Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District 32nd Annual Water Seminar recap #ColoradoRiver

April 6, 2014

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From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

“Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

“About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient…

Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

More Southwestern Water Conservation District coverage <a href="


Snowpack news (% of avg): San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan = 83%

April 6, 2014

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The snowpack in the combined Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins was 79 percent of the 30-year median April 1; however, this week’s storms brought the basins up to 82 percent.

If it’s any consolation, the combined snowpack this April 1 is 111 percent of what it was last year on the same date.

There’s a chance late storms could increase the snowpack for the southern San Juan basins, but it’s unlikely since the maximum level is generally reached in the first week of April.

In other words, it’s as good as it’s going to get for the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins…

Overall, the statewide snowpack is above normal – 115 percent of the median on April 1 and 156 percent of the April 2013 number.

But storms carried less moisture in March than in previous months. As a result, the major basins showed a slight decrease in snowpack.

Only two basins – the Colorado and the combined Yampa, White, North Platte – had snowpack percentages higher than last month.

Storms have provided runoff that improved storage in reservoirs statewide.

Reservoir storage in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins was 82 percent of average, compared with 66 percent at this time last year.

Statewide, reservoirs held 89 percent of their average, compared with 69 percent a year ago.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Michael Bennet):

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to strap on some snowshoes for a short hike on Berthoud Pass with local water managers and staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They were taking a manual reading of the state’s snowpack and checking the automatic SNOTEL measurement device. Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top environmental and natural resource official, and the man who oversees NRCS, also came along.

These snowpack measurement systems, some that date back to the 1900s, are a critical part of the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting program that Colorado water officials rely on to anticipate river flows in the spring when the snow melts and calculate how much water will run off into rivers and reservoirs. Our state’s farmers and ranchers depend on these forecasts to decide how much and what type of crops to plant, while metropolitan leaders use the data to decide how best to meet their needs in the coming years and to prepare for potential flooding.

Beyond Colorado, these measurements are important for states downstream that depend on our watersheds. Colorado contains nine major watersheds, each with its own snowfall patterns and obligations to other states. While some of these water sources may be at 100 percent, in other regions the levels may be less than half of the normal supply. Many of the state’s water rights agreements are predicated on the level of snowpack making the accuracy of these measurements particularly important.

Recently, however, funding for the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program was threatened by budget cuts and sequestration.

Colorado communities from across the state shared their strong concerns that cutting funding to this program would damage the accuracy of the measurements and reduce the effectiveness of this vital planning tool. In response to these concerns, we joined forces with Colorado’s water community, Senator Mark Udall, and Congressman Scott Tipton to urge the NRCS to reconsider the cuts. After working with local

communities, water managers, and the NRCS, we secured funding for the program for this winter. In addition, we secured funding in congress for the next fiscal year.


Old Uravan diversion dam on Tabeguache Creek removed, the San Miguel River tributary is now running free

April 1, 2014
Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

Tabeguache Creek via the USFS

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

In the 1930s, a 6-foot-tall, 60-feet-wide diversion dam was built in Tabeguache Creek, just upstream from its confluence with the San Miguel River, for the purposes of providing water to the Town of Uravan.

That dam remained for roughly 80 years, even as the uranium mining town was abandoned, declared a Superfund Site and razed in a reclamation project.

When Uravan shuttered, the dam stopped diverting water for human consumption. It continued, however, to block upstream passage to three species of native fish that rely on warm-water tributaries for their spawning grounds.

Until recently, that is. Thanks to a Bureau of Land Management project that was supported by the San Miguel Watershed Coalition and Nature Conservancy, the diversion dam was dismantled earlier this month.

Following two years of research, planning and securing funding, it took crews from Reams Construction a day and a half to pull all of the concrete out of the streambed.

And just like that, Tabeguache Creek was flowing free.

Peter Mueller, who is both the Nature Conservancy’s Southwestern Colorado Project Director and a board member on the Watershed Coalition, said the removal was a great thing to witness.

“One of the things that is so critical for the Nature Conservancy, the Coalition and BLM is that the native fish use these tributaries for spawning,” Mueller said. “And so to be able to remove this diversion structure and open up another eight miles of habitat, with full cooperation of both private landowners and the federal government … we were really excited about it.”

Amanda Clements, an ecologist with the BLM, said the project came about when the agency’s fish biologist was examining Colorado maps for migration barriers.

“He spotted this one,” Clements said.

Through follow-up investigation, Clements said, the BLM discovered that water rights of the dam had been determined abandoned and that removal of the structure would open up a lot of habitat for three species of native fish: Roundtail chub, Flannelmouth sucker and Bluehead sucker. All three are considered “BLM Colorado sensitive species.”

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


The Spring 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

March 31, 2014
US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

Click here to read the newsletter.


San Miguel River: Project to restore the historic Hanging Flume wins the 2014 Steven H. Hart award

February 25, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

An ambitious project to rebuild a historic flume among the cliffs above the San Miguel River south of Gateway was recently recognized for its innovative effort at reconstructing history. The 2014 Stephen H. Hart Award was given to the Western Colorado Interpretive Association, Anthony & Associates, and the Bureau of Land Management — a presentation made by History Colorado, a charitable state agency under the Department of Higher Education.

The project to rebuild the flume was done over five days in 2012. In its day, the flume was essentially an open water chute used to transfer 80 million gallons of water per 24-hour period from the San Miguel River, through 10 miles of wooden flume and earthen ditch, according to the WCIA.

“The Hanging Flume is much more than a marvel of engineering. It is a statement driven in stone – a monument to an era of innovation and ‘can-do’ attitude in the 1880s,” the group said in a press release announcing the award.

The project, they say, was an effort to answer the question of exactly how the original flume builders were able to pull it off. Funding was made available by private funders the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the John Hendricks Family Foundation.

Today the flume is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the longest historic structure in the state, and the most intact flume left in North America, according to the WCIA.

And in 2006, the Montrose Placer Mining Company Hanging Flume was listed as one of the “100 Most Endangered Sites in the World” by the World Monuments Fund.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


Say hello to HangingFlume.org

February 3, 2014


HangingFlume.org has a new makeover with a ton of photographs. Buy their book to help fund their efforts.

