“Western Views” — news from Western Resource Advocates is hot off the presses

June 29, 2014
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

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

Earlier this month, Bart Miller, Water Program Director, joined a group of more than 20 national and local conservationists, water policy stakeholders, and other river advocates on a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).

Some YRAP participants did a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon to see the river and landscape from the air. Then the entire group spent the next four days floating down the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park (west of the town of Maybell) to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.

The trip was fun and informative. Rafts and kayaks crashed through waves at a whopping 20,000 cubic feet per second while the group learned about the Canyon’s geology, history, recreation, and habitat value for endangered fish. Discussions took place on potential threats to the river and how best to preserve the flows and integrity of the river’s bio-diversity and many other values. Each participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve the Yampa and his/her personal role in that effort.

Bart’s take-homes included the benefits of: better aligning recreational and agricultural interests at the local level; creating an update to the management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on the Yampa River’s unique and irreplaceable bio-diversity.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.


Hydropower used to replace flood irrigation and to lessen ag runoff and salinity

June 25, 2014

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine


From ColoradoBiz Magazine (Allen Best):

And now come new efforts across Colorado to further yoke the power of falling water. One such example is near Yampa, a town between Vail and Steamboat Springs. The site is just a few miles from where the Bear River takes a sharp turn and becomes the Yampa River. On his ranch, Gary Clyncke decided three years ago to use the 126-foot drop in elevation of his irrigation water to power a new center-pivot irrigation system.

Clyncke’s hydro-mechanical center-pivot doesn’t produce electricity. It does, however, preclude the need for stringing up power lines to operate the center-pivot sprinklers. The sprinkling system, in turn, saves water — which is worth money. The 90 acres were previously irrigated with flood irrigation from ditches spread across the field of timothy, brome and clover several inches thick. Center-pivot irrigation requires just one-sixth the water.

That savings motivated Clyncke to invest in center-pivot. This hydro-mechanical system cost $13,000, of which $6,000 came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency. That left Clyncke a cost of $7,000. Payback on that investment is achieved in three years.

Federal aid is motivation, at least in part, because of concerns about salinity. When large volumes of water are applied to fields in flood irrigation, the water picks up salts that are then returned to creeks and then rivers. It’s a major problem on the Western Slope, where water can be used two times for flood irrigation before it enters Utah. Downstream in California’s Imperial Valley, an important source of food for the nation, some fields have become so salty they have been abandoned.

One of the most saline areas is in the Uncompahgre Valley, where Delta, Montrose and Paonia are located. An ancient sea left salts and the element of selenium in unusually large quantities in the Mancos shale. Both are harmful to endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River. “Anything that you can do that helps with salinity also helps with selenium, and vice versa,” says “Dev” Carey, manager of the Delta Conservation District.

Saving money is a strong argument by itself. Farmers spend an average of $33,000 each year on electricity, more than half of that to power irrigation pumps, according to the Colorado Energy Office. Using hydropower to operate these pumps doesn’t work everywhere. Farms near Sterling, for example, tend toward flatness. Still, the state agency estimates Colorado has untapped capacity in pressurized irrigation systems to deliver 30 megawatts in direct production of electricity or avoided electricity. To put that into context, it’s enough electricity for 12,125 homes, says Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association.

More potential exists in irrigation ditches. Not just any irrigation ditch will do. It must have flows of more than 100 cubic feet per second, a relatively large volume. And there must be drops of at least 150 feet. When falls of that steepness occur, various devices are used to contain the force.

One such canal is located east of Montrose, where water from the Gunnison River is diverted through a tunnel that emerges near U.S. Highway 50. From there, the water flows through South Canal toward the head of the Uncompahgre Valley. In 2012, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association completed a project that had been talked about for more than 100 years. The two powerhouses generate electricity equal to what is needed for 3,000 homes.

In nearby Delta County, the state has identified nine sites on irrigation ditches where it would be economical to install small hydro systems, collectively producing 0.8 megawatts. That’s given current prices of electricity. Should electricity prices go up, as they have steadily, more potential would exist near Delta and many other locations.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Conservationists raft trip part of the Yampa Awareness Project

June 22, 2014
Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Eugene Buchanan):

For the fourth time, local nonprofit Friends of the Yampa (FOY) hosted a group of more than 20 national conservationists, water policy stakeholders and other river advocates for a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of its Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).

After taking a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon the day before to see the waterway from the air, attendees packed dry bags and river gear to float the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park west of Maybell to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.

Included on the trip were representatives from such conservation organizations as American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates, scientists from the Nature Conservancy and stakeholders from Conservation Colorado, The Wilderness Society, Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, the Yampa River System Legacy Project and the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Local participants included former Routt County commissioner Ben Beall and former City Council president Ken Brenner.

Hosted by river outfitter O.A.R.S, the think-tank trip included campfire panel discussions on everything from preserving the Yampa’s flows and integrity of its bio-diversity to the river’s PBO (Programmatic Biological Opinion), flow management plans and much more. Pow-wow sessions were held each morning and evening at camp, as well as at key ecological sites along the river.

“One of Friends of the Yampa’s goals is to protect the free-flowing nature of the Yampa,” said FOY Board President Soren Jespersen. “You can’t protect something if you don’t have engaged constituents. This year our focus was bringing people who work in river advocacy and water policy programs. There’s an increasing threat that Front Range water interests are looking to the Yampa to solve their perceived water gaps.”

Included on the trip was 14-year Dinosaur National Monument botanist Tamara Naumann, who estimates she’s been down the river nearly 100 times. For her, the biggest threat isn’t protecting the river’s flows or trans-basin diversions, but “people not caring.”

“We need to figure out how to manage it into the next half-century,” she said. “There are many obligations that need to be met, and Colorado has an obligation to send water downstream. But while people’s objectives can be different, the end result can benefit everyone.”

Two other participants, former Adrift Adventures owner Pat Tierney and renowned photographer John Fielder, attended as part of their plans to produce a coffee table book entitled “The Yampa River: Wild and Free Flowing,” to be released in 2015. As part of their efforts before the trip through Dinosaur, they floated and photographed the river from Steamboat to Maybell.

“It’s a great story, and we’re excited to tell it,” said Tierney, adding that this year marked his 37th straight year running the canyon. “It will have great photographs and bring many of the river’s issues to light.”[...]

“We need to build more relationships with farmers and ranchers in the region and show them that our interests are aligned,” said Kate Greenberg of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. “We’re not going to solve the problem in a week, but this is a great start.”

Take-homes included the need to get recreational and agricultural interests better aligned at both the local and Water Basin Roundtable level; creating an informal management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on its unique bio-diversity.

“The science aspect of the endangered species that thrive in a free-flowing river environment is important,” said FOY board member and recreational representative for the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable Kent Vertrees, touting such endangered fish in the river as the Colorado pikeminnow. “You need it to back up water policy.”

In the end, after crashing through the dinosaur-sized waves of Split Mountain Canyon at a whopping 20,000 cfs, every participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve such a treasure. And many participants stayed on — and were joined by nearly 50 other out-of-town river advocates — to attend the ensuing three-day seminar in Steamboat and tour the upper Yampa Basin as part of a program put together by Nicole Seltzer of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.


Runoff/snowpack news: “…the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s [inflows are] going to be right about average” — Eric Kuhn #ColoradoRiver

June 13, 2014

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Steamboat Springs — Residents of the Yampa Valley, where the meadows are lush and snow still lingers on the peaks, easily could conclude that this is a year of water abundance. But in terms of the water produced by the entire Colorado River Basin, the summer of 2014 won’t be outstanding.

Eric Kuhn, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told an audience of about 50 state legislators, water managers and educators at the Sheraton Steamboat Thursday the abundance of snowmelt in the upper Colorado, Yampa and Green rivers early this summer isn’t indicative of the entire Colorado Basin.

“We have wet years, we have dry years but the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s going to be right about average,” Kuhn said…

“Currently, Lake Mead (below the Grand Canyon) and Lake Powell (just above the Grand Canyon) are 42 percent full,” Kuhn said. “Does that make us nervous? Yeah that makes us very nervous.”[...]

Water storage in Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River just upstream from its Colorado stretch is expected to be 140 percent of average, and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is expected to be 126 percent of average, Kuhn told his audience. But 25-mile-long Navajo Reservoir, straddling the Colorado and New Mexico state line and capturing flows from the San Juan River, will be just about 67 percent of average. It’s the southernmost reaches of the upper basin that are below par.

Kuhn and his audience had gathered in Steamboat Springs Thursday to begin a tour of the Yampa River Basin sponsored by the nonprofit Colorado Foundation for Water Education. CFWE program manager Kristin Maharg told the gathering that the purpose of the tour is to explore the compatibility of consumptive water uses (agriculture and power plants) and non-consumptive uses (recreation and habitat conservation) along the length of the Yampa in Routt and Moffat counties.

“The Yampa is no longer a valley too far, and we want to look at some of the demands this basin is facing,” Maharg said. “This is a very cooperative basin in terms of resource management and conservation.”

