more than skiing.
“Without long-term assurances for water, we feel we could be the public’s interest at risk,” he said. “The whole idea of sustainability is about preserving resources for future generations. We are seeing more of the ski industry being managed by corporate interests. They are no longer mom-and-pop operations. We have to be prepared for people making different business decisions than what is best for the public.”[...]

Davey Pitcher, the owner of southern Colorado’s Wolf Creek ski area, allowed the Forest Service to share ownership of his water rights when he renewed his permit in 2000.
“We don’t see a problem with,” Pitcher said, noting how the agency allows intensive ski infrastructure on public land, like trails and chairlifts, so it makes sense for the Forest Service to want to protect the water needed for skiing. “We see it as a reasonable request.”

More water law coverage here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund de-commissioning could take 10-15 years

April 19, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Members of a Community Advisory Group took their first look at a road map defining the course of action for decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill Thursday. The now defunct mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been a Superfund site since 1988 due to uranium and molybdenum contamination in groundwater and soils.

Jennifer Opila, a state health department radioactive materials unit leader, told the group that the road map will likely be updated and changed as the decommissioning goes forward. Basically it outlines what cleanup has been done and what plans are already in place. “We will need to update the plans to make sure they meet the needs as we go forward and the community will be involved,” Opila said. “Some information has been developed but in almost every case, we think more info needs to be gathered as we develop a remedial investigation.”

The very next step is uncertain, she said. “We are in new territory with a new team for both the state and the EPA so a lot of things we still are trying to figure out,” Opila said. “We might start with Operable Unit 1 (the Lincoln Park community) or what makes sense — maybe it is the mill site itself or all the units at the same time.” As the cleanup plan progresses, “We will start to compare potential different remedies to see if each meets all the nine criteria and is protective of human health and environment,” said Peggy Linn, EPA community involvement coordinator. “I hate to say it but we might look at the cost a little bit. We will discuss the findings all along the way with the group,” Linn said.

Once a proposed remedy or cleanup plan is selected, the public will again have a chance to comment. A remedial design will be followed by the remedial action plan during which, “We start actually building it,” Linn said. Even after the cleanup is complete, health authorities will continue five-year reviews to, “Check to see that everything is working,” Linn said. Decommissioning could take 10 to 15 years.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit funding at risk

April 19, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The funding pipeline for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has sprung a leak. Federal funding pressures could reduce conduit funding to one-third of its current levels and far less than Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials had hoped for in next year’s budget. “The conduit is not the only project affected. There are projects under construction that got cut,” Southeastern lobbyist Christine Arbogast told the board Thursday. “Delays cost money, so it’s going to make it more difficult as we move forward.”

The district discussed a figure of $14 million to begin design and construction of the conduit in 2014. However, the budget President Barack Obama submitted to Congress last week included only $1 million for the conduit. The Bureau of Reclamation is on pace to complete an environmental impact statement for the conduit by the end of this year. But several other water projects already being built saw cuts of 75 percent or more in the president’s budget.

If Congress adopts another continuing resolution, rather than a budget, the conduit might retain its current level of funding, $3 million, in 2014, said Executive Director Jim Broderick. Otherwise, the district appears to be out of options to increase funding. “It’s clear the game is different than it used to be,” Broderick said, recounting last week’s visit to Washington, D.C. “This doesn’t stop the project, but it will move at a different pace.”

A federal law in 2009 provided a way to repay the federal government for conduit costs through storage contract payments to Reclamation for use of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. But payments would not start until after the project is completed.

The conduit could cost up to $500 million to build and would deliver fresh drinking water from Pueblo Dam to 50,000 people in 40 communities along the Arkansas River. “We’re concerned about the drop in funding, but we’re still in the pre-construction phase,” Broderick said.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


Colorado River Named Most Endangered in United States #ColoradoRiver

April 18, 2013

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

The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States, according to the 2013 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® released today by the nonprofit group American Rivers. Western Resource Advocates, a conservation organization that works throughout the entire Colorado River Basin, issued the following comments in response to the new listing:

“We all have our own dreams and visions for the future of the West,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “But this is one subject where there can be no disagreement: If we don’t protect the Colorado River, we don’t have a future. It’s really that simple – an endangered Colorado River is a danger to us all.”

The Colorado River provides drinking water for more than 36 million people in seven states. The river is also critical to our regional and national food supply, providing irrigation for 4 million acres of farmland.

“We are using water in the West at a rate that is simply unsustainable,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates. “The good news is that we can solve this problem if we act quickly. If we implement aggressive conservation, reuse, and efficiency programs for both municipal and agricultural users, we can protect the Colorado River and its many species, while at the same time exceeding projected water demand through 2060.”

The population in the West is expected to rise by 50% in the next 50 years; at the same time, Colorado River flows are projected to decline by 10% or more. Not only would this decline impact food and water availability, but it would be a huge blow to a growing recreation economy responsible for more than $26 billion in annual revenue for the Colorado River Basin states.

Western Resource Advocates has long advocated that water conservation and reuse should be the backbone of any plan for meeting future water demands in the Colorado River Basin. This is particularly critical in the face of climate change scenarios that experts agree will lead to increased frequency and severity of drought.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Drought/snowpack news: Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers Plan for Continued Drought #COdrought #NMdrought

April 18, 2013

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map, current U.S. Drought Monitor map and the most recent drought forecast from the CPC.