Here’s an excerpt from the Home page:

It isn’t to say that the idea of building a flume was so crazy. Flumes for placer mining were common at the time. Flume construction methods had been used in California for years and required only minimal skills. To cross arroyos and washes, water could be funneled through flume boxes supported by trestles. But in the canyons of the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers, minimal engineering skill was not enough. This flume would have to be ten miles long, and to complete the entire route at the proper gradient, the Flume would have to cling to seven miles of sheer rock walls, at times suspended hundreds of feet above the river.

The Hanging Flume is perhaps one of the most risky and lofty plans in mining history . . . and for the purposes of placer mining, pretty much a complete failure. But as a heritage tourism site, it still holds our attention, long after the memory of its father, the mysterious Nathaniel P. Turner and hundreds of grunt workers have faded. Recent preservation efforts promise that we will enjoy the Hanging Flume for generations to come.

More San Miguel River coverage here and here.


Wild and scenic designation for the Dolores River?

January 14, 2014
Dolores River near Bedrock

Dolores River near Bedrock

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New management plans by the BLM and Forest Service upgrade the status of two native fish, and list new sections of the river as “preliminarily suitable” for a Wild and Scenic designation.

Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist, explained that the suitability status for the Lower Dolores from the dam to Bedrock has been in place since a 1976, and the special status was reaffirmed in a recently released public lands management plan.

“It qualifies because below the dam, the lower Dolores is a free-flowing stream that has outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs),” he said. “A common misconception is that suitability means we can wave a wand and make it Wild and Scenic, but that is not true. That takes congressional action.”

The 1976 suitability study noted that the Dolores is compatible with a Wild and Scenic designation, and “McPhee dam will enhance and complement such designation.”

ORVs are obscure and sometimes controversial assessments that identify river-related natural values. They are an indication that a river could qualify as a Wild and Scenic River in the future. In the meantime, their natural values are protected in management plans.

In their recent management plan, the BLM and Forest Service upped the ante, adding the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers to ORV standard list, which already includes the bonytail chub.

The Colorado Water Conservation board also believes native fish on the river deserve additional help. They propose to issue a new in-stream flow requirement for a 34-mile section of the river from the confluence with the San Miguel River to the Gateway community.

Ted Kowalski, a CWCB water resource specialist, explained that the new instream flow is proposed to improve habitat conditions for native fish.

“In-stream flows are designed to protect the natural hydrographs on the river, and we feel they are better than top-down river management from the federal side,” Kowalski said. “The proposed instream flows on that section of the Dolores are timed to accommodate spawning needs for native fish.”

Required peak flows reach 900 cfs during spring runoff, and then taper off. Most of the water would be provided by the San Miguel River, an upstream tributary…

The Dolores Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation board objected to the changes, fearing the move could force more water to be released downstream. They have filed appeals and protests to stop them.

Even the preliminary Wild and Scenic status on the Dolores is strongly opposed by McPhee Reservoir operators because if officially designated, Wild and Scenic rivers come with a federally reserved water right, which would also force more water to be released from the dam.

Jeff Kane, an attorney representing SWCD, said adding two native fish as ORVs was unexpected and unfair to a local collaborative process working to identify and protect native fish needs…

Accusations that federal agencies and the CWCB hijacked a 10-year-long, grass-roots effort to protect the Dolores were expressed at the meeting, which was attended by 80 local and regional officials…

A diverse stakeholder group, the Dolores River Working Group, is proposing to make the Lower Dolores River into a National Conservation Area through future legislation. As part of the deal, suitability status for Wild and Scenic on the Lower Dolores River would be dropped.

“It is still worthwhile to get our proposal out there,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance. “We should continue to move forward in our collaborative effort despite the concerns about the BLM changes.”

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


Ice flow near Placerville

December 14, 2013


Telluride: Snowmaking upgrade over the summer includes 16,000 feet of steel pipe

December 1, 2013
Telluride Ski Area via Powder Skiing Colorado

Telluride Ski Area via Powder Skiing Colorado

From The Watch (Gus Jarvis):

The ski area, thanks to the mind and work of Telluride Ski and Golf Company’s Director of Snowmaking Brandon Green, has taken some momentous steps this year toward reaching that goal by completing a huge snowmaking infrastructure upgrade which, combined with new snowmaking technology, will enable Telluride to open more runs earlier in the year.

Over the summer, crews replaced decrepit pipe and laid 16,000 feet of steel pipe in the ground as a start to building the foundation of the ski area’s snowmaking future. All of the pipe was painstakingly buried four feet underground, a foot below the frost line. On some portions of the system where wetlands existed, crews bored a hole for the new pipeline without having to touch the surface…

While the new, stronger pipe will eliminate down time due to breakage, the new pipe was laid in a loop system so that if a pipe does burst, the new system can still operate with the help of nearby shutoff valves.

“If something breaks on one spot,” Green said, “we can keep it running operationally and we will be able to maintain it with zero down time, which is ultimately my goal.”

The new pipe infrastructure also has the ability to bring water at a higher pressure, which is needed for the 71 new low energy Snow Logic snowmaking guns the ski area invested in over the past two years.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Colorado State Representative Don Coram plans to shutter and restore four uranium mines

June 12, 2013

usdroughtmonitor06042013

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The action follows several years of legal pressure by activists on the state and federal government to shut down the old uranium mines that dot the landscape of San Miguel and Montrose counties.A 2008 state law required all uranium mines to meet a higher level of regulatory scrutiny. State mining regulators are now demanding that all mine operators either submit a detailed environmental-protection plan or shut down their mines and reclaim the land.“Economically, it seemed to be more feasible to me to do a reclamation plan. It was strictly a matter of economics,” said Coram, a Montrose Republican whose district includes Montezuma County. Coram’s company, Gold Eagle Mining Inc., bought the mines in 1998. Three are close to the Dolores River at Slick Rock. The fourth overlooks the Paradox Valley in Montrose County. They have been out of operation almost constantly since the early 1980s. The state has given him until May 2014 to finish reclamation of the sites.