Thursday’s audience included more than a half dozen state legislators, members of their technical support staff, including an economist and an attorney who work on water bills, a Pitkin County commissioner and an Eagle County water district official, as well as college educators from Colorado State University, the University of Colorado Denver and Colorado Mesa University.

If there is some good news for the Colorado Basin and the people who depend on Lake Powell this summer, it’s that the abundance in the Green River basin will give the reservoir a boost this summer. Flaming Gorge Reservoir, about 30 miles upstream from the point where the Green makes a dog leg into Colorado on the way to its confluence with the Yampa, is currently releasing large amounts of water. That’s being done to mimic the spring floods that occurred before the dam was built in order to support the ecosystem that evolved around those floods. When the river is restored to its baseline sumer flow, it will be at double the flows seen in the last few years, or about 1,600 cubic feet per second. The net result of those additional flows should boost Lake Powell to 50 percent full by the end of July, Kuhn confirmed.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver predicted Monday that the total volume of flows in the Yampa in Steamboat Springs in June and July will be 118 percent of average, and maybe more if precipitation is abundant. And flows in the Elk, one of the Yampa’s biggest tributaries, could be at 145 percent of average during the heart of the summer.

The streamflow projections issued by the NRCS shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning the flows in the Yampa consistently will be at 118 percent of average, Mage Hultstrand cautioned. She is the assistant snow survey supervisor with the NRCS in Denver. Hultstrand explained that the streamflow projection anticipates the total volume of water that will flow under the Fifth Street Bridge from June through July.

“It’s based on current (snowpack) conditions and weather patterns in the area the past few months,” Hultstrand said.

The weather in terms of temperature and precipitation will have much to say about streamflow from week to week.

The Yampa at Steamboat peaked for the season May 30 at 4,850 cubic feet per second, Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, said Wednesday. The Elk peaked at 6,300 cfs also on May 30. The Yampa came close to going higher June 2, but fell just short, Alcorn said. Flows in the Yampa were in decline this week, but the snowpack still has a kick in it; the Forecast Center expects the Yampa to rally Thursday and Friday, jumping from Wednesday morning’s flow of 2,300 cfs to perhaps 3,400 cfs by Friday. The median flow for June 11 is 2010 cfs. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s under clear skies Thursday and Friday.

The streamflow projection issued by the NRCS really is intended to inform reservoir managers and help them understand how full their reservoirs will be and how much water they can release.

It’s safe to say the upper Yampa will be carrying more water than average for much of the next seven or eight weeks, but the streamflow forecast doesn’t guarantee there will be above average water in the river for irrigating hay fields or providing thrills for tubers during the last week in July, for example, Hultstrand said.

More Green River Basin coverage here.


Runoff/snowpack news: Wyoming bracing for flooding along the Laramie River

May 28, 2014

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

From the Laramie Boomerang (Chilton Tippin):

The Laramie River reached 6.3 feet Tuesday in Laramie, entering “moderate-flood” stage. With warming temperatures and rain in the forecast, it could reach 6.7 feet by June 1, according to the National Weather Service. The “major-flooding” threshold is 7 feet.

Nearly 200 volunteers checked in at Woods Landing and Big Laramie Valley Volunteer Fire Department stations Tuesday to pile thousands of sandbags near the rising river…

The Snowy and Sierra Madre ranges got between 3 and 4 feet of snow on Mother’s Day, followed by temperatures warming to above 70 degrees and rainstorms over the weekend, Binning said.

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Even in land-locked Colorado, Memorial Day served as a day at the beach for folks across the state.

High water in rivers statewide brought out the adventurous and encouraged others to take a more cautious approach and enjoy the views from dry land as the potential hazards of swift and surging currents began to reveal themselves at the start of what is expected to be a banner year for snowmelt runoff.

“It’s a blessing in that our overall season ends up being really, really good,” said Antony McCoy, head boatman and operations manager for Vail-based Timberline Tours whitewater rafting company. “But during the early season in a year like this, we often have to reroute and run trips differently than normal in the name of safety. Out decisions are always based on safety first and fun second, and we make those decisions day by day.”

With warm temperatures and weekend precipitation boosting flows, Timberline Tours and other established commercial rafting companies were forced to make reroute Memorial Day trips away from the raucous Dowd Chute section of the Eagle River between Minturn and EagleVail. The company institutes a cutoff for commercial trips through the Class IV-plus run when the river broaches 4½ feet on the gauge installed atop Dowd Chute, launching just below the most severe whitewater rapids instead.

“That’s a fun level for expert kayakers, but it gets tricky in a raft,” McCoy said. “And with water this high, most clients don’t really notice the difference. They still love it.”

Ironically, it’s just about the time that many commercial rafting companies begin to take more extreme precautions when many of the most daring decide that conditions are optimal.

A few miles below the Eagle River’s confluence with the Colorado River, the state’s growing cadre of river surfers arrived en masse at the increasingly renowned Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park on Monday. There they were greeted by river flows unseen on the Colorado since the high-water year of 2011, measuring in the neighborhood of 16,000 cubic feet per second below the confluence with the Roaring Fork River.

“I drive up here from Boulder just about every weekend this time of year,” said Ben Smith, a stand-up paddle (SUP) surfer of two years who had never ridden the river at flows above 5,000 cfs before this spring. “This season, I’m going to surf it as much as I can, and every weekend is like a new experience for me. It’s a different wave each time. Better and better.”

Surfers on Monday’s unofficial launch of summer were lined up as many as 10 deep on both sides of the Colorado River at West Glenwood, some with paddles and others with traditional surfboards diving headlong into the raging currents before popping to their feet for rides lasting several minutes. They alternated with — and largely outnumbered — skilled whitewater kayakers performing tricks in the frothy whitewater as spectators on the banks took in the show. One photographer launched a drone above the surfers to capture the action on video.

“This wave is by far my favorite,” Smith added. “A lot of kayak play holes have a big foam pile that’s designed to hold the kayaks in the play spot, whereas this wave is so steep that it’s gravity that’s pulling you down the face of it, which is what an ocean wave does. Plus it’s so clean. You can make these nice big turns on a clean, green wave. It’s the closest thing to ocean surfing I think that you are going to get in Colorado.”

In a state renowned for its paddlesports offerings and participation, it comes as no surprise that Smith and several others have adapted a paddle to the surfing equation. Credit for SUP’s origin goes back to Honolulu, where it was known as “beach boy” surfing by the Hawaiians who used paddles while standing to photograph tourists taking surfing lessons more than 50 years ago. The sport’s recent resurgence on the ocean has rapidly crept inland during the past decade, where it has established a home on and around the beaches of Colorado.

From the Colorado Daily (Sarah Kuta):

The heavy rains and scattered thunderstorms in Boulder County over the weekend gave emergency officials a taste of what may be coming during flash flood season this summer. With the ground still heavily saturated from September’s floods, the rain that fell off and on for multiple days last week pooled in underpasses, streets and drainage areas, and it gave residents of the area burned in the Fourmile Fire of 2010 a short-lived scare. Ultimately, emergency officials said the storms didn’t cause any significant destruction and allowed them to test their plans ahead of what’s sure to be another busy flash flood season in Colorado…

Flash flood season officially began April 1 and ends Sept. 1, though it’s not just local rains and thunderstorms that can cause flooding, Chard said.

Thunderstorms high up in the mountains can cause the snow to melt quickly, prompting spring runoff to accelerate and fill the creeks within the county. Chard added that extra runoff may also occur because the ground is still saturated with water from September’s floods. The water table can stay elevated for a year to 18 months after such a major rain event, Chard said.

All of those factors have led emergency officials to ask residents to be extra vigilant this flash flood season.

“Make sure you’re signed up for emergency warnings, have a plan, have a weather radio,” Chard said. “Pay attention to the skies; pay attention to the forecast.”

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

With 20 inches of water still stacked up in the snow on Rabbit Ears Pass and forecasts of daily high temperatures pushing into the low 80s Wednesday before tapering off to the mid-70s later in the week, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs has a chance to reach the bank-full stage at the Fifth Street Bridge June 4 to 5. But the current outlook does not foresee it exceeding flood stage of 7.5 feet in the next 11 days.

The Yampa was flowing harmlessly over its banks and bypassing its meanders in the vicinity of Rotary Park as of late Sunday afternoon.

The Elk River at its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat is another story. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, updated its projected streamflows for the Elk Tuesday morning and reported that the river shot beyond bank-full over the holiday weekend and could nudge flood stage overnight Wednesday and Thursday before dipping just under flood stage again during the daylight hours. A tentative forecast for the Elk, which is weather dependent, anticipates the river will go higher June 1 to 3 but continue to bounce above and below flood stage during its diurnal cycle, which sees peak flows at night…The Elk was flowing at 4,090 cubic feet per second at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and to put that in perspective, it peaked at 6,860 cfs on June 6, 2011. The Yampa, which was flowing at 3,360 cfs Tuesday afternoon, peaked at 5,200 on June 7, 2011.