From the Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Perea Carlson):

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today released their Annual Operating Plan for the Middle Rio Grande.
As we head into our third consecutive year of severe drought, Reclamation is focused on working closely with all partners to operate to meet both water user needs and flow targets under the 2003 Biological Opinion for the Rio Grande silvery minnow.

In a dry year, the biological opinion requires Reclamation to keep the river wet to Isleta Diversion Dam. Below that diversion dam and in the San Acacia reach, the river can be dried in a controlled manner after June 15. The current model projection for demand to meet flow requirements is somewhere between 65,000 and 80,000 acre-feet, however that forecast assumes minimal monsoons.

The April forecast data released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows snowpack volumes throughout northern New Mexico are approximately 45 percent of average. The inflow at El Vado Reservoir is expected to be about 80,000 acre-feet of water or about 36 percent of average. The inflow at Heron Reservoir is expected to be about 45,000 acre-feet or about 55 percent of average.

Reclamation is currently negotiating additional water leases and expects to have approximately 40,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of water to supplement river flows. Reclamation is working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and other stakeholders to optimize the use of supplemental water. Reclamation will again be working with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to move water from El Vado Reservoir to Abiquiu on the weekends to allow for rafting flows on the Rio Chama.


One weather system this week = flooding rains, heavy snow, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes in the Rockies and Midwest

April 18, 2013

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From the CoCoRaHS blog:

This has been an interesting week for spring weather from the Rockies through the Midwest. In the last 24 hours there have been flooding rains, heavy snow, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes, all related to the same weather system

Much of Colorado got more snow in the past 24 hours, with as much as 15 inches in south-central Colorado near Pueblo. Snow also accumulated 2 to 3 inches in western South Dakota and 2 to 4 inches in northern Minnesota. Snow also occurred in Nebraska and northwestern Kansas.


2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes state Senate Ag committee #COleg

April 18, 2013

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers there will consider a $110,000 appropriation to fund development of gray water standards by the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

The measure passed the House Appropriations Committee unanimously earlier this month. “It’s looking pretty positive, I think, in terms of its possibility” of passing the Senate Appropriations Committee, Fischer said. “There’s no opposition to it that I’m aware of.”

Colorado water law allows just one use of water before it goes down the drain, through a wastewater treatment plant and back into the river for others to use. Gray water systems “actually aren’t legal right now,” Fischer said. He pointed out that the University of Colorado at Boulder cannot use a gray water system it installed in a newer residence hall because of state health regulations. “The most important thing the bill does is direct the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to promulgate minimum statewide standards for gray water systems,” he said.

The bill also lets cities and towns decide whether to approve gray water systems, he said.

More 2013 Colorado legisation coverage here.


Lower Ark board meeting recap: ‘Wells provided a one-year hedge against drought’ — Steve Witte

April 18, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Wells in the Arkansas Valley protected the agriculture economy in 2012, but reduced pumping levels this year are likely to hurt farming if weather conditions don’t improve. “Wells provided a one-year hedge against drought,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday. “To quote Dale Mauch (a Lamar-area farmer quoted in The Pueblo Chieftain last summer): ‘If you’ve got a well, you’ve got a crop.’ ” This year, the situation is worse for farmers who rely on wells. Because of in-state shortfalls, pumping levels have been curtailed for most farmers. Unless farmers use their own surface rights to augment wells, pumping levels will be at only 10 to 30 percent of normal, with many farmers forced to shut off the pumps completely.

Last year, farmers pumped about 110,000 acrefeet of water (36 billion gallons), which was roughly three-fourths of the historical average prior to restrictions. The farm economy suffered much more, however, because of other factors.

During the drought of 2011-12, soil moisture plummeted, a trend that has continued since 2000. There also was less water available to surface ditches in both years.

Another problem for farmers will be increased transit loss as water from storage is released to headgates downstream. Normal loss from Pueblo Dam to the Rocky Ford area would be about 12 percent, but with river levels lower, it increases to 50 percent, Witte said.

One ray of hope offered at the meeting is a steadily increasing snowpack that is approaching nearly normal levels at a few sites in the mountains. Statewide, snowpack was about 82 percent of normal Wednesday, 73 percent in the Arkansas River basin, but 94 percent in the Upper Colorado basin, which provides supplemental water to Arkansas River users.

However, snowpack in the Purgatoire River basin, which helps farmers below John Martin Dam, is far below average.

Reservoir levels are well below 2012, and at 2003 levels for Turquoise and Twin Lakes. Lake Pueblo is at 88 percent of normal, better than it was in 2003, after drought had tapped out water supplies.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A water quality study spawned 10 years ago is focusing on finding causes for sedimentation and loading of harmful elements like selenium and uranium into the Arkansas River. “The real desire is to assist resource managers to find the source of a problem and attack it there, rather than put an ineffective plan in place,” said David Mau, head of the U.S. Geological Survey Pueblo office. He spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The study began through a 2003 agreement among Aurora, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

The water resources group also includes Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Lower Ark district. Aurora provided the initial funding.

The purpose of the study was to establish a water quality baseline before large projects like the Preferred Storage Options Plan, Southern Delivery System and Arkansas Valley Conduit went online. The USGS cataloged existing data on the river.