But even as they enter the cleanup stage, the mines remain as controversial as ever. A mining watchdog group called Information Network for Responsible Mining, or INFORM, has been hounding Coram and other mine operators, and the group submitted a harsh objection to Coram’s request earlier this year for an extension of his permit to leave the mines idle.“We will not mince words in criticizing the condition of the Slick Rock mines: They are dangerous to public health, to the Dolores River, to wildlife, and to the ecosystem they actively pollute. These mines represent egregious examples of neglect and mismanagement and have been allowed, for many years, to erode their toxic and radioactive contaminants directly into the Dolores,” INFORM’s objection stated.Coram sharply disputes the charges…

Tony Waldron of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said Coram’s mines are not polluting the Dolores River…

Radiometric readings near the mines show nothing above the natural background levels of radiation.However, stormwater does run off some of the mining waste piles, Waldron said. As part of the reclamation work, Gold Eagle will have to flatten the piles to reduce the risk of tainted water spilling off the site.Other reclamation work includes closing portals, replanting vegetation and removing old buildings.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


San Miguel River watershed: Instream flow right granted in May should keep the river whole from stem to stern

June 10, 2013

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Handy):

One of the last free-flowing rivers in Colorado, the San Miguel will continue to course through the western slope unchecked by mankind, thanks to a May 20 Colorado Water Court ruling granting it protected status. Granted “in-stream flow protection,” the San Miguel will continue to be a natural habitat for three fish species, as well as fuel the down-stream rafting economy, said John Fielder, a landscape photographer and champion of natural resources preservation. “Like the Yampa (River), the San Miguel is one of the last undammed major rivers in the state,” Fielder said.

The in-stream water rights guarantee that no one can take water out of the river, said Rob Harris, a lawyer for Western Resources Advocates, a resources conservation non-profit. Instead, the San Miguel’s water will be preserved for three native fish: the Roundtail Chub, the Flannel Mouth Sucker, and the Bluehead Sucker, Harris said…

To preserve the fish natural habitat, the Colorado Water Conservation Board applied for in-stream flow protection for the San Miguel in 2011, at the urging of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. The in-stream protection protects a 17-mile segment of the river, which runs west of Montrose near Naturita.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


Western Resource Advocates: Historic Protection Approved for San Miguel River

May 25, 2013

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

A major portion of the San Miguel River will be permanently protected under a precedent-setting water right after a Colorado Water Court ruling this week. In a ruling signed on May 20, the Water Court for Division 4 ruled in favor of an application for “in-stream flow” (ISF) protection that permanently safeguards a large section of the San Miguel River west of Montrose, Colo. The protection was sought by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and Western Resource Advocates and The Wilderness Society intervened in support of the Board’s application.

“The San Miguel River is one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in Colorado, and this water right will help ensure that it stays that way for generations to come,” said Rob Harris, Senior Water Attorney with Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and the lead counsel representing WRA and The Wilderness Society. “The Colorado Water Conservation Board recognized early on that this is an incredibly significant protection, and the Board did a great job of working with a diverse community to negotiate an outcome that is truly in the best interests of both the surrounding area and the entire state.”

The Water Court for Division 4 approved the dedication of an in-stream flow protection of up to 325 cfs (cubic feet per second), which amounts to one of the largest river protections in the history of the state—exceeded only by similar protections afforded the much-larger Colorado River (A typical ISF protection accounts for less than 10 cfs). The San Miguel ISF recognizes the importance of keeping water ‘in the stream’ to benefit the natural environment. Healthy rivers also benefit recreation, local communities, and the economy.

“We’re pleased to secure permanent protection for this scenic river in Colorado’s Red Rock Canyon country,” said Harris. “This really is a tremendous accomplishment, and we are incredibly proud to have played a part in the process.”

The CWCB and the Colorado Attorney General’s office amicably concluded negotiations that satisfied nearly every interested party to the case, including the Board of County Commissioners of Montrose County and Tri- State Generation and Transmission Association. Barring an appeal of the Water Court ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, the May 20th decision concludes a process that began with an ISF application on Oct. 31, 2011.

The location of the San Miguel River protection is west of Montrose, near the town of Nucla.

More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.


Telluride’s water system upgrades $500,000 over budget this year

April 29, 2013

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From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Council had originally budgeted $6.5 million for the 2013 portion of the ambitious project, which aims to provide a state-of-the-art water distribution and treatment system to ensure a reliable, high-quality water supply for the Town of Telluride. This number, however, did not incorporate the so-called Falls Crest Diversion outlined in the Comprehensive Settlement Agreement which the town and Idarado entered into late last year. The agreement brought a 20-year legal battle over water rights between the two entities to an end.

The elaborately engineered Falls Crest Diversion brings one source of water from Bridal Veil Basin via pipeline across the cliff face directly below Bridal Veil Power Station to tie into the tailrace (where another source of water comes out of the turbine). The water then flows into a collection system vertically down toward Black Bear Road, eventually reaching the Pandora Water Treatment Plant currently under construction. The CSA calls for Idarado to contribute about a quarter of the cost for the Falls Creek Diversion – roughly $125,000 – with the Town of Telluride picking up the rest of the tab.

Also not included in original cost projections for 2013 were the “zero-discharge” processes that are an essential part of this project as it has been negotiated in the CSA. Initially, Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud explained, the design for the water treatment plant included a discharge component that would release some untreated water into Marshall Creek. The CSA’s zero-discharge requirement scuttled that plan. “There won’t be anything coming out of the plant except clean water,” Ruud explained. “This did add considerably to the expense of the plant.”

Beyond the cost overruns for construction in the current year, council also discussed the fact that the overall construction cost for the project (including the small hydro component) is estimated to come in at around $15 million – significantly more than the $10 million bond approved by Telluride voters to pay for the project in 2005. This money, mobilized in 2010, has gone toward improvement of complicated diversion and conveyance infrastructure over the past two years that is intended to get the water from Bridal Veil Basin to the site of the new Pandora water treatment plant. Last fall, the Telluride Town Council approved an additional $2 million transfer of Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) funds from the Capital Improvement Fund to the Water Fund to cover additional costs for the project through 2013…

Despite of the Pandora Water System Project’s hefty and ever-mounting price tag, council generally agreed in the end that it was a price worth paying. “I am thankful that past council members made the decision to get us started,” said Councilor Ann Brady. “Imagine if we were just starting this project, with the climate change we are facing now. Thank goodness the people before us took the step (of securing the $10 million bond). Even though it was skimpy, at least it got us started.”