The snowpack on Rabbit Ears is 175 percent of the median for the date, and some of that snowmelt will inevitably flow down Walton Creek, which passes through the city’s southern suburbs near Whistler Park before running beneath U.S. Highway 40 and quickly into the Yampa.

Soda Creek is another tributary of the Yampa that can create minor flooding in Old Town Steamboat. #City of Steamboat Springs Public Works Department Streets and Fleet Superintendent Ron Berig said Tuesday the creeks become a problem when the Yampa gets so high it backs up its tributaries.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

With rivers already running high and temperatures expected to rise, the National Weather Service has extended a small-stream flood advisory for Grand County until 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 29. Nowell Curran with Grand County’s Office of Emergency Management said her office gave the go ahead to extend the advisory due to a possible increase of runoff into the already swollen Upper Colorado River and its tributaries…

Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin was over 140 percent of its normal level in April, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey. Officials said earlier this year that they were preparing for a run-off season comparable to 2011, but Curran said that the worst case scenario could now surpass the destructive flooding Grand County saw that year.

From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

Northern Colorado’s water storage is nearing capacity headed into the peak season for farm and residential users due to mountain snow melt and rains. Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake are already full.

“We haven’t been this full for a couple years at the two reservoirs,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“We’re anticipating that we’re going to fill our west slope storage as well. Lake Granby the second largest reservoir in the state, we anticipate, that if we don’t fill it up completely we’re going to get very close,” Werner said…

High mountain snow melt and recent rains caused the Big Thompson River to peak at 11 hundred cubic feet per second over the weekend, well above its usual peak of 900 cubic feet per second. The Cache La Poudre peaked at 4700 cubic feet per second over the Memorial Day weekend, it’s normal peak is 3,000 cubic feet per second…

“What it means is we can’t capture much of that water. And most of the local storage, the reservoirs, that people see when they drive around Northern Colorado are full for the most part, so what’s going to happen unless ditches are opened and are ready to take as much of that water as they can, we’re going to see a lot of that water just pass downstream into Nebraska,” he said.

From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The National Weather Service has placed the Cache La Poudre River near Greeley under a flood warning and numerous roads are closed in the area.

“For the most part, the flooding today is snowmelt in the high country,” Evan Kalina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said Tuesday afternoon.

The river was overflowing its banks, with water rising 8.9 feet from the riverbed at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. It is expected to reach 9 feet by Tuesday evening.

“Once you reach 8 feet, you start to see the water spilling into low-lying areas,” Kalina said.

By 9 a.m. Thursday, water is expected to fall below flood level and the flood warning is expected to be lifted, Kalina said.

Flood advisories — which signal that stream and river levels are higher than normal, but not at flood level — were in effect along the Cache La Poudre, Big Thompson and St. Vrain Rivers in Larimer and Weld counties until 7:15 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Jackson and Grand counties are under flood advisories until 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The area has been hit by thunder and hail storms, and even tornadoes, during the past week or so.

But the chance of rain in the next few days is low, at about 20 percent, Kalina said. Heavier moisture will move in during the weekend, but “at this point it is unlikely that the weather will be as active as it was last week,” Kalina said.

Temperatures are expected to hover in the low to mid-80s for the rest of the week, Kalina said.

From email from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead:

Governor Matt Mead is sending three more Wyoming National Guard teams to Carbon County today. The North Platte River in Saratoga is expected to rise to record levels this week. In total there will be 150 National Guard personnel in Carbon County today. They have been assisting local efforts since this weekend by filling thousands of sandbags.

“This is a tense time for Saratoga and several other communities in Wyoming. I know the local officials, the Wyoming National Guard, the Office of Homeland Security, the Smokebusters and volunteers are working very hard to protect the people and homes. It is a team effort,” Governor Mead said.

There will be 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen, more than 80 volunteers and 24 members of the Smokebusters team, which assists with forest fire fighting and flooding, in Carbon and Albany Counties today. The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security also has personnel across Wyoming working with emergency managers from counties and municipalities.

“This is a comprehensive state response,” said Guy Cameron, Wyoming Office of Homeland Security Director. “Governor Mead has told us to protect Wyoming communities from flooding and we are doing everything possible to make that happen.”

Governor Mead increased the numbers of Guard personnel deployed to Saratoga today due to warmer temperatures and increased rainfall.

“It’s an important mission for us to keep Wyoming residents safe during flood season and to support local prevention efforts,” said Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming’s Adjutant General.

Photos of Guard operations can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wyoguard.


Snowpack/runoff news: Howelsen Hill slide

April 26, 2014

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

From Steamboat Today (John F. Russell):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Aaron Million still has his eye on the prize #ColoradoRiver

March 2, 2014
Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice

Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

From the Green River Star (David Martin):

The Aaron Million water project continues on in the form of a request to the Bureau of the Interior. Million’s request, as published in the Federal Register Feb. 12, calls for a standby contract for the annual reservation of 165,000 care-feet of municipal and industrial water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir for a transbasin diversion project…

Mayor Hank Castillon, who is a member of Communities Protecting the Green, said he isn’t sure what Million’s plans are with this latest move. Citing his previous denials from the Army Corp of Engineers and FERC, Castillon said the amount Million wants to use has dropped from the initial 250,000 acre feet of water his project would require. Castillon said he expects a battle to occur between the eastern and western sides of the continental divide. Castillon is aware Cheyenne and other cities in eastern Wyoming need water, along with locations in northern Colorado. The problem they need to address, according to Castillon, is the fact that the water isn’t available…

The Sweetwater County Commissioners commented on Million’s proposal Tuesday, voicing their opposition to the idea. Commissioner Wally Johnson said the transfer of water to Colorado isn’t in Sweetwater County’s best interest, saying “it doesn’t matter if it’s Mr. Million or Mr. Disney” making the proposal. Commissioner John Kolb also voiced his opposition, saying opposition to the idea is unanimous between Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the commissioners themselves.

“I’d like to see us not wasting our time on crazy, hare-brained schemes,” Kolb said. “(Transbasin water diversion) doesn’t work.”

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


USGS: Characterization of Hydrodynamic and Sediment Conditions in the Lower Yampa River at Deerlodge Park, East Entrance to Dinosaur National Monument, Northwest Colorado, 2011

February 23, 2014
Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Cory A. Williams):

The Yampa River in northwestern Colorado is the largest, relatively unregulated river system in the upper Colorado River Basin. Water from the Yampa River Basin continues to be sought for a number of municipal, industrial, and energy uses. It is anticipated that future water development within the Yampa River Basin above the amount of water development identified under the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Implementation Program and the Programmatic Biological Opinion may require additional analysis in order to understand the effects on habitat and river function. Water development in the Yampa River Basin could alter the streamflow regime and, consequently, could lead to changes in the transport and storage of sediment in the Yampa River at Deerlodge Park. These changes could affect the physical form of the reach and may impact aquatic and riparian habitat in and downstream from Deerlodge Park.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, began a study in 2011 to characterize the current hydrodynamic and sediment-transport conditions for a 2-kilometer reach of the Yampa River in Deerlodge Park. Characterization of channel conditions in the Deerlodge Park reach was completed through topographic surveying, grain-size analysis of streambed sediment, and characterization of streamflow properties. This characterization provides (1) a basis for comparisons of current stream functions (channel geometry, sediment transport, and stream hydraulics) to future conditions and (2) a dataset that can be used to assess channel response to streamflow alteration scenarios indicated from computer modeling of streamflow and sediment-transport conditions.

More USGS coverage here.


‘But the train is going down the track pretty fast here’ — Doug Monger #COWaterPlan

February 15, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

If December 2015 sounds like it’s in the distant future, consider that the first deadline for the combined Yampa, White and Green river basins to produce their initial draft is July. A final draft plan is due by December, allowing another full year before the final plan must be on the governor’s desk. So the work is underway, and the clock is ticking on a plan that will affect future generations of Coloradans.

“The deadlines are a little disconcerting for us,” Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger told an audience of about 100 people Thursday night in Steamboat Springs. “We’ve been in the process for eight years. We’ve plotted out sections of rivers and streams and what characteristics they have. But the train is going down the track pretty fast here.”

When Monger uses the pronoun “we,” he is referring to government leaders and citizens serving on the Yampa, White and Green River Basin Roundtable. He also is a member of the roundtable and recently filled a seat on the board of directors of the Colorado River District.

Steamboat Springs attorney Tom Sharp previously was on that board.

This week’s meeting was one of several more to come seeking public input about the complex challenge of how to provide enough water in an era of declining precipitation and reservoir levels across the semi-arid West even as population projections are on the rise…

Gallagher said it’s not unlikely that basins will identify what he called “low regret water projects” that will boost available water supply in the future as Colorado learns to do more with less water.

It’s also likely that a variety of basins will be covetous of unappropriated water in the Yampa River Basin.

“The real questions is how we would cover a shortfall if we don’t have enough water supply,” even with new water projects and processes in place, Gallagher said.

He observed that in recent years, Colorado’s urban corridor has addressed shortfalls by purchasing water transfers from agricultural rights holders. The resulting reduction in ag land under production is sure to become a topic of discussion between now and December 2015, he said…

And that is the the challenge that faces Colorado together with Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California and parts of New Mexico and Arizona in the next few years.