A 2009-11 study looked at two threatened reaches of the Arkansas River: from Canon City to Lake Pueblo, and from Lake Pueblo to La Junta. Loading of solids and uranium were found in both reaches, while heavy loading of selenium from Fountain Creek was prevalent downstream.

Mau said studies will continue to pinpoint sources of the pollution to help minimize the impact on water quality as projects continue.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


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

April 17, 2013

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary. Click here for all the summaries.


Forecast news: Rain and snow possible across eastern Colorado, heavy snow possible in the mountains #COdrought #COwx

April 17, 2013

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

A low pressure system will push across Colorado on Wednesday, dragging a cold front through the region during the afternoon and early evening hours. Moisture will increase across the area behind this front, with scattered to numerous rain and snow showers developing across eastern Colorado. Gusty winds could bring white out conditions to some locations, making travel hazardous especially across the mountains and northern El Paso county late Wednesday. Persons planning travel across the state should remain weather alert and visit our web site at http://www.weather.gov/pub for the latest updates on any watches, advisories or warnings across eastern Colorado.

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

A wintry storm system will continue to sweep slowly eastward across the region today…lingering into the evening hours. Cold air associated with this system had brought snow to the lowest valleys early this morning and will continue to generate snow over much of the region through the day. A number of winter weather highlights are in place across eastern Utah and western Colorado today and this evening. Details are available at weather.gov/gjt. Temperatures will sink to near record values across the region tonight with a hard freeze expected in the lower valleys threatening tender vegetation and fruit trees. Temperatures will moderate going into the weekend, however a pair of weaker storms will impact the area Friday night through Saturday night and again Sunday night through Tuesday.


Drought/snowpack news: No watering restrictions for Pueblo #COdrought

April 17, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo is swimming against the tide in the current drought. No outdoor watering restrictions are planned because demand is decreased and snowpack improving to the point where the Pueblo Board of Water Works does not see its water rights being curtailed this year.

Many large water providers already have limited outdoor watering to 2 days per week. Pueblo continues to resist the trend. “Other Front Range cities rely on imported water, but our direct flow rights provide 90 percent of the water we use,” Executive Director Terry Book told the board Tuesday. Pueblo has transmountain water rights that could supply about half of its total water supply, but most of that usually is either stored or leased.

Demand is expected to increase as Pueblo grows. The demand for water on a typical winter day is about 11 million gallons, but it increases to more than 50 million gallons when the thermometer hits 100 degrees.

Water resources administrator Alan Ward and finance manager Seth Clayton expect the board will have enough water to cover that normal usage for several reasons:

● For the past 10 years, it has tripled its goal for water in storage to 45,000 acre-feet. Last year, about one-third of the water was pumped from June to October, and the board expects to recover some of that loss this year, improving storage to 32,000 acre-feet by this time next year, Ward said.

● Last year, the board leased 13,000 acre-feet of water to farmers. Those leases were discontinued this year, he added.

● Customer demand is 7 percent lower than at this time last year because of cooler weather, Clayton said.

● Pueblo will request its 10 percent share of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water this year. In most years, it has declined that water.

Snowstorms during the last week have improved snowpack in the mountains, and could mean a later runoff. In fact, the water board had been clearing its ditches that bring water from the Colorado River basin over the Continental Divide in anticipation of an early runoff such as 2012 before the latest round of storms, Ward said.

The water board is looking at a revised drought response plan that would be triggered if reservoir levels dip below certain triggers. It includes four stages designed to cut demand in order to manage the water supply.

Imposing restrictions now could mean unnecessary rate hikes in future years, Book added…

DROUGHT SCORECARD

Some indicators of what the ongoing drought means for the Pueblo area:

- Arkansas River levels are at near record lows for this time of year because of a dry winter and interrupted melt-off.

- Statewide snowpack remains low, at 77 percent of normal. However, it appears to be growing after storms this week. More may be on the way. Snowpack provides most of the water supply in Colorado.

- Precipitation since Jan. 1 has amounted to only 0.94 inches in Pueblo, less than half of the normal, 2.14 inches. It is below 2012, which was the second driest year since records began in the 1890s.

- Long-term weather forecasts by the National Weather Service are calling for above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation through the summer months.

Click here for western Colorado and eastern Utah snowfall totals for yesterday from the National Weather Service Grand Junction office.

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Trevor Hughes):

The spring snowstorm that dropped more than 14 inches of snow on Fort Collins is officially the largest snowstorm this winter. The Colorado Climate Center at CSU confirmed this storm’s record of 14.9 inches at the university’s central campus. Higher elevation areas got significantly more snow, including 27 inches near Estes Park. Until this storm, the previous biggest storm of the year was March 23, when 6.7 inches fell…

“As nice as this is, and as much as this is helping with the drought, it’s not totally brought us out of the woods yet. But we’re in much better shape than we were last year,” said Noah Newman, a climate center research associate.

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

Residents in the Lookout Mountain Water District can anticipate dwindling water supplies in the coming months — a scenario created by extended drought conditions and low-priority rights. At the end of 2012, the reservoir on Squaw Pass Road was only 67 percent of capacity with 174 acre-feet of water, according to water district information. The 500 residents connected to the district system typically use 200 acre-feet of water a year collectively. “It’s a pretty sustained problem for us,” said Christina Shea, LMWD administrator. “This year is worse.”