Clifton echoed Brady’s sentiment, adding, “This will bring the town well into the future in terms of our domestic water supply.”

More infrastructure coverage here.


The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill gets state license #ColoradoRiver

April 25, 2013

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radiation Program today announced Energy Fuels Resources Corp. has met all the regulatory requirements for a radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in western Montrose County, Colo. State law requires the department to approve applications when such requirements are met.

The license was required before Energy Fuels could construct its planned 500-tons-per day uranium/vanadium mill approximately 12 miles west of Naturita, Colo., in the Paradox Valley.

The mill will process uranium ore from mines in the region to produce uranium oxide, which requires additional processing outside Colorado to become fuel for nuclear reactors. The mill also will recover vanadium, a metal used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.

The license imposes a number of conditions on Energy Fuels involving construction of the mill; the receipt, possession, use and transfer of radioactive materials; and procedures to minimize risks to property and public health and safety, and to prevent loss or theft of radioactive material. Notably, the license requires an enhanced groundwater monitoring plan, subject to annual review.

A separate settlement agreement between Telluride and San Miguel County with Energy Fuels sets up additional protections related to the transportation of radioactive materials, blowing dust and water quality monitoring. In addition to the approximately $13 million financial surety established by the state, this agreement increases Energy Fuels’ total surety to an amount not less than $15 million.

Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the department, said, “With the approval of the license, our work is not done. We will continue to work with the community members and officials to keep them informed of progress.”

During construction and operation of the Piñon Ridge facility, the department’s oversight will continue, including regular inspections and an annual review of the financial assurance. The department expects to have at least one staff member whose primary assignment will include monitoring and inspections of the facility.

Ron Henderson, chairman of the Montrose Board of County Commissioners said, “An exhaustive process has been followed and validated with the approval of this license.”
Montrose Commissioner David White said, “This validates the science behind the application, design and potential construction of the mill. It is a state-of-the-art facility and will benefit the citizens of Montrose County, the state of Colorado and the United States for decades to come.”

The license application was submitted by Energy Fuels on Nov. 18, 2009, and has undergone a thorough technical and regulatory review. Prior to its approval of the license, the department and the applicant conducted eight public meetings in 2010 in Nucla, Naturita, Paradox, Montrose, Telluride and Ophir. And in November 2012, the department held a six-day hearing in Nucla to allow cross-examination of witnesses and to solicit additional public comment. All of the information was thoroughly reviewed by the state’s Radiation Program prior to the decision to grant the license.

The administrative record includes comprehensive reports and comments by engineers, scientists, environmental and business groups, government officials from western Colorado counties and towns, and regulators. Anyone interested can view the department’s Decision Analysis and Environmental Impact Analysis, which includes a copy of the license and the department’s responses to public comments.

Dr. Urbina said, “From the beginning, we have listened carefully to the public and worked with Energy Fuels to minimize risks to public health and the environment. Today’s engineering standards – and strict environmental regulations – far exceed those in place when the last such mill was constructed more than 25 years ago. We are confident these standards and regulations will ensure the safe construction and operation of the facility.”

From the Associated Press (Alexandra Tilsley) The Denver Post:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued Toronto-based Energy Fuels a radioactive materials license, clearing the way for the creation of the Pinon Ridge Mill in western Colorado’s Montrose County…

That doesn’t mean construction is imminent. Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the company is waiting for the price of uranium to rise. Currently, Moore said, uranium is priced at about $40 per pound, down from about $72 per pound before the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Plant in 2011. The spot price of uranium was more than $135 a pound when Energy Fuels announced plans for the mill in 2007…

Energy Fuels also plans to open or reopen a number of Colorado mines, Moore said. Those mines are all small—perhaps a few hundred acres in size—and are mostly in areas that have been mined previously. “These are historic mines, historic mining districts. These are not pristine wilderness districts,” Moore said…

Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of CDPHE, said importing radioactive waste is not allowed under the license. He notes that waste produced by the mill will be stored in underground cells designed to last at least 200 years. The license carries a number of other environmental safeguards, including requirements that Energy Fuels monitor groundwater for contamination and install fences and wires to keep wildlife away from areas that might have radiation…

Montrose County Commission David White said that most area residents seem assured that the plan is environmentally sound and are excited about the economic possibilities. Once constructed, the mill is expected to create at least 85 jobs, with up to 400 jobs generated by opening additional mines and increasing economic activity, according to Moore.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.


Remediation work has been unsuccessful at Silver Bell Mine tailings site

April 9, 2013

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From The Watch (Gus Jarvis):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More water pollution coverage here.


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

April 9, 2013

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read a full fisheries management report about Miramonte Reservoir, see: http://wildlife.state.co.us/SiteCollectionDocuments/DOW/Fishing/FisheryWaterSummaries/Summaries/Southwest/MiramonteReservoir.pdf.

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


San Juans: Just two dust on snow events so far this winter #codrought

March 11, 2013

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

One of the leading local climate research entities in the state is the Silverton Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, which has been conducting research on local precipitation and snowpack for more than a decade. Over the years, the center has accumulated reams of data about the snowpack, and on Friday a researcher presented some of the center’s findings at the monthly EcoAction Roundtable at the Wilkinson Public Library to a crowd of more than 15 people…

Though a lot of climate change research is focused on increasing temperatures, there are many side effects of warmer temperatures that could have a profound impact locally. One of those is dust on snow, which the center has been studying for years. Since 2004, the center has been gathering data on the amount of sunlight radiation reflected from the snowpack at sites in Beck Basin. When the snow is clean it reflects more heat and melts slower, but when covered in dust it melts faster. [Researcher Kim Buck] said almost all of the dust on snow in Colorado comes off of the Colorado Plateau. She said once the dust blows in and gets on the snow, it can speed up the melt dramatically — by an entire month in the spring…

Locally, there have been two dust blow-ins this winter, but they were mild compared with dust storms of the past few years, notably 2009, Buck said…

The center’s and NOAA’s snowpack data shows that this year’s snowpack is lower than last year at this time. According to NOAA information, the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basin is around 85 percent of normal. Last year it was slightly higher. Buck said it could be bad news this summer.