“We have a burden and the necessity to develop the water,” Monger said. “Not only are we a highly at-risk (basin) because we are probably the least populated, but we’re the last to settle. We’re the last in appropriations. We have very few pre (1922) compact rights versus a lot of the other areas” of Colorado.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Community Agriculture Alliance: The worth of water #COWaterPlan

February 7, 2014

Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey


From Steamboat Today (Brody Farquhar):

…we know the worth of water when it is gone, in short supply, polluted or tied up in a state or federal water court. Otherwise, we don’t give much thought to the water that shows up in our faucets, irrigation ditches, streams and rivers. We often take it for granted.

Yet we have learned through the work of the Colorado Statewide Water Supply Initiative, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the basin roundtables that our current statewide water trajectory is neither desirable nor sustainable. We know that the state must take a hard look at Colorado’s future water needs as a whole and plan for how they will be addressed…

The Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable is hosting four meetings, inviting the residents of Northwest Colorado to participate in the one nearest them. Each meeting is aimed at gathering public input toward the creation of a Colorado Water Plan. Routt County residents are encouraged to attend either one of the following:

• Feb. 13 in Steamboat Springs at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave.

• Feb. 19 in Craig, at the American Legion Hall, 1055 Moffat County Road 7.

Following this series of meetings, public input also will be welcome at the basin roundtable meetings held at the American Legion Hall in Craig on March 12, May 14 and June 18. All meetings begin at 6 p.m.

The goal is to have a comprehensive implementation plan submitted by the Yampa-White-Green Roundtable to Colorado Water Conservation Board by July…

Interested parties are basically anyone who drinks, uses or recreates in water. More specifically, that includes homeowners and small business owners, ranchers and farmers, recreationists, energy workers (miners, drillers and power generators), town and county officials, etc.

As noted by Tom Gray, former chairperson of Yampa-White-Green Roundtable and former Moffat County commissioner, “The influence always goes to those who make the effort to get informed and participate. This (Basin Implementation Plan) process is the chance for everyone in the basin to do just that.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Craig: Water and sewer rates climb in 2014

January 12, 2014
Yampa River east of Maybell March 2008

Yampa River east of Maybell March 2008

From the Craig Daily Press (Erin Fenner):

Craig City Council did its first reading of an ordinance Dec. 10 that would permit the city to raise water rates by about 6 percent and wastewater rates by about 12 percent.

The average water-use fee for residents is approximately $55 per month and $20 for wastewater, Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said.

Charter Communications req­uires the city to perform an annual review of their rates, Ferree said. Red Oak Consulting studied the rates, but the city worked to push the rates up less than what was suggested by the study, he said.

“We’ve been raising rates consistently, especially ever since we put in the water treatment plant,” Mayor Terry Carwile said.

The city has to make sure they’re keeping up with changing regulations and keeping a sufficient reserve for their water and wastewater fund, he said.

The rise in water and wastewater rates is because of new environmental regulations, paying back loans on the new water treatment plant and because of the increasing cost of treatment chemicals, Ferree said.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

Introduction
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

December 2, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum recap

November 12, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

At the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley’s 2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum, [Diane Mitsch Bush] and fellow presenters Kent Vertrees, Kevin McBride and Jay Gallagher talked through the issues and challenges ahead for the state as it races to meet the December 2014 deadline set out by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for a state water plan draft. Vertrees is a member of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, Gallagher represents the Yampa-White River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, McBride is on the board of the 2013 Colorado Water Congress, and Mitsch Bush serves on state house committees that oversee water issues. All four represent the interests of the Yampa River Basin in the complicated confluence of water and policy.

Their presentation Monday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library briefed attendees on geology, hydrology and water law as it applies to the Yampa River and Colorado.

The Yampa River, being largely a wild river with a natural hydrograph, is an anomaly among Colorado rivers, and as multiple members of the panel pointed out, that gives the basin a chance to buck the constraints of other basins across the state.

The amount of water in the Yampa River Basin is large compared to other basins, McBride said…

There’s pieces of Colorado water law that would push the Yampa toward developing the same constraints faced in the South Platte River Basin, McBride said, but there’s also opportunity to do something different.

There are many constraints on the future water plan outlined in the presentation, such as highly variable annual flows, climate change, existing water laws and interstate and international agreements, local control and balancing the impact on existing uses and future growth.

There are interests on the Front Range that would look to the Yampa as a reservoir for their needs, Mitsch Bush said, and if consensus can’t be reached with them, the Western Slope will have to stand by its interests…

“Here in Northwest Colorado, we can have that wild river in some ways,” Vertrees said about the best case scenario from the state water plan. “We can have smart storage. We can continue to provide for agriculture needs.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Yampa River: Habitat improvement projects near completion, streamflow in the 10th percentile

November 9, 2013
Yampa River habitat improvement via Steamboat Today

Yampa River habitat improvement via Steamboat Today

From Steamboat Today (Joel Reichenberger):

The Yampa Valley Stream Improvement charitable trust has been working to improve waterways in the region for more than 30 years, and its work can be seen in clean, smooth-flowing streams all across the area. It tackled its biggest project in 2006, when it set to work on the Yampa River southeast of Steamboat Springs in the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area.

Now, after it divvied that task into three phases, the final elements are just a week away from completion. An area of the river that once was a shallow, eroded mess strewn with trash will be one of the premier rainbow trout fisheries in the state. What previously was a stretch of river Steamboat anglers were more likely to avoid will become a fishermen’s paradise…

The project cost about $1 million, and getting to this point has been a monumental task. The funds were raised from private donors, benefit events and through grants from government programs and other organizations.

The first stage, in 2006, involved dragging 88 cars from the river’s banks and cost $100,000…

The trust partnered with the city of Steamboat Springs for the second stage, a $300,000 project upstream of Chuck Lewis. It reconditioned the river, cleaned up a dump, stabilized the banks and moved the river 50 yards back to its channel.

The third stage, which is underway, has heavy equipment digging in the river to create structures for fish habitat, channeling and deepening the river and creating pools. Even the placement of rocks and other breaks in the water were studied to help cut back on the pike population and make a world-class sanctuary for growing trout.

Now the section of river will be used as a rearing ground for a strain of rainbow trout resistant to whirling disease…

Meanwhile streamflow in the Yampa River has dropped below the 10th percentile recently. Here’s a report from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. Here’s an excerpt:

The river was flowing at 64 cubic feet per second Tuesday beneath the Fifth Street Bridge. That compares to the median flow for this date of 117 cfs and the all-time recorded low of 43 cfs on Oct. 9, 1935…

The Yampa and the Elk rivers are among more than 20 rivers throughout Colorado currently flowing in the 10 percent range of their historical averages, according to the U.S. Geological Survey…

The Yampa was flowing on par Oct. 4 at 70 cfs, but the historic graph indicates Oct. 5 is the date when the river flow should begin to pick up to levels above 100 cfs.

Jay Gallagher, of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, said Tuesday that he didn’t have data at his fingertips to confirm the flows in Granite Creek and the Middle Fork of Fish Creek, which feed Fish Creek Reservoir and historically have risen at this time of year. The reservoir, Steamboat’s primary source of domestic water, is about 54 percent full and will drop into the 40 percent range during winter. The dam is releasing about 7 cfs into Fish Creek, and that will continue for about another week before it is dropped to 4 cfs, he said.

The Elk River was flowing at 68 cfs Tuesday at its confluence with the Yampa west of Steamboat. The Yampa was flowing at 36 cfs above Stagecoach Reservoir. Further downstream, above Lake Catamount, the river was flowing at 29 cfs.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


School of Mines 33rd Oil Shale Symposium recap

October 21, 2013
Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming -- via the BLM

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

It could require less than half a barrel of water to buoy up a barrel of oil from the high desert of the west, Shell Oil Co. said. One barrel of oil could be produced from oil shale for as little as a third of a barrel of water, Tom Fowler, commercial lead for the Shell project, said at the 33rd Oil Shale symposium at Colorado School of Mines.

Water use has long been a point of contention in the running battle over the development of oil shale.

Shell’s announcement comes on the heels of its decision to shift assets away from oil shale in northwest Colorado to other assets, among them a $12.5 billion shale-to-gas plant in Louisiana.

“We were laser-focused on water,” and the techniques refined in Colorado “translate very well to other places, I’m specifically thinking of Jordan, where they also are very concerned about their water, Fowler said.

Shell’s new estimates are based on a project producing 50,000 barrels of oil per day.

One major factor in Shell’s reduction in anticipated water use was to switch from water cooling to air cooling, especially in the power-generation part of the process. Power is needed to heat the rock to about 700 degrees Fahrenheit to free kerogen from the rock. Vaporized kerogen condenses into crude oil that can be recovered.