In an effort to conserve the supply, the district is enacting surcharges for use over the standard amount, said Shea. The surcharges will begin with the May billing period and will continue through September. “We are desperate,” said Shea. “We are trying to help our customers understand.”

Shea said the upcoming charges will be added to water usage greater than 2,500 gallons a month per household. In a 60-day billing cycle, if a residence is over the 5,000-gallon limit, then surcharges are added to the standard fee of $42. Those who use greater amounts of water are subject to extra fees ranging from $1 to $200 per 1,000 gallons, depending on the total overage.

Adding to the problem of the ongoing drought, which has affected many area water supplies, is that the Lookout Mountain district has low priority water rights, said Shea. The water the district uses originally belonged to the city of Golden, she said. When Golden no longer needed this source of water, the Lookout Mountain Water District formed and acquired this supply, which has water rights dating from 1903. Whenever surrounding communities such as Arvada need water, they call the rights from the Lookout Mountain district, affecting its supply. Adding to this dilemma is that the state has become stricter in enforcing water priority usage, said Shea.

Because of this situation, the Lookout Mountain district will have to rely on its stored water in the coming months. The Beaver Brook watershed, which is the source of the Lookout Mountain water, is small in comparison to the one in Bear Creek that serves Evergreen, Shea noted. To get the message across to district residents about water shortages, they are penalized for using excessive amounts, Shea said. “I feel like our board has been very proactive,” she remarked. “It’s a severe situation.”

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

When Rocky Mountain National Park rangers plowed their way to the snowbound Bear Lake area Tuesday, they measured 29 inches of snow that had piled up there since the weekend. Fourteen inches of new snow had fallen since the last 15-inch measurement was taken Monday morning at the Bear Lake center at an elevation of 9,475 feet, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said.

On the west side of the Continental Divide in the park, another 10 to 12 inches had fallen at the Colorado River Trailhead, bringing the total there to about 22 inches.

From Denver Water:

As of today, we would need 4 feet of snow in our mountain watersheds to get to a normal snowpack; however, even with a normal snowpack our reservoirs still would not completely fill this year. But, every little drop helps. Droughts are unpredictable. We don’t know what is in store for us next winter, or even the winter after that. We’ll continue to manage our supply and demand in case these drought conditions carry over into the next few years. So, even if the next couple of weeks bring us to our average snowpack levels, we still expect to have the Stage 2 mandatory drought restrictions in place to save as much water as possible this summer.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

The snow season saved its best for last this year, boosting snowpack in the reservoir-rich Colorado River basin from a woeful 72 percent of average on Feb. 2 to a promising 93 percent Tuesday. From Saturday to Tuesday alone, the percentage against the 30-year average jumped by 7 percentage points. “It’s not done yet,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken said Tuesday afternoon. “What we got yesterday and last night was just sort of a precusor to a big system that should arrive in the mountains Wednesday.”

Areas that saw more than 2 feet of very wet snow Sunday and Monday could pick up as much as 18 more inches Wednesday, he said. “It’s made a super strong comeback in the last four days,” Doesken said of the state’s snow supply, which provides most of the water Colorado needs for household use, irrigation and recreation all year long…

Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lakewood, said the high percentage of normal is a bit misleading but in a good way. Colorado’s snowpack typically begins to melt on April 10, but a week later this year, the snowpack is still mounting, so the percent of average looks higher measured against past numbers that typically are shrinking this time of year…

Denver Water’s 10 reservoirs haven’t been full since July 2011, so there is a lot of ground to make up for last year, said Bob Steger, the utility’s manager of raw water supply.


Douglas County Water Resource Authority video: Replace a toilet — Water Smart Tips #COdrought

April 17, 2013

From email from the Douglas County Water Resource Authority:

Did you know the biggest water waster in your house can be your toilet!?!

Sometimes all you need to do is replace the leaky flapper, but sometimes it might be a good idea to replace your old toilet with a more water efficient model.

Our new two-minute “replace a toilet” video takes the mystery out of exactly how to do that. Save water, save money. It’s easy!


The Colorado River tops American Rivers’ most endangered rivers list for 2013 #ColoradoRiver

April 17, 2013

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From American Rivers’ River Blog (Amy Souers Kober):

Today, American Rivers and our partners at Nuestro Rio, Protect the Flows, Save the Colorado and the National Young Farmers Coalition are calling on Congress to give cities and farmers across the basin the tools they need to build a future that includes healthy rivers and reliable, sustainable water supplies. We are asking Congress to fund the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSmart and Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse programs. These programs help stakeholders optimize existing water infrastructure, maximize available water supplies, and provide healthy river flows for communities and ecosystems.

While over-allocation of water is most pronounced on the Colorado River, it’s a problem we’re seeing on rivers nationwide. In fact, the top four rivers in America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013 suffer from outdated water management. What’s clear for all of these rivers is that we all need to be part of the solution. It’s time to work together to ensure clean water supplies and healthy rivers for our children and grandchildren.

Click here for a map showing the 10 rivers on this year’s list.