“It is extremely unlikely that we’re going to catch up on precipitation,” Buck said “Last year the state was just coming off of that great big water year, so reservoirs were full. This year reservoirs are low and then we’re getting another low snow year back to back. So I think the cities in the Front Range will have a pretty hard time in the summer.”


San Miguel River: Montrose County stipulates out of CWCB in-stream flow case

March 6, 2013

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County has given up its objection to a state filing for in-stream flow rights on the San Miguel River in exchange for the Uravan Trust’s water rights when those become available. County commissioners on Thursday approved a stipulated agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board concerning the board’s application for in-stream flow rights.

After a separate and heavily contested 2010 filing, the county obtained water rights on the San Miguel last summer and must meet several benchmarks, including constructing at least one reservoir to capture the water.

More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.


Placer mining clubs: ‘We need to work closer with the clubs and a lot of individuals who go out’ — Barbara Sharrow

February 5, 2013

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

Placer mining on the San Miguel River has recently come under the scrutiny of the Colorado Bureau of Land Management, but not for the methods described above [panning, metal detectors]. What the BLM says it’s worried about are suction dredges, which suck up sediment — and gold — from the river bottom, sometimes creating large holes in the process. The operation consists of a gas-powered dredge pump, hoses and a metal sluice box that filters sediment through screens. Sometimes a prospector will don a wetsuit and regulator and get into the water to help guide the hose.

BLM Uncompaghre Field Office Manager Barbara Sharrow says last fall her agency discovered several places where placer miners had been digging and dredging into the riverbanks, causing erosion and in some cases resulting in four-by-five-foot pits. If the holes aren’t filled in, the spring runoff causes the river to widen, Sharrow said. Some holes have been dug underneath trees, making it almost certain they will be washed away. The most popular places for placer mining on the San Miguel — and where the most damage is taking place — are near the Piñon River bridge, the Norwood bridge and around the town of Naturita.

“We are getting into some resource damage there,” Sharrow said. “We need to work closer with the clubs and a lot of individuals who go out. We need to come up with some options.”

To that end, the BLM is currently researching the issue and is planning on meeting with regional placer mining clubs this winter. Grand Junction and Olathe also have clubs. The meetings will also address claims and Sharrow encourages aspiring miners to get maps from the BLM office in Montrose.

[Toby Walker] said members of his club are good stewards of the river, and if they dig holes, they fill them in. The club also helps keep the waterways healthy by walking the banks and picking up trash during every outing, he said. “It just gives us all a bad name,” he said. “The people in our club are great. If they dig any holes, they fill them in. There’s always a bad seed that comes in.”

He said it would be a great idea for the BLM to come and present alongside the geologists, historians and other guest speakers at the group’s monthly meetings. “It would be great if they would come talk to us about the regulations and what they mean,” Walker said.

Sharrow is not against placer mining. But with gold prices high — an ounce is worth nearly $1,700 — the hobby is sure to continue to attract amateur prospectors. She said the activity has gotten more popular since the economy tanked. “It’s kind of a cool activity I think,” Sharrow said. “We need to work with the folks so we are not damaging the resources and we come to a good place there. That’s my goal.”

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Norwood and the Lone Cone Ditch Company settle with Telluride over San Miguel water rights application

December 27, 2012

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From The Norwood Post (Patrick Alan Coleman/Katie Klingsporn):

The Town of Norwood along with the Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company reached a settlement with the Town of Telluride over Telluride’s opposition to applications for water rights on the San Miguel river. Norwood’s application, which came as a response to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) filing for increased in-stream flow to protect fish habitat, was meant to ensure water for 50 years of future growth along the 85 miles of line in the Norwood Water Commission (NWC) district.

The settlement reduces the proposed 16,300 acre-feet of water in five reservoirs proposed in the original cases filed. That amount was based in part on water commission studies suggesting how much water would be adequate for two percent growth in the NWC district up to the year 2060.

Under the proposed settlement, the Norwood Water Commission will withdraw claims for two of the five reservoirs — the Upper Gurley and Huff Gulch reservoirs — as well as the J&M Hughes Ditch enlargement. The NWC will also accept an overall storage capacity limitation of 2,250 acre-feet and a use limitation of 1,000 acre-feet annually. NWC must also select, within 12 years, one of the alternate reservoirs or a combination of them to develop, with a cumulative storage capacity of no more than 2,240 acre-feet, and abandon storage rights for the reservoirs not selected. In addition, the NWC will have to abandon reservoirs for which construction has not begun within 24 years, and forfeit water for which actual uses do not develop by 2060.

The Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company, meanwhile, will limit its use of water stored in the Lone Cone Reservoir enlargement to 1,750 acre-feet, and not sell its stored water allocation to NWC…

According to Norwood Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer, much of the reason for settling with Telluride was due to the expenses that would have likely been incurred by fighting the municipality in water court…

The water fight began shortly after the CWCB announced that it would be filing for increased in-stream flows in 2010. The announcement had counties and towns along the San Miguel river scrambling to file additional rites on streams, tributaries, and storage along the river in order to ensure that their rights would not be junior to those of the CWCB.

Initially affected parties joined together with the Southwestern Water Conservation District who had completed a study detailing how much water would be needed by the communities in the watershed as they grew into the future.

At that time the Town of Norwood was meeting and working in tandem with a coalition that included Nucla, Naturita, their Montrose county representatives and representatives from San Miguel county. The initial plan was for the parties to file for water in conjunction.

In September of 2010, both Montrose county and San Miguel county pulled out of the endeavor due to legal questions and vagaries of the proposed group filing. While Montrose county continued to support its municipalities by pursuing rights for future water, the dissolution of the initial partnership left the town of Norwood on its own with just one month to file before the CWCB.

More San Miguel River coverage here and here.