Shell also reduced its estimates of water use by targeting the deepest, though not richest, layers of oil shale, Fowler said. By recovering oil from the deepest layers, which lie beneath groundwater, the company eliminated any need to steam-strip the area from which it removed kerogen. That, combined with other efforts to reduce and better manage water, could reduce the ratio of water to oil to 0.3 barrels of water to 1 barrel of oil. It also would leave the richest layers of shale still available for development with more refined techniques in the future, Fowler said. Shell’s estimates include domestic water and usage for reclamation and other purposes.

The most kerogen-rich oil shale in the world sits in northwest Colorado, under thousands of feet of overburden and Shell’s departure leaves one company pursuing development of shale in place, with little surface disturbance.

Two companies, Enefit American Oil and Red leaf Resources, are mining more shallow resources in Utah and heating them to recover oil.

Shell’s estimates don’t apply to those techniques, but Enefit American Oil says its methods will require between one and three barrels of water per barrel of oil, with the likely outcome closer to the lower end.

Opponents of oil shale development frequently cite a Government Accountability Office report, widely panned by industry officials, citing water needs at seven barrels per barrel of oil produced.

More oil shale coverage here via Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

While oil shale development in the United States suffered a blow when Shell Oil announced it was pulling out of its much-touted Mahogany project, other nations are encouraging industry development. Genie Energy, which is still moving ahead on its project in northwest Colorado, has a new project in Mongolia. Irati Energy, based in Canada, is moving ahead on a pilot oil shale project in Brazil. Enefit American Oil, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia, the world’s largest oil shale company, also has a concession, or lease, in Jordan, to produce electricity and oil from shale deposits there.

And while Shell pulled out of Colorado, it didn’t pull out of oil shale. The international energy giant still is working on an oil shale project in Jordan, despite abandoning its plans to produce oil from shale in the Colorado portion of the Green River formation.

China, Morocco and other countries are seeing development of their oil shale deposits, as well.

Northwest Colorado, the focal point of the richest, thickest deposits of oil shale in the world, however, is seeing no new interest in its deposit even as Enefit American Oil is working to produce oil from shale in neighboring Utah.

David Argyle organized Irati Energy to begin work on the Brazil project and he’s on the lookout for new resources. He’s not looking immediately at the U.S., however.

“We don’t have the time or patience” to work through the regulatory issues facing oil shale development in the United States, Argyle said, noting that he doesn’t reject development in the United States out of hand.

The industry, however, has to overcome emotional opposition, despite having a good environmental record, Argyle said.

“In Brazil, we’re getting quietly on with it. In Israel, they’re getting quietly on with it,” Argyle said of oil shale development.

Boom-bust cycles aren’t a major issue because the Brazil project anticipates a 200-year lifespan, Argyle said.

Another project in Brazil has a 300-year lifespan, he said.

The development around the world demonstrates that “oil shale has a global footprint” that is growing, Argyle said. That footprint expanded into Mongolia by accident, said Claude Pupkin, Genie Energy CEO. Genie Energy sent a geologist to Mongolia on an unrelated mission and he stumbled on a “world class,” previously unrecognized oil shale deposit, Pupkin said.

“We’ll do a pilot project that is smaller than AMSO,” Pupkin said, referring to the American Shale Oil project in Colorado.

In both cases, the projects will be in-situ, meaning that there will be little surface disturbance. Genie obtained commercial production rights and is working with the government in Mongolia to establish a regulatory system for development, Pupkin said.

Colorado’s deep oil shale deposits don’t fit with the retorting technology developed in Estonia, Enefit American Oil CEO Rikki Hrenko said.

Update: From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

With the shadow of Nazi occupation looming over the country, Sweden turned to oil shale in 1940.

“Oil shale got the Swedish economy through World War II,” Dr. Harold Vinegar said.

Vinegar outlined for the Oil Shale Symposium at Colorado School of Mines last week how Sweden exploited a low-grade oil shale deposit near the town of Kvantorp, using an in-situ process that bore a striking resemblance to the in-situ process Shell Oil Co. was pursuing in northwest Colorado. Vinegar is an oil and energy scientist who spent more than 30 years with Shell.

The Swedes already were mining the same oil shale deposit when they became frustrated by the cost and difficulty of digging to reach the shale they retorted to produce oil, Vinegar said.

Fredrick Ljungstrom came up with the idea of heating the shale in place and leaving the soil above it undisturbed. Ljungstrom drove heating elements in a closely spaced hexagonal pattern down into the shale and sunk a collection well in the center.

The heaters and wells were shallow, in the tens of feet instead of the thousands of feet below the surface in the Piceance Basin.

Making the project more difficult was the lack of electricity. Ljunsgstrom could only get electricity to heat the shale four months of the year, during the spring runoff, when hydroelectric power was available, Vinegar said.

During those months, Ljungstrom used a mobile transformer to direct power into the cells he was using at any given time to heat the rock to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It really was a brilliant idea,” Vinegar said.

And it worked.

The Ljungstrom process produced 90,000 barrels of oil from 1942 to 1945 and 1.5 million barrels during its production life that ended in 1959. The oil produced from Ljungstrom’s in-situ process was lighter and cleaner than the oil produced from the retort process on the same deposit, Vinegar said. Groundwater beneath the deposit was protected by an impermeable clay layer that prevented contamination, Vinegar said.

In addition to inventing what is known as the Ljungstrom process for oil shale, Ljungstrom was also a co-inventor, with his brother, of high-pressure steam boilers, steam turbines and steam locomotives.

He also was a sailing innovator and the Ljungstrom rig — an arrangement of sails — is named for him.

The land he used to produce oil from shale over the years has changed.

“The area revegetated naturally,” Vinegar said. “It’s now a park where the in-situ process was run.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.


Steamboat Springs: Stormwater enterprise not in the cards

October 15, 2013
Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs

From Steamboat Today (John F. Russell):

A task force created this year to study the stormwater needs in Steamboat has concluded a new fee or utility shouldn’t be created at this time to help cover the cost of maintenance and upgrades.

Instead, the task force is recommending that for the time being, the city’s stormwater upgrades can be covered out of its own budget by hiring more personnel and dedicating more equipment and materials to maintain the infrastructure…

The demand for the millions of dollars worth of stormwater improvements in Steamboat was the result of the city never having a comprehensive plan to keep up and expand its current system, City Manager Deb Hinsvark said as the task force was being created in January.

Last year, the city tapped Short Elliott Hendrickson, a firm of engineers, architects, planners and scientists based in St. Paul, Minn., to perform a $180,000 infrastructure study of Steamboat’s bridges, culverts and dams.

The firm recommended that the city invest at least $17 million in new capital projects to upgrade its stormwater system and help manage future flooding.

The consultant also found Steamboat’s stormwater infrastructure included “aging drainage infrastructure, much of which is in need of replacement immediately or within 5 to 10 years.”

The task force of 13 community members and five representatives from the city staff was created to help the city plan for the future.

Since February, they usually met once every two weeks and became experts in the city’s stormwater master plan.

“They deserve tremendous kudos for all the time they put into it,” Beall said about the task force, adding the discussion was robust and technical at times.

More stormwater coverage here and here.


Steamboat Springs: Restoration project starting up in town along the Yampa River

October 9, 2013
Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

The work is taking place along 210 feet of the Yampa River at the Dr. Rich Weiss Park located next to the Rabbit Ears Motel.

The park is quite popular, especially during the summer months as tubers take to the Yampa. People often will gather at the park’s Hippy Dip, an area where the natural warm water utilized at the Old Town Hot Springs drains into the river…

Craig Robinson, the Howelsen Hill and open space facilities supervisor for the city of Steamboat Springs, said one of the goals of the project is to fix an existing rock wall and its foundation.

#“The whole rock wall has been slowly falling into the river,” Robinson said. “We have some safety concerns.”

Existing access points to the river also are in bad shape and eroding. One access point will be built next to the Yampa River Core Trail bridge. Access points also are going in on either side of the Hippy Dip.

Ecological Resource Consultants and Nordic Excavating have been contracted to do the work.

The work is being paid for mainly with a $300,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, which is funded by lottery proceeds. The city committed $15,000 in matching grant funds…

No kayaking water feature improvements are being done as part of the project, but Robinson said the city continues to work closely with the Friends of the Yampa group on future projects.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Parker-based Independent Energy Partners and the School of Mines are testing a new oil shale production technology

October 5, 2013
Geothermic fuel cell well field -- via Independent Energy Partners

Geothermic fuel cell well field — via Independent Energy Partners

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Colorado company is working with the Colorado School of Mines on the next stage of testing for a novel approach to developing oil shale. Parker-based Independent Energy Partners is pursuing the concept of using what it calls a geothermic fuel cell to employ heat to produce oil from shale in-situ, or in place, underground. Strings of fuel cells would be stacked in wells drilled into the shale.

The idea was first conceived by Marshall Savage, whose family has extensive land holdings in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin and who serves as IEP’s vice president of technology development.

A fuel cell can convert a fuel like natural gas into electricity through a chemical process. The patented, downhole heater being developed by IEP will use the waste heat to warm up the oil shale rock in what’s called a geothermic process, versus the geothermal one of tapping heat from the ground.