From AZCentral.com (Brandon Loomis):

The Colorado, the lifeblood of the Southwest, is at a crucial moment in its history, American Rivers says, and Congress and the states that tap its waters must plan for better use — and re-use — of its water to meet a growing need. “The current trends are not sustainable,” said Matt Niemerski, western water-policy director for American Rivers…

American Rivers has published “America’s Most Endangered Rivers” every year since 1986, and the Colorado has made the 10-river cut seven times. It has topped the list twice before, most recently in 2010. The group reorders the list annually to draw attention to particular rivers when a related policy decision is looming. This year, the group wants Congress to boost a WaterSmart program that is slated to get about $30 million next fiscal year for grants to water-conservation programs, Niemerski said. Such grants could help water providers build desalination or other treatment plants, or plan for smarter management. “We need to start this work now,” he said…

Arizona is entitled to 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water a year, and 1.5 million of it flows through the Central Arizona Project canal from the state’s western edge to Phoenix, Tucson and points in between.

A CAP official was puzzled by the group’s choice to elevate the river’s threat status based on a government report that actually could signal the start of better regional water planning. “We all recognize (the Reclamation report) as a call to action,” said Chuck Cullom, CAP’s Colorado River program manager. He also mentioned a new agreement with Mexico allowing for storage of some of that country’s allocation in Lake Mead to ease shortages in drought years. “We’ve taken aggressive steps in the past year to protect and enhance the river,” Cullom said.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The advocacy group American Rivers on Wednesday will declare the Colorado River “the No. 1 most endangered” in the nation.
Federal authorities warn that even if courts step in to reallocate shrinking river flows, 40 million people who rely on the Colorado still would face problems…

“We can only solve this problem by working together,” Anne Castle, the U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary for water and science, said at a University of Denver law school forum. Negotiating competing uses on an over-subscribed river “is not without pain, not without litigation,” Castle said. However, a judicial decision “doesn’t solve these problems.”

American Rivers ranked the Colorado River most endangered due to worsening water deficits…

…people are, indeed, draining the river. Front Range cities divert about 500,000 acre-feet a year from the basin to sustain 80 percent of today’s population. More diversions are planned here and in Utah. For example, Denver Water, which supplies 1.3 million metro residents, is pushing to divert 18,000 acre-feet from upper Colorado River tributaries. “But we’re not looking at developing additional water resources on the Western Slope after the Moffat project,” utility planning director David Little said, calling American Rivers’ 300,000 acre-feet estimate “overblown.”[...]

…Colorado and the upper states face a dilemma, said Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties. Are they still obligated to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet a year to lower states?
“Some of the Front Range folks take the view that Colorado is entitled to more water, and that the Lower Basin is using some of our water,” Kuhn said. “But how do you develop more water on a river that is already overused?”

If you are in Salida this evening check out the film Watershed:

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Colorado Water Trust leasing program hopes to shore up streamflow in the Yampa River again this season #COdrought

April 17, 2013

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From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

Last year, the nonprofit organization aimed at keeping waterways flowing leased 4,000 acre feet of water for the Yampa River. That translated into increasing flows by about 26 cubic feet per second for a large part of the summer…

Colorado Water Trust attorney Zach Smith said the spring weather and snowpack amounts will dictate how much water can be leased for the Yampa this year. The bigger the snowpack, the less the group can lease. On Monday, the snowpack in the Yampa/ White River basin was 81 percent of average.

Last year, 4,000 acre feet of water was leased from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns Stagecoach Reservoir. The Colorado Water Trust paid about $140,000, or $35 per acre foot of water…

The Colorado Water Trust is reaching out to water right owners who might be interested in leasing their water this year. Smith will be in Steamboat from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library to explain how the Request for Water 2013 water leasing program works. He will discuss the legal authority and technical underpinnings of the program. He also will talk about how the various forms work, what a water user can expect if he or she offers water for lease, how the water valuation process works and approximate timelines.

More instream flow coverage here.


CoCoRaHS blog: The never ending winter #COdrought #COwx

April 16, 2013

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From CoCoRaHS:

…winter has kept an icy grip on an area from the Rockies through the Northern Plains to the upper Midwest. Late last week snow and ice fell from Nebraska to Wisconsin, and over the last few days more than a foot of snow has piled up in parts of Colorado and the Dakotas…

The snow in Colorado yesterday was produced by another low moving across the Great Basin. This setup is ideal for snow along the Front Range. Easterly flow resulting from the low to the west and strong high pressure to the northeast forces the air to rise as it encounters the Rockies, condensing the moisture and producing precipitation…

These storms often produce lots and lots of snow, and this system was no exception. A foot of snow and more fell across the Fort Collins, Co area, home to CoCoRaHS headquarters…

Snow in the Denver area ranged from around 4 inches east of the city to 12 to 24 inches in the higher terrain west of Denver, with 24.5 inches of snow reported by a CoCoRaHS observer in Golden…

And it isn’t over yet. The system that brought the snow to Colorado will be lifting out to the northeast, and winter storm warnings are in effect for portions of Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Winter weather advisories are in effect for parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.


Western Resource Advocates video: The Water/Energy Nexus #COdrought

April 16, 2013

From Western Resource Advocates:

Ever wondered about the connection between energy and water? Or thought about how drought might impact electricity? Stacy Tellinghuisen, Senior Energy/Water Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates, explains how these two seemingly different issues are more connected than you might think.