The Telluride Town Council approves Bridal Veil settlement between the town and Idarado

December 16, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

The agreement shores up Telluride’s ability to develop a new municipal water supply high above town in Bridal Veil Basin, and streamlines its path toward constructing the new Pandora Water Treatment Plant at the foot of Black Bear Pass.

Idarado, meanwhile, gets assurances that enough water from Bridal Veil Basin will continue to flow into the San Miguel River during low-flow winter months to dilute the zinc discharged by the historic Treasury Tunnel, thus enabling the mining company to adhere to strict state-imposed environmental obligations.

Council also unanimously passed on second reading a related ordinance authorizing the conveyance of certain remedial and residual water rights back to Idarado.

Witnessing the occasion were Larry Fisk, the vice president of Idarado Mining Company, and Jay Montgomery, a Boulder-based water rights attorney who for two decades has captained the town’s complicated legal skirmishes with Idarado.

Telluride obtained extensive water rights in Bridal Veil Basin from the Idarado Mining Co. in the 1992 settlement of a lawsuit arising out of the contamination of wells in Town Park. Over the course of years of legal wrangling, the town won the approval to convert those historic industrial water rights to municipal use.

More San Miguel Watershed coverage here and here.


Crystal River: Momentum building for Wild and Scenic designation

December 3, 2012

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Here’s an analysis of efforts to protect the Crystal River under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for The Aspen Daily News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Thirty-nine miles of the Crystal River are already “eligible” for designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Now four organizations are building local support to determine if much of the river is also “suitable” for protection under the act.

Passed in 1968, the act allows local and regional communities to develop a federally backed management plan designed to preserve and protect a free-flowing river such as the Crystal River, which runs from the back of the Maroon Bells to the lower Roaring Fork River through Crystal, Marble, Redstone and Carbondale.

Wild and Scenic status, which ultimately requires an act of Congress to obtain, prevents a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on a Wild and Scenic-designated river.

And that’s one big reason why Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and American Rivers are exploring Wild and Scenic status for the Crystal — because it would likely block a potential dam and reservoir from being built at Placita, an old coal town between Marble and Redstone.

The West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District are fighting to retain conditional water rights that could allow for a dam across the Crystal and a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir.

The river district says such a reservoir could put more water in the often parched lower Crystal River in the fall and could also provide hydropower…

Chuck Wanner, a former Fort Collins city council member, said at the meetings that it took 10 years to get sections of the Cache La Poudre River on the Eastern Slope designated under Wild and Scenic.

Today, that’s the only river in the state that carries the designation and no river in the vast Colorado River basin is officially Wild and Scenic.

When asked about that via email, Ely of Pitkin County said he thought Colorado had only one designated river because of the “lack of information as to the benefits and restrictions of the designation, and the time and dedication it takes to get it through Congress.”

Another reason may be that once a river is designated Wild and Scenic, the federal government becomes a stakeholder on the river and has a chance to review potential changes to it, such as any new water rights. Some may feel that Colorado water law is complicated enough already.

And then there is the fact that designation eliminates the possibility of federal funding for future water projects, which can dampen the enthusiasm of most cities, counties and water districts.

Whatever the reasons for scarcity in Colorado, Pitkin County is ready to lead a Wild and Scenic process for the Crystal River.

“I think the Crystal has the potential to be a nice clean straightforward effort because there are no out-of-basin uses yet,” Ely wrote. “If there is interest in going forward, we’re happy to be the laboring oar and do that work.”[...]

While today only the Cache la Poudre River has stretches that are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the BLM is preparing a suitability study on a number of area river stretches.

A final EIS is expected to be released in early 2013 by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office followed by a record of decision in 2014 for the following rivers and river sections:

• Abrams Creek

• Battlement Creek

• Colorado River — State Bridge to Dotsero

• Colorado River — Glenwood Canyon to approximately 1-mile east of No Name Creek

• Deep Creek — From the BLM/Forest Service land boundary to the Deep Creek ditch diversion

• Deep Creek — From the Deep Creek ditch diversion to the BLM/private land boundary

• Eagle River

• Egeria Creek

• Hack Creek

• Mitchell Creek

• No Name Creek

• Rock Creek

• Thompson Creek

• East Middle Fork Parachute Creek Complex

• East Fork Parachute Creek Complex

For more information on regarding Wild and Scenic suitability on these rivers, search for “Colorado River Valley Draft Resource Management Plan,” which will lead you to a BLM website that contains the draft EIS document.

The BLM is also reviewing a number of stretches on major rivers in Colorado, either for eligibility or suitability, including:

• Animas River

• Dolores River

• San Miguel River

• Gunnison River

• Colorado River

• Blue River

In all, according to Deanna Masteron, a public affairs specialist with the BLM in Lakewood, the BLM is currently analyzing more than 100 segments in Colorado through various land-use plans. The Forest Service also has the ability to analyze rivers for Wild and Scenic designation.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here and here.


Idarado and Telluride find their way to a settlement agreement

November 24, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

If council approves the settlement agreement, which it anticipates doing at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11, it will put an end to a decades-long legal battle between the town and Idarado (Idarado’s parent company is the Newmont Mining Corporation) over the town’s water supply, and streamline the path toward constructing the new Pandora Water Treatment Plant, ensuring Telluride a plentiful municipal water supply well into the future…

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger described the process of reaching the settlement agreement as “one of the more intensive engineering and legal efforts the town has ever undertaken…

The agreement addresses ways in which the Bridal Veil Water System can be improved and enhanced so that yield can be increased for the benefit of the Town of Telluride and Idarado.

One of the key issues it resolves is the timing of how the town can operate its projected Pandora Water Treatment Plant to meet the its demands and still be sensitive to environmental concerns Idarado continues to address with the State of Colorado, including keeping zinc levels in the San Miguel River at acceptable levels.

Basically, the town has agreed to take less water (.8 cubic feet per second, or about a half-million gallons per day) from Bridal Veil Basin in the winter months. This amount of water can be supplemented with water from its current municipal water treatment plant at Mill Creek, which has a maximum capacity of 1.5 cfs.