The company plans to use locally produced natural gas to get the fuel cells going, but under the concept the cells then will operate on gas generated along with oil in the heating process. Electricity production will be a side benefit of the process, and IEP President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Forbes said the process would be water neutral because water produced by the fuel cell would offset consumption. Carbon emissions would be minimal because there’s no combustion, he said.

The company had Pacific Northwest National Laboratory do work to confirm the concept’s technical viability, and had Delphi, a solid oxide fuel cell maker, make a downhole prototype. Now, IEP is paying about $900,000 for the School of Mines to do prototype testing at its Colorado Fuel Cell Center. The school received a small unit earlier this year and a stacked one more recently.

Initial testing will be followed next year by in-ground tests on campus, and then field tests in oil shale formations, with a goal of producing oil in 2015. IEP holds several leases on private property in Rio Blanco County.

“It’s kind of an exciting research project,” said Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the School of Mines.

Said Forbes, “We’re pretty confident it’s going to work fine, it will work as advertised.”

Boak said one challenge the company might face is rock shifting when heated and damaging heaters. He said he thinks Shell faced such problems but was able to solve them. [ed. emphasis mine]

The company is pressing forward even as Shell has announced the end of its Colorado oil shale research and development project, citing a desire to focus on other global opportunities.“I know that they haven’t been doing really well at a corporate level and I think they’re just readjusting their priorities,” Forbes said.

He said IEP’s work is “moving right along.”

“We’re quite pleased with the progress and the parties we’re working with right now.”

Those parties include the energy giant Total, which also is a partner with American Shale Oil in an in-situ project in Rio Blanco County and is invested in Red Leaf Resources’ project to mine and process oil shale in Utah.

“I think Total is very energized by this (IEP) approach and other approaches and is eager to see something proceed here,” Boak said.

More oil shale coverage here and here.


Communities Protecting the Green is keeping a watchful eye on the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition #ColoradoRiver

September 27, 2013
Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice

Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

From The Green River Star (David Martin):

According to Don Hartley, a member of [Communities Protecting the Green], an organization known as the Colorado Wyoming Coalition is finishing a feasibility study involving the transfer of water from the Flaming Gorge. The coalition was originally known as the Parker Group, after the community in Colorado initially proposing the project, before it rebranded itself. According to a 2011 document titled “Flaming Gorge Investigation Status Report,” the municipal governments in Cheyenne and Torrington, along with the Laramie County government, are involved the coalition’s study to move water from the gorge to eastern Wyoming and northern Colorado.

The document states more than half a million people living in both states would be served by the project.

“It’s kind of slow right now, but things could get interesting once that study is completed,” Hartley said.

Hartley believes the study could be completed within a matter of weeks and said they need to be vigilant with the group because they pose the biggest threat to the river.

Hartley said the second issue on the horizon involves a state water plan under construction within the Colorado state government. One of the key issues Hartley and others at Communities Protecting the Green are watching involves the augmentation of the river to provide water to communities in Colorado.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


Statewide water plan: ‘We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do’ — Max Schmidt

September 2, 2013

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State Water Plan, meet the “not-one-more-drop-club” from the Grand Valley. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon, writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Colorado should import water to meet burgeoning Front Range demands — and lessen the pressure on the Western Slope to slake that thirst, Grand Valley water officials suggest.

Managers of 10 Grand Valley water agencies and municipalities are preparing to ask their bosses to insist that bringing water into the state [ed. emphasis mine] — which would be known as augmentation — is a needed step in the development of a statewide water plan.

The problem, the water managers have concluded, is that there simply isn’t enough water in the state to meet the demands of growth, particularly on the Front Range, and the demands of millions of downstream Colorado River water users in Arizona, California and Nevada.

“Reallocation of state water resources is not going to do the job,” Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, said.

Managers of the agencies sat down together to draft a Grand Valley response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, and they began the process as a “not-one-more-drop club,” Clever said, in reference to any further diversion of water from the Western Slope over the mountains to the east. So any additional drops will have to come from elsewhere, Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, said.

“Our problem is that we’re the cheapest source of good clean water to the Eastern Slope, and there’s no other way around it,” Schmidt said. “We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do.”

The concerns by Grand Valley water managers center on the possibility that the lower basin states will place a call on the Colorado River under the 1922 compact governing the river. “Every time that (the East Slope) takes water from the West Slope, that enhances the chance of a compact call,” that in theory would hit hardest on the Eastern Slope, Schmidt said.

Hickenlooper in May directed the drafting of a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2014.

The proposed position acknowledges that the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 acre feet of water available for diversion and storage, but notes there is “considerable doubt” that additional development won’t result in a compact call.

The Grand Valley response would set out nine goals that such a plan would have to include, one of them being “implementation of a long-term, regional water-augmentation plan.” Other goals include protecting the “cornerstones of our economy,” agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism; preparation for the possibility of a compact call; protecting the health and quality of the state’s river basins; and preparing for the effects of climate change.

Other goals include protecting and promoting the area’s agricultural heritage; preserving local control of planning for development; ensuring federal agencies operate within state water law; and ensuring that upstream diversions protect and maintain water quality for downstream users.

Ultimately, “it is imperative for state officials to engage officials from the federal government and other basin states in developing, implementing and paying for an augmentation plan” that will benefit all the states dependent on the Colorado River, the proposed position says.

The proposed position will go before the governing boards of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as Clifton Water District, Grand Valley Irrigation Co., Grand Valley Water Users Association, Mesa County Irrigation District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Ute Water.

Statewide Water Plan coverage here.


Colorado Water Trust: ‘The instream flow water rights on the Fraser River are often water-short’ — Christine Hartman

August 8, 2013

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Christine Hartman):

Summer is flying by, and the Colorado Water Trust’s “Request for Water” projects are sailing ahead along with it.

After CWT made our Request for Water this spring, asking water rights owners to offer their water for lease to benefit streams, our projects team went to work screening the 19 official offers we received. Below you can see details of three projects that are in place, adding water to their local stream systems.

CITY OF ASPEN/ROARING FORK RIVER

For decades, large water diversions have reduced the amount of water flowing in the upper Roaring Fork River; only a fraction of the native flow reaches the City of Aspen.

To begin exploring long-term streamflow solutions for the Roaring Fork, the City of Aspen is leading local efforts this year by using one of its senior water rights to benefit flows through a critical reach of the Roaring Fork River. On June 10, the Aspen City Council authorized a nondiversion agreement with the Colorado Water Trust to bypass some water that Aspen would otherwise divert from this reach of the Roaring Fork.

STAGECOACH RESERVOIR/YAMPA RIVER

On July 16, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District signed a contract to lease 4,000 acre feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir to CWT for the second year in a row. CWT is working with Upper Yampa; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Catamount Development, Inc.; and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on planning releases to provide environmental benefits to the Yampa River. In coordination with CWT, Upper Yampa began releasing water from Stagecoach Reservoir at a rate of 30 cfs on Tuesday, July 23, to bolster streamflows in the Yampa.

WINTER PARK RANCH W&S/FRASER RIVER

The amount of water flowing in the heavily negotiated Fraser River has long been a topic of statewide concern. The instream flow water rights on the Fraser River are often water-short because they are junior to other rights on the stream.

After hearing about CWT’s pilot Request for Water program in 2012, the board of directors for Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District saw an opportunity to lease some of the District’s water rights to supplement streamflows in St. Louis Creek and the Fraser River and pursued a local project to benefit their home river. This short-term lease was approved by the State Engineer’s Office on June 6, 2013, accepted by CWCB Assistant Director Tom Browning on June 11, and ratified by the CWCB Board of Directors on July 16 at their meeting in Alamosa.

To learn more about the Colorado Water Trust’s work to use market approaches to benefit streams, visit http://www.coloradowatertrust.org.

More instream flow coverage here.


Water leased by the Colorado Water Trust is flowing in the Yampa River

July 24, 2013

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

This is the second consecutive year the Colorado Water Trust has leased 4,000 acre-feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir.

“Last year, we saw that adding water to the Yampa River was of tremendous value not only to the natural environment but also to Steamboat Springs and other communities along the river,” staff attorney for the Colorado Water Trust Zach Smith said in a news release. “We look forward to working with Upper Yampa to create similar benefits again this year.”

The Yampa River at the Fifth Street bridge was flowing at 120 cubic feet per second Tuesday morning, below the median for the date of 181 cfs. Last year, the group’s release bolstered the river by about 26 cfs for most of the summer.

#According to the release, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Bill Atkinson suggested that releases from Stagecoach Reservoir start at a range of 30 cfs to help with high water temperatures. As part of those water temperature concerns, Atkinson has asked anglers to avoid fishing after noon, when the water temperatures have been reaching the upper 70s.

More Yampa River coverage here and here.


Yampa River: ‘We wanted to keep the river rockin’ — Amy Beatie

July 19, 2013

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

The Yampa River will get another significant boost this summer when 4,000 acre-feet of water leased by the Colorado Water Trust once again starts to flow out of Stagecoach Reservoir. Water Trust Executive Director Amy Beatie said Thursday that her organization saw the benefits of the release it helped orchestrate for the first time last summer and is eager to repeat it.