Using the 2011 drought in Texas as an example, Tellinghusien explains how the connection between energy and water becomes even more apparent during times of drought. Recent droughts have had unexpected — and unprecedented — impacts on the energy sector, impacting both electricity demands and power plants’ ability to meet them.

More energy policy coverage here and here.


Snowpack/drought news: Upper Colorado River snowpack = 85% of avg, South Platte = 76% statewide = 77% #CODrought

April 16, 2013

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the South Platte Basin High/Low and Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graphs along with the statewide snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Click here to view snowfall totals from the National Weather Service Boulder office.


2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) to get a hearing Wednesday in state Senate committee #COLeg

April 16, 2013

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From The Denver Post (Lynn Bartels):</p

Graywater is wastewater in a building that comes from showers, hand-washing sinks and washing machines. It does not come from toilets, urinals or kitchen sinks. Colorado is the only western state that doesn’t allow treated graywater to be used for flushing toilets, landscaping and such, but a proposal scheduled to be heard Wednesday in a Senate committee would change that.

House Bill 1044, by [Senator Gail] Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, legalizes the use of graywater, calls for the development of regulations to protect the public health and gives cities and counties the discretion to offer graywater permits to single- or multi-family dwellings.

Bill supporters say a household with four people could save 58,000 gallons a year if it had a graywater filtration system installed.

The House unanimously passed the measure, which will be heard Wednesday by the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who sits on the committee, said he’s excited to hear the bill. “As long as we can protect the downstream users’ historical rights, there is nothing wrong with this idea,” he said. “A lot of money and energy goes into cleaning up water to bring it to drinking water standards, merely to put it on lawns and flush toilets, and we don’t need to do that.”

Schwartz also addressed that point, saying a number of Colorado’s wastewater treatment facilities are aging and need to be updated. She said the use of graywater would mean less input into those plants.

Fischer said he got the idea for carrying the bill from two Colorado State University professors who have been working on graywater issues. They have a graywater disinfectant vat set up in one of the residence halls and have been testing the system.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB13-074 #COleg

April 16, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation, Senate Bill 74, to correct a glitch in Colorado water law that threatened the value of senior water rights, specifically pre-1937 decrees.

Sponsored by state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, the new law is designed to mitigate the impact of two recent Colorado Supreme Court decisions, which require senior ditch companies to prove that the farmers who initiated the rights in the 1860s intended to irrigate all the lands and ditches irrigated today.

“If farmers couldn’t find sufficient evidence demonstrating the intent of the original appropriator, the water court reduced the number of acres that could be served by the rights, even though the ditches had been irrigating the acreages for over 100 years,” said Andy Jones, a water lawyer representing the Legacy Ditch Association. “Colorado farmers, especially those in the South Platte River Basin, faced the prospect of having a substantial percentage of their net worth wiped out.”

SB74 restores certainty for Colorado farmers by saying that if a decree was granted prior to 1937 and is silent on permissible acreage, then all acreage [irrigated by the water right] within 50 years of the decree is lawful.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Drought/snowpack news: The NIDIS National Drought Early Warning Outlook is hot off the press #CODrought

April 15, 2013

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Click here to read the outlook nationally or by region.

From the Trinidad Times (Steve Block):

The water situation in the Purgatoire River Valley looks pretty grim at the moment. The Trinidad area remains in the grip of a persistent drought, currently rated as D4, meaning exceptional drought conditions.

About 21 percent of Colorado is experiencing D4 drought conditions, including most of the Eastern Plains, according to State Climatologist Nolan Doesken.

Doesken said D4 conditions work the greatest economic hardship on crop production and cattle sales in southeastern Colorado.

“Exceptional drought, D4, is equal to the kind of situation you’d only see once in any 50-year time period,” Doesken said. “This is not unlike the extreme conditions that eastern Colorado had in the early and mid-1950s and back in the 1930s.”

Doesken said that in mid-March 89 percent of the state was in severe or worse drought conditions. Drought conditions continue to spread throughout the West, as statistics from the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that about 2.94 percent of the western U.S. is experiencing D4 conditions as of April 2, up from about 0.94 percent at the same time in 2012. Colorado’s Eastern plains and eastern Wyoming showed the greatest prevalence of D4 conditions, according to the drought monitor.

Drought conditions are expected to persist at least throughout the end of June, according to data released on April 4 from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.

From the Summit County Citizen’s Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Last summer’s crippling Great Plains drought can’t definitively be linked with global warming, according to a team of federal scientists from various agencies. In a new report issued this week, the researchers said the drought was probably caused by a confluence of natural climate variations that might only come together in a similar constellation once a century.

Cyclical variations in ocean temperatures — especially the combination of a cooler-than-average Pacific Ocean and a warm phase of the North Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation may have nudged the region toward drought conditions, but those factors tend to be more of a factor in suppressing winter precipitation.

And background global warming may increase the chances of high temperatures to begin with, but the research team couldn’t find a direct link between the drought and global warming — in fact, the region hit hardest by the drought has been a kind of global warming “hole” in the past few decades, said lead author Dr. Marty Hoerling, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The dominant control in this region is the amount of precipitation. When it’s dry, the ground gets really hot … This is one of those events that comes along once every couple hundreds of years,” Hoerling said, adding that the lack of El Niño conditions in the past 10 years may have been another small factor.