If the town’s demand is still not met, it retains the right to go back to Bridal Veil Basin to satisfy the rest of its demand. In the winter months, peak demand in Telluride currently spikes at about 1.1 cfs so the town would still be drawing 70 to 80 percent of its water out of Bridal Veil Basin…

Idarado, meanwhile, has given the town greater flexibility to draw basically as much water as it needs out of Bridal Veil Basin to meet its summer demand which currently peaks at 1.9 cfs.

One of the benefits Idarado is offering the town in exchange for the timing restrictions is a million dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements to maximize the efficiency of the historic Bridal Veil Water System, some components of which date back to the 1880s. Idarado has also agreed to assume full responsibility for maintenance of upper reaches of the system above the Bridal Veil Powerhouse.

Idarado is also allowing the town to incorporate a hydroelectric element into its new Pandora Water Treatment Project. Previously, the company did not consent to the proposed hydro design. Now, under the terms of the settlement agreement, Idarado has given a thumbs-up to hydro as a permitted use, and has also given authorization to combine its own water with the town’s, to double the amount of water going through the system and generate more electricity at no cost to the town.

The term of the agreement is 20 years, but after year 10, there are mechanisms in the settlement agreement to increase the town’s draw on water if it experiences a spike in demand. These mechanisms are not tied to Idarado’s zinc compliance issues…

The crown jewel of the Bridal Veil Water System is Blue Lake, a pristine mountain lake that is 330 feet deep and holds 6,000 acre feet of water. The water flows into the Bridal Veil Hydroelectric Plant via a network of historic pipelines, diversion and conveyance structures associated with the senior water rights that Idarado and the town now share at a ratio of about 60/40.

Telluride obtained extensive water rights in Bridal Veil Basin from the Idarado Mining Co. in the 1992 settlement of a lawsuit arising out of the contamination of wells in Town Park. Over the course of a decade of legal wrangling, the town won the approval to convert these historic industrial water rights to municipal use. These senior water rights, which include a portion of the tremendous water storage capacity of Blue Lake, enabled Telluride to eventually develop the Pandora Water Treatment System now under construction which is capable of delivering pristine mountain water to its citizenry.

More coverage from Katie Klingsporn writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. Here’s and excerpt:

The water dispute is rooted in a long history of settlements, environmental mandates, water rights and expansion plans.

In the late ‘80s, the state of Colorado brought a lawsuit against Idarado related to environmental issues left from its past mining activities. In a settlement reached in that case, Idarado was required to perform certain environmental remediation activities and keep the water in the San Miguel River to certain standards.

Around the same time, the town noticed pollution in Town Park wells and also asserted claims against Idarado. In 1992, the town and Idarado entered into a settlement agreement. In an effort to put to bed the potential town lawsuit and to seek the town’s approval of the settlement with the state, Idarado offered to provide the town water rights and water structures in Bridal Veil basin as an alternative municipal water supply.

In 2005, the two parties entered into another agreement. This time, Idarado offered to convey a two-acre site near the Pandora Mill to the town, which the town is planning to use for the site of its new water treatment plant. The plant is part of a years-long plan to ensure that the town has a enough water to meet its future needs.

But around 2007, Idarado began expressing concerns about how the town’s proposed water draws for the treatment plant would impact its ability to comply with the state’s water quality standards. The water draw, according to Idarado, could adversely impact its compliance, triggering significant and costly obligations for the company.

That issue has been at the center of the town’s negotiations with Idarado. And after two years of extensive talks, the two parties have chiseled out a settlement…

“It basically sets up a priority system,” [Town Attorney Kevin Geiger] said.

More San Miguel River Watershed coverage here.


Piñon Ridge uranium mill hearing recap

November 10, 2012

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From email from the Sheep Mountain Alliance (Hillary White):

After opening statements by all the parties kicked off the proceedings on Wed., Frank Filas, Environmental Project Manager for Energy Fuels took the stand and remained there through most of today. Mr. Filas’ testimony generally covered the entire length of the application submitted by Energy Fuels and set up the opportunity for SMA’s experts to point several deficiencies during the next few days. Matt Sandler for Rocky Mountain Wild conducted his cross examination today focused on wildlife impacts and NEPA and ESA adherence.

After Mr. Filas the focus turned to air quality impacts. Dr. Craig Little, a health physicist and radio ecologist who did the air dispersion modeling for Energy Fuels took the stand. It was a rather technical discussion and seemed to leave more questions than answers. Main questions surrounded the type of modeling used and if it could adequately address long distance impact determinations.

Next, Nancy Chick who works for the State in the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) was called. As an aside, the APCD has been processing Energy Fuels air quality permit, a necessary part of the license for several years. The department has sent data and modeling back to Energy Fuels several times and analysis is ongoing but somewhat on hold according to the department. Ms. Chick testified to the data she has considered to date…

During the first 2 days there have been many strong comments helping SMA establish that record. We know the residents of the West End deserve good jobs and a healthy economy, but if they want a uranium mill to provide that for them we much know the cost of that mill not only to their communities but to the surrounding ones as well. Without the real costs and analysis of real impacts no one can make an informed decision.

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

Two days before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began a new public hearing process over Energy Fuels, Inc.’s application for a radioactive materials license to build the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, a group of residents who live near the Cotter Uranium Mill/superfund site in Cañon City sent a letter to Judge Richard Dana over concerns about the state’s ability to provide adequate over a new uranium mill.

The letter from the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste group, a nonprofit organization, was sent to Dana on Monday. Dana is presiding over the hearing, which began in Nucla Wednesday evening.

The members of the group, who live near the Superfund site in Cañon City, stated in their letter that their concerns about the new Piñon Ridge mill stem from years of experience in dealing with CDPHE regulators on the Cotter Mill cleanup, which has been managed by the state since the late 1980s.

“Our biggest concern is that our state does not have the staff or the resources devoted to regulating a site like this, and that is where a lot of problems will come from,” the group’s co-chair Sharyn Cunningham said in a telephone interview Monday. “If the mill is built, and once they find contamination – and they will – our concern is whether or not the people living nearby will be protected by the state agencies.

“I do not believe they will be protected.”