“We wanted to keep the river rockin’, and we wanted to make sure all the different uses that benefited from our last release would make it through again this year,” Beatie said before she ticked off a list of beneficiaries that included fisheries, recreation and riparian vegetation. “When you do something like this, there’s not just one factor that benefits.”[...]

At noon Thursday, the Yampa was flowing at 130 cubic feet per second under the Fifth Street bridge. The measurement was nearly 70 cfs below the river’s historic flow for the date…

Kevin McBride, the general manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District that is leasing the water to the Water Trust, said the extra flows can help to ensure that there are few or no river closures this year. “If we hadn’t had a record precipitation in April, we would be in a very bad situation,” McBride said. “But it still is a dry year.”[...]

Like it did the first time, the Water Trust’s lease this year will cost about $140,000.

Beatie said her organization learned a lot from the lease program’s inaugural year but said there still are challenges it has to overcome before the releases become reality. “We’re moving water in the West, and anytime you do that, it’s going to be a little bit complicated,” she said.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Yampa River Watershed: Yampa River Awareness Project float trip recap

July 15, 2013

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Here’s a report from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The float trip was part of the Yampa River Awareness Project and was hosted by the national conservation organization American Rivers, Friends of the Yampa and OARS river outfitters. The intent was to bring attention to the Yampa as the last free-flowing tributary of the Colorado River.

American Rivers Senior Communications Director Amy Kober posed the question: “What is the value of the Yampa?”

“On the Yampa, you see the river as it should be,” Kober said. “At every scale, there is something interesting going on. For endangered fish like the Colorado pikeminnow, the Yampa may be our best chance to save species that are thousands of years old from being lost forever.”

Expedition videographer and former longtime river guide Michael Bye, of Steamboat Springs, spoke about the values that humans draw from wild rivers.

“If you can go down this river, you can shake the outside world off” if only temporarily, Bye said. “The difference between Yampa Canyon and other river trips is that it is wilderness, and there are almost no signs of civilization. So many other rivers have railroad tracks and roads” running alongside of them.

Members of the expedition that took place just after high water June 7 to 11 included conservationists, water policy makers and scientists from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District…

What makes the Yampa special is the fact it is largely undammed, allowing it to behave the way it has for millennia. But it’s that same fact that suggests the river will become a target for water interests from Colorado’s Eastern Plains to Nevada. More and more, water users are looking at the Yampa as human demand for water to build cities, extract energy and feed the world in an era of climate change has begun to exceed supply.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Less than a month before we launched our rafts at Deer Lodge Park, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order calling on the Colorado Water Conservation Board to act on the state’s grass-roots Basin Roundtables process to draft a statewide water plan by December 2014 and finalize that plan by December 2015. Hickenlooper’s executive order issued in May takes note of the fact that the past two decades have been the warmest on record since the 1890s and that the state is faced with a gap between water supply and demand that could grow to 500,000 acre-feet by 2050. To put that number in perspective, Dillon Reservoir’s capacity is a little more than half that amount at 257,304 acre-feet. And the capacity of Stagecoach Reservoir in South Routt County is just 33,275 acre-feet…

Ken Brenner, of Steamboat Springs and a board member of Friends of the Yampa and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, pointed out that basing the upper basin states’ obligation to the lower basin states on a 10-year average creates opportunity for filling reservoirs. “On a year where there is 10 (million acre-feet), they get their 7.5,” and the upper basin can store water. “We’ll never renegotiate it better,” Brenner said…

“Most of us accept that the [Colorado River Compact] is here to stay,” he said…

The implications of Hickenlooper’s order for the Yampa aren’t clear, but the question of the week could be boiled down to: “Will the new plan result in new water storage projects or the expansion of existing storage projects on the Yampa River system?”

Seven years ago, two water developers were looking at hugely expensive plans to pump unappropriated Yampa River water hundreds of miles eastward to the hungry Front Range of Colorado. Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, said in the midst of last month’s float trip that those proposals are not the immediate threat that they once appeared to be. “Right now, the Yampa pumpback project is not (economically) feasible, and there is no proponent,” Rice said.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Yampa River: Floating one of the last wild rivers, Yampa Journal — National Geographic

June 23, 2013

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Click here for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 from Amy Kober’s float trip earlier this month.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


Move water from west to east or dry up agriculture?

June 8, 2013

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Hannah Holm recaps the Gunnison Roundtable discussion of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline in this column running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

One reliable way to rile up a room full of western Coloradans is to start talking about moving water from the Colorado River basin (“our water”) east across the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities. You’ll hear lots of muttering, and someone will probably say something to the effect that not one more drop should go over while a blade of bluegrass remains in the Denver metro area.

It doesn’t even have to be water that resides in Colorado to get people’s backs up, as was demonstrated by the reaction to a proposal floated by entrepreneur Aaron Million to pump water from the Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwestern Wyoming east along the I-80 corridor and then south to a reservoir near Pueblo. In September 2011, billboards sprouted up along I-70 protesting providing funding to even study the idea. The billboards were funded by environmental organizations, but a host of resolutions approved by the City of Grand Junction, Mesa County and others roundly condemned the proposed project as well.

However, if Front Range cities can’t take water from our side of the hill, they have to look elsewhere — and that usually means “buying and drying” agricultural land. Since western Coloradans tend to like farms, even if they are east of the Divide, this creates a bit of a quandary. While some claim that ramped up conservation could preclude the need for more water transfers, it’s not easy to see how to push conservation far enough to close the 500,000-acre-foot gap between supply and demand that is forecast to afflict the state by 2050 if measures aren’t taken. Besides, if the Front Range has to dry up lawns, we might have to do the same — and that becomes a more complicated conversation.

Despite the billboards and resolutions, the state did fund a committee to study the potential benefits and impacts of the Flaming Gorge proposal. It included representatives from each of Colorado’s major river basins, including many highly skeptical of the proposal as well as potential beneficiaries, and it met once a month for a year. In short order, the committee broadened its mission and ended up developing a series of questions to be addressed for any proposed major movement of water across the Divide, as well as criteria for what would be a “good” project. This report was presented to the Gunnison Basin Roundtable and Gunnison “State of the River” meeting in Montrose June 3.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


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

April 17, 2013

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From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

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

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

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

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

More instream flow coverage here.


2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-019 moves along to the state house #coleg

March 26, 2013

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The drought-fueled measure, put forth by state Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, passed unanimously in the Senate last week and now moves to the House, starting with the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is the sponsor.

While the legislation, Senate Bill 13-19, was amended to gain the necessary support — losing its most ambitious provisions in the process, Schwartz on Thursday called the measure a critical first step and one that will lead to further conversations this summer about water conservation. With Colorado likely facing a second straight summer of severe drought, Schwartz said she hopes to encourage water conservation among agricultural users without punishing them in the process. “We need to modify our thinking and our attitudes about how we use water,” the senator said.

The legislation was originally to apply statewide, but concerns among the state’s seven river basins were varied and ultimately, the bill’s focus was narrowed to the Gunnison, Colorado main stem and Yampa/White River basins…

Under Schwartz’s bill, a water user who enrolls in various conservation programs could reduce their water use in drought years but the reduction would not be considered by a water judge in determining that user’s historic consumptive use. “What we’re trying to say is, ‘If you’re willing to do this, your historical consumptive use is protected,’” Schwartz said.

The conservation programs include those enacted by local water districts. Last year, for example, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which provides water to the eastern half of Eagle County and is a main user of water from Gore Creek and the Eagle River, worked with its customers to conserve water but also convinced other water diverters to do with less, according to spokesperson Diane Johnson. Entities such as golf courses and the town of Avon, which uses raw water to irrigate its parks, got on board, she said. Schwartz’s bill would mean those entities wouldn’t get dinged in a calculation of consumptive use if that voluntarily reduction is repeated, she said.

“Gail’s bill is quite significant,” said Basalt attorney Ken Ransford, secretary for the Colorado Basin Roundtable. The group is one of nine in the state that focuses on water-management issues under the umbrella of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Ransford has watched Schwartz’s legislation closely. Its passage would mean an important incentive for conservation, he said. “It’s a significant change in the law. It takes away a disincentive to a landowner who wants to enroll their land in a conservation program,” he said…

Gone from the legislation, however, are provisions that would have provided incentives to irrigators to increase the efficiency of their watering systems without jeopardizing their water rights.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Flaming Gorge Task Force: ‘I felt we set the groundwork to move forward’ — Reed Dils

February 15, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado still needs to look at projects to bring in new water supplies despite a state water board’s decision last month to put the Flaming Gorge pipeline task force on ice. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable, the main proponent of the task force, still supports dialogue with other state roundtables on the subject and getting the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee to tackle the issue head­-on.

“It’s time we start looking at issues,” said Jeris Danielson, who represents the roundtable on the IBCC. The IBCC has adopted a “four­legged stool” that includes new supply along with identified projects, conservation and agricultural transfers.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board in January voted to suspend funding for the task force, saying the committee was duplicating work assigned to the IBCC. The group began its work in 2011 to determine issues surrounding two proposals to build water pipelines from southwestern Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range.