Salida: New wastewater treatment plant in production

April 15, 2013

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From The Mountain Mail (Casey Kelly):

Though improvements to the new Salida Wastewater Treatment Facility will not be fully completed for another couple of months, the city has begun treating wastewater at the new plant. The new facility began treating city water in November, and since then the city has been working to finish remaining improvements at the facility, Wastewater Plant Manager Randy Sack said Friday. Remaining improvements at the facility, which Sack said should be completed in the next “couple months,” include work on landscaping, the driveway, curb and gutter, phone and data lines, and painting.

Moltz Construction has been working on the new facility for the past 13 months, Sack said. “It’s working really nice,” he said. “It’s a little bigger. It’s doing a great job with the things we need it to do.”

Sack also said the new plant is all computerized, which allows easier monitoring of its operations. The previous plant was no longer meeting regulations for wastewater plants, City Administrator Dara MacDonald said. The plant was out of compliance with regard to levels of ammonia and biochemical oxygen demands, which Sack said “measure the organic strength of the wastewater.”

Sack said once the final improvements are made to the facility, the city plans to host an open house to invite the public to tour the new facility.

Sidebar on financials

The total cost of the Wastewater Treatment Facility upgrade project is $17.6 million. The project is being financed through a $12.1 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $1.35 million Department of Local Affair grant (with matching funds from the city) and a $2.6 million USDA loan the city received in 2009. The city will make its first payment on the $12.1 million loan in fall. The term of the loan is 40 years with an interest rate of 2.5 percent. At the time financing was originally approved, the interest rate was set at either 3.25 percent or the rate in effect at the time of the loan’s closing, whichever was lower. When the loan closed in February, the city secured the lower 2.5 percent interest rate. The city is required to make a minimum payment of $480,405 each year, but can make higher payments to lower the amount of total interest paid over the life of the loan. If the city makes only the minimum payments, it will pay $7.1 million in interest over the life of the loan.City Finance Director Jan Schmidt suggested at a February city council meeting that the city make payments that assumed the previous higher interest rate, which would have the city paying off the loan 8 months earlier and paying less money in interest.

City Administrator Dara MacDonald said when the city adjusted sewer rates, it was done in anticipation of the facility upgrade and the debt service that would come along with it. MacDonald said revenue from the city’s sewer enterprise fund is projected to cover the cost of the annual payments, along with the plant’s operation and annual maintenance costs.

Total 2012 revenues for the sewer fund came in at $1,444,641, and total expenditures, which included capital outlay costs for the facility’s construction this year, came in at $8,978,716. Excluding the one-time capital outlay costs this year, the sewer fund had $748,933 in expenditures, which would have resulted in net revenues of $695,708, enough to exceed the cost of the minimum annual loan payment.

More wastewater coverage here and here.


Forecast news: Wide ranging snowfall expected today as wet Pacific storm moves in #COwx #COdrought

April 15, 2013

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

A moist Pacific storm system will spread widespread snow across northwest Colorado today and tonight. Occasional moderate to heavy snow will occur across northwest Colorado. Valley areas will have snow this morning, but is expected to change over to rain this afternoon. For the southern areas, considerably but more windy with gusts to 35-40 mph. Rain and snow will stay confined to the La Sal, Abajo, and San Juan mountains. This storm will continue through Wednesday, but a period of drier weather is expected during the day on Tuesday, but precipitation will be on the increase Tuesday evening with snow levels lowering to the valley floors.

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

Overnight, an upper trough will move into the area with strong westerly flow aloft remaining over the forecast area. Increasing moisture ahead of this system will bring snow to the Continental Divide through morning. Expect widespread cloud cover tomorrow with some light precipitation possible over the eastern mountains, adjacent Plains and the Palmer Divide. For the remainder of tonight..look for winds to gradually diminish and temperatures to fall to near freezing.

From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

Snow showers are expected in and around the Leadville area through 6am Tuesday. Otherwise, clouds and some sun are expected elsewhere with breezy conditions and above average temperatures expected. Temperatures will be in the upper 60′s to near 70 across the I-25 corridor and eastern plains. The San Luis Valley can expect upper 50′s, while the mountains can expect 20′s and 30′s.


Parachute Creek spill: The town of Parachute is watching the clean up and asking questions #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2013

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Besides being concerned about possible tainted irrigation water, some Parachute residents are worried about the town’s tainted reputation in light of a natural gas liquids leak near Parachute Creek. Town Council member and former Mayor Roy McClung said the message needs to get out that “Parachute is not a toxic waste dump” as a result of a leak that is drawing national attention. McClung’s comments came during a meeting late last week, as Williams met with the Town Council to talk about its response to the leak and its efforts to protect the town’s irrigation water supply.

Williams recently said it has determined that the leak resulted from a faulty pressure gauge on a pipeline valve set. The gauge began leaking Dec. 20 and it wasn’t discovered and the leak wasn’t stopped until Jan. 3, when a worker went to inspect a valve that had closed down. The company initially believed the leak was less than 25 gallons. But in March it discovered widespread contamination. It now estimates that about 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons have been recovered and about 4,000 gallons remain in soil and groundwater. The faulty gauge was on a valve set for a pipeline that leaves Williams’ gas processing plant and carries a mixture of propane, butane and other natural gas liquids to tanks on the other side of Parachute Creek. Williams believes that about 80 percent of the liquids that leaked vaporized once they escaped the pressurized line, but that heavier hydrocarbons seeped into the ground.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says the pressure gauge may be the source of all the contamination, but an investigation continues.