More coverage from Heather Sackett writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

About 25 audience members filtered into the wood-paneled room for the last hour of the hearing, which had been set aside for public comment. Placerville resident Dan Chancellor said his father’s home near Grand Junction had been built on a pile of mine tailings. At age 58, his father died of a type of lung cancer associated with radioactive materials, he said.

“Will you fail again to protect me and my family?” Chancellor asked. “There is no guarantee about jobs.”

But Ayngel Overson, a lifelong resident of Nucla, echoed a point of view held by many in the economically depressed West End. She said her grandfather was a uranium miner, and that the mill opening represents jobs in the rural area. She choked up as she described a community in decline and how graduating classes at Nucla High School have dwindled to around a dozen. She addressed her comments to those opposing the mill.

“For five years we have been waiting for jobs,” Overson told the crowd. “We can’t make it anymore … Right now, this is all they’ve got. Uranium doesn’t scare us. It’s something we’ve learned to live with. You are stopping people from surviving.”

But the aim of the four-day hearing, which continues through Monday, is not to argue the merits or dangers of the proposed mill. The purpose of the long-anticipated hearing, held at the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge in Nucla, is for Toronto-based Energy Fuels, Inc. to supplement its application for a radioactive materials license and to give those with party status the opportunity to cross-examine the company’s representatives.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


CDPHE: Hearings for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill on Wednesday

November 5, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

The hearings are set to begin Wednesday morning and could run through Nov. 13. They will be held each day at the Moose Lodge in Nucla from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with public comment set to start at 4 p.m. The hearings are the result of a lawsuit filed against the state agency that issued the licence, and represent another chapter in the divisive issue of uranium development in the region…

Parties will be presenting verbal arguments for and against the mill’s license to Richard Dana, who is the appointed hearing officer on the issue. Dana has been chosen by the state to act as an independent party between the different interests involved with the Piñon Ridge uranium mill project. The hearing format will consist of arguments and cross-examination from lawyers representing different parties of interest, statements from industry specialists and other experts as well as a section for members of the public to make their points…

Following the hearings, Dana will submit his recommendations and findings on whether or not the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment should issue the license. But the CDPHE will make the final decision on the license next spring with a final statement due by April 27.

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


Colorado Water 2012: A look at the basins of Southwestern Colorado

October 31, 2012

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:

Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.

This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.

The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.

Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


Restoration: Cutthroats were recently seen doing backflips from joy in their restored habitat at Woods Lake

October 20, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

Once the population is established at Woods Lake, the habitat will provide the broodstock, which will eventually assist in cutthroat conservation efforts throughout the Dolores and Gunnison river basins. To make sure a healthy population of cutthroats survive at Woods Lake, Kowalski said, biologists will go back to the lake in the summer of 2013 and release several thousand fry, which, along with the spawning adults released in 2012, will make for a healthy and diverse population.

“We’ll do that to give us multiple age classes of fish and to provide good genetic diversity,” Kowalski said. “The biggest thing for us now is getting the population built up, so there’s plenty of fish for anglers to catch. The cutthroat should do great in this habitat. The lake has been fishless for two years and the aquatic invertebrates have exploded, so the lake is full of food for them. Essentially we have taken these fish confined to a tiny little stream and placed them into a wide, open habitat with no competitors.

“They should have excellent growth up there.”

Kowalski said anglers can expect to start catching cutthroat trout in the summer of 2013 from Woods Lake, but it will be a couple of years before there are large numbers of older-age fish to catch. Anglers are encouraged to release all fish they catch for the next couple of years to allow the population to grow. Fishing in the lake and streams above is restricted to artificial flies and lures only.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


All objectors have stipulated out of San Miguel County’s water rights application

October 12, 2012

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From the Montrose County Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

District Judge J. Steven Patrick on Wednesday signed an order approving stipulations between the county, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state and division engineers. Patrick must yet issue a formal decree, which is expected soon.

The county filed in 2010 for water rights on the San Miguel River and said it acted quickly so that its application could come in ahead of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s. Initially, the county wanted up to six reservoir sites and several thousand acre-feet of water. Controversy arose after environmental groups questioned the overall plan as a “water grab” and others raised questions about eminent domain.

More San Miguel River Watershed coverage here and here.


Restoration: CPW reintroduces cutthroats to Woods Lake

September 29, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

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

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

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

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

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

More restoration coverage here and here.


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

August 30, 2012

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


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

August 27, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


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

August 13, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

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

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

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

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

More restoration/reclamation coverage here and here.


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

August 9, 2012

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

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

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

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

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

More infrastructure coverage here.


Illegal Stocking Hits Miramonte Trout Fishery: Rotenone to the rescue

July 30, 2012

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draining and treating a reservoir is also expensive and takes money away from other important aquatic habitat projects. The Miramonte operation will cost more than $100,000, not including staff time. The reservoir will be drawn down to a small pool and the chemical Rotenone will be applied to the remaining water and feeder streams to kill all the fish. Rotenone breaks down quickly in the environment and poses no threat to vegetation or non-aquatic species. Biologists will restock the lake with fish as soon as the pesticide has dissipated.

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

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

More restoration coverage here and here.


Telluride water system update: Raw water pipeline construction has started

July 15, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

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

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

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

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

More infrastructure coverage here.


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

July 7, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch:

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

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

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

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

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


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

July 6, 2012

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From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

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

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

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

More water pollution coverage here.


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

July 1, 2012

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From the Montrose Dail Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


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

June 29, 2012

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From the Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

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

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

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

From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.


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

May 28, 2012

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From The Norwood Post (Ellen Metrick):

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

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

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


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

April 29, 2012

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From the Montrose Daiy Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


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

April 22, 2012

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More nuclear coverage here and here.


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

April 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a photo gallery from HangingFlume.org.

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More coverage from The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

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

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

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

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.


Southwest Basin Roundtable non-consumptive needs workshop April 11

April 4, 2012

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From email from the Colorado Watershed Assembly:

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

The full Roundtable meeting is at 3pm.

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

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


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

March 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

March 27, 2012

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

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

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

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

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

More nuclear coverage here and here.


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

February 7, 2012

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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

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

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

More nuclear coverage here and here.


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

January 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


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

December 25, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


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