Groundwater monitoring has found high benzene levels near the creek, including on the creek side opposite from the valve set, but it hasn’t been found in the creek water.

Surface water testing

The irrigation season is about to begin, and the town diverts water from the creek into a reservoir that’s used by residents and on town properties. Williams has been working to try to keep the creek water clean and has a plan in place to shut down the reservoir intake should contamination be detected upstream.

Judith Hayward is a Parachute resident who enjoys gardening. This year I’m going to be concerned unless I am assured somehow with testing that this water is not going to give me problems in my garden,” she told trustees and Williams officials.

Dave Keylor, vice president and general manager in the Piceance Basin for Williams, said the company has nine surface water testing points in the creek and six absorbency booms in place. It also visually inspects the creek each half hour and has installed about 90 groundwater monitors as part of its response.

The reservoir diversion point is about two miles downstream from the leak site. The town has given Williams the ability to control the diversion point because of the proximity of Williams workers to it and the company’s continuing monitoring of the water. “We feel confident that at this time, that you can turn your water into the irrigation ditch at the diversion point,” he told town officials Thursday.

The state Department of Natural Resources on Friday reported that diesel-range organics were detected in the creek at the diversion point, but also noted that recent creek tests in the contamination area didn’t detect the organics. Some intermittent diesel-range organics also have been detected upstream from the leak site and may be a result of things such as stormwater runoff from roads. The state also noted that there are several industrial sites between the leak area and the diversion point.

Parachute also has a second, unused reservoir that it is working on using for extra storage to temporarily meet irrigation needs should the creek show contamination. Keylor said contaminated water also could be diverted into that reservoir.

Inaccurate reports

Meanwhile, McClung said he worries about how all the media coverage of the leak will affect the town. “Nobody remembers the good stuff but they remember the bad stuff,” he said, citing environmental disasters in places such as Love Canal and Three-Mile Island. “… I’m afraid that we’re going to start building that kind of reputation in this valley.”

McClung said he has been called from as far away as North Carolina, from people with questions including whether the town will blow up. Town Administrator Bob Knight said he’s taken media calls from as far away as New York. McClung said he overheard at a local restaurant that a family that had been ready to move to Parachute changed their minds because of the leak. “That kills me to see families that don’t want to move here because of this,” he said.

Keylor and town officials said one challenge is inaccurate information reported in the media. Williams has created a website, http://www.answersforparachute.com, to provide information on the incident. Keylor said Williams community and corporate communications representatives also could help work with the town on public relations. Keylor said it’s also going to take “a lot of transparency and a lot of honesty” by Williams in terms of being upfront about the mess he said the company has made and what it is doing to determine the extent of the contamination and clean it up. “We feel our reputation has taken a hit here,” Keylor said, acknowledging that so have the reputations of stakeholders. “We take that personally.”

“It will take some time to rebuild our reputation but we’ll do it, we’re going to get this cleaned up, we’re going to be here for the long haul.”

Benzene questions

Williams’ efforts continue to focus in part on fully delineating the extent of contamination. Keylor said investigators believe they have done that on three sides, but not yet to the southeast of the valve set. The creek also heads southeast from the valve area before briefly angling south. As of Friday, benzene contamination had been determined to extend as far as 1,400 feet from the valve site. The presence of benzene on both sides of the creek has puzzled investigators, who believe that groundwater directly beneath the creek flows away from it, which has helped to keep benzene out of the surface water. “We’ve not yet determined the reason for that,” Keylor said of the benzene found across the creek from the leak site. “There are a couple of hypotheses but we have not nailed down why that is.”

He said lab tests show that hydrocarbons in the immediate vicinity of the valve site are the same as what flows through the natural gas liquids line. But officials are awaiting test results to determine whether the more distant hydrocarbons also match the pipeline’s contents.

Meanwhile, Williams continues to hear criticism that it should have notified more parties after discovering in March it had a significant situation on its hands. David Blair, chief of the Grand Valley Fire Protection District, said when concerns about possible waterway contamination arise, one of the first places the public will call is the fire department. “But we didn’t have a clue” what was going on, he said.

Keylor said Williams mistakenly assumed that regulatory agencies it had contacted would spread the word to other parties, but now realizes it had a responsibility to do so.

Kirby Winn, Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, said he takes some blame for the poor early communication. He said while he was notified, he failed to pass the information on to the county’s emergency manager, who would have then let the fire department know.

From The Denver Post:

State environmental overseers on Friday said diesel range organics detected in Parachute Creek near a hydrocarbon spill has reached gates to a town drinking water reservoir. The gates have been closed since the spill by Williams energy company’s gas processing plant was reported last month.

The results of water test taken on April 6 and 7 showed diesel range organics at 0.71 and 0.49 parts per million. Diesel range organics at a slightly higher of 0.73 ppm had been found on the creek upstream of the suspected source of the spill.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


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

April 15, 2013

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.


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