“All of us thought the task force made good progress and had some good discussions on tough issues,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB. “Their thoughts will be folded into other work the CWCB is doing to move forward new­supply discussions.”

“I think the most important thing we did was establish a list of attributes for what constitutes a good project,” said Betty Konarski, a member of the task force.

“I felt we set the groundwork to move forward,” said Reed Dils, a task force member and former CWCB representative. “If we’re ever going to see another large project in the state, it will take the cooperation of all the roundtables.”

Roundtable Chairman Gary Barber, who also sat on the task force, said the group identified an immediate gap in agricultural water needs, and a municipal gap by 2020. It made no recommendation on whether or not to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.

Danielson and Jay Winner, the other basin representative on the IBCC, vowed to press the IBCC to more action at its meeting in March.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


SB13-041 passes agriculture committee — defines firefighting and drought mitigation as beneficial uses #coleg

February 5, 2013

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

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, won unanimous support for Senate Bill [13-041] in the agriculture committee. Her bill counteracts a 2011 court ruling on the Yampa River that said reservoir owners can’t get an absolute right to water in their reservoirs unless it is all put to a “beneficial use.”

Colorado law has a “use it or lose it” approach to water, in order to prevent hoarding or speculation. But legislators and their allies in the water business think the court took that doctrine to an extreme…

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said that unless the bill passes and reverses the Supreme Court ruling, utilities would have to suck their reservoirs dry before they could get new water rights…

The bill declares that storing water for firefighting and drought mitigation is a beneficial use, and it says water rights can’t be considered to be abandoned when the water is in long-term storage.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


The CWCB plans to roll Flaming Gorge Pipeline analysis in with other IBCC reviews for transmountain diversions #coriver

February 4, 2013

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Here’s an article from last week that deals with the demise of the Flaming Gorge Task Force. It ran in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and was written by Gary Harmon.

From The River Blog (Jessie Thomas-Blate):

Last year, American Rivers listed the Green River as #2 on our annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, due to the potential impact of this pipeline on the river, the recreation economy, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin…

Recently, a coalition of 700 business owners called Protect the Flows commissioned a poll that found 84% of West Slope residents and 52% of metro Denver-area residents oppose building additional water pipelines across the mountains. In fact, 76% of Colorado residents think that the solution lies in using water in smarter and more efficient ways, with less waste…

The Green River is a paddler’s paradise. In May 2012, Steve Markle with O.A.R.S. told us why paddlers love the Green River so much. Then in August, Matt Rice, our Director of Colorado Conservation, told us about his trip fishing the Green, and the big trout, beautiful scenery, and solitude he found there. Finally, Scott Willoughby with the Denver Post gives a description of the river that makes you jealous if you don’t have easy access to this trout oasis (even if you aren’t an avid fisherman!).

It is no wonder so many people care about preserving adequate water flows in the Green River. It not only provides essential water and cash flow for West Slope towns, but also a great adventure for the citizens of Colorado and beyond.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


CWCB halts funding for phase two of Flaming Gorge Task Force

January 31, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A decision by the Colorado Water Conservation Board not to fund the second phase of a Flaming Gorge pipeline task force does not affect either project that wants to bring water into the state. The CWCB Tuesday turned down a $100,000 extension of the committee, saying its efforts duplicate the role of the Interbasin Compact Committee. Alan Hamel, of the Arkansas River basin, was the only member of the CWCB who voted in favor of continuing to fund the task force.

“I was surprised,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, and a member of the task force. “The state still needs to proceed with water planning, but did not approve our approach for moving forward.”

The task force was formed to identify questions that would face any statewide water project, and from the start said it would not endorse or eliminate either of two proposals to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.

“This decision sends a clear message that the IBCC needs to step up and do something about new water supply,” said Jay Winner, one of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s IBCC representatives.

Environmental groups this week tried to depict the decision as a defeat for Aaron Million’s proposal to build a 500­ mile pipeline from the Green River to Colorado’s Front Range. However, Million claimed last week that the neutral decision by the task force was a win for him. He is working on engineering needed to resume federal consideration of the project.

The Colorado-­Wyoming Coalition also is pursuing its version of a Flaming Gorge pipeline, but is still waiting on Bureau of Reclamation studies to determine if it will move forward, said Eric Hecox of the South Metro Water Supply District.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The developer of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline denied Wednesday that the state’s decision to end funding for a group looking at the project would set it back…

Tuesday’s decision to halt funding represented a “critical wound” to the project, Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates said in a statement. Environmentalists oppose the project because they contend it would diminish Green River flows…

Jennifer Gimbel, director of the water board, said the environmentalists’ comments were “misleading.”

The decision “doesn’t reflect the board’s position on the pipeline,” she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it doesn’t deny it.”[...]

The task force was formed to study issues surrounding the project, not to decide whether the project should move forward. After completing a report on the pipeline, the task force requested $100,000 to study “new supply projects in general” at Tuesday’s water board meeting, Gimbel said.

However, the Interbasin Compact Committee already is studying potential water supply projects, she said…

Aaron Million, principal of Wyco Power and Water Inc., called environmentalists’ characterization of the decision “grossly inaccurate.” The company has proposed building the pipeline to bring water from Wyoming to the Front Range, including Fort Collins.

“One of the reasons I think the environmental community’s been so vocal is that this project has a lot of merit to it,” said Million, who contends the project would add to Poudre River volume.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brett Prettyman):

Charlie Card, northeastern Utah coordinator for Trout Unlimited, says the news from Colorado is good, but he has heard similar news before and knows not to let his guard down when it comes to water in the West.

“Million said about a year ago that in two years he would be ready to submit another proposal and there is another group out of Parker, Colorado, that has asked the Bureau of Reclamation specifically to give them the actual number of acre-feet of water that is available,” Card said. “The report from Colorado is nice, but the threat is far from over.”

Numerous recreational and financial impacts from proposed pipelines pumping water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which sits on the Utah/Wyoming border, or the Green River above it have been revealed by Trout Unlimited and other concerned groups.

Among them:

• Wide fluctuations of water levels at Flaming Gorge would create ideal conditions for noxious weeds along the shore, affecting waterfowl, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sage grouse and other species. Open shorelines may become inaccessible for recreation.

• Diminished flows on the Green River below the dam will affect species of concern like the northern river otter, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, Lewis’ woodpecker, southern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.

• A reduction of flows into the reservoir will inhibit recommended flow levels out of the dam. The recommendations were agreed upon by multiple agencies to benefit endangered fish (razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and bonytail) in the Green River.

• The main sport fish of Flaming Gorge — kokanee salmon, lake trout and smallmouth bass — are already facing a number of challenges in a delicately balanced ecosystem that has been rocked by the recent appearance of illegally introduced burbot. Lower and fluctuating water levels will only add to the challenges.

• Access to the lake via existing boat ramps would likely not be possible if water as proposed in the Million project were removed from the reservoir. That impacts all businesses that rely on the reservoir including those on the shores of Flaming Gorge and including other towns and cities like Dutch John, Manila, Green River, Wyo., and Rock Springs.

Similar facts are presented on the ourdamwater.org/ website of Sportsmen for the Green.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The state’s most powerful water organization will spend no more money to study ways of piping water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, a move heralded by environmental organizations but one that might not squelch the idea. The Colorado Water Conservation Board turned away a request that it continue to fund a study of how to pursue large water projects, such as a proposed pipeline to the Front Range from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming.

The board’s decision was greeted as a victory by Protect the Flows, an organization of recreation, agricultural and other interests that depend on the Colorado River. “This decision tells Coloradans that (Gov. John Hickenlooper) and the water board know how much we value our superb recreation opportunities and the huge economy in Colorado generated by outdoor enthusiasts and tourism,” Protect the Flows spokeswoman Molly Mugglestone said.

Water board members noted that such projects would be more appropriately studied by the Interbasin Compact Committee, a 27-member committee established to address statewide water issues.

The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline has been rejected on several levels and by federal agencies. It was criticized by government agencies, including Mesa County and Grand Junction, which cited unanswered questions about the effects of the project.

The Interbasin Compact Committee “has a new water-supply committee and this seems to belong to them,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “I think that’s an important dialogue to have and it’s one we’ve been involved with all along.”

The water board’s decision amounted to an endorsement of the need for conservation over development, Protect the Flows said.

Abandoning talk of water-development projects is a non-starter, Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen said. “Given the drought situation,” Petersen said, “at some level it would seem we would have to talk about storage.”

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


CWCB: ‘Zombie Pipeline’ Takes Critical Wound in Vote — Jason Bane

January 30, 2013

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From email from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) today voted overwhelmingly to end funding for the ‘Flaming Gorge Task Force,’ which had been considering future large-scale water diversion projects such as the ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline.’ The decision is in line with public opinion; a recent Colorado water poll found that four-in-five Colorado voters favor focusing on water conservation efforts rather than water diversions.

In response to today’s decision, Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates, issued the following statement:

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been called the ‘zombie pipeline’ from years of lumbering around trying to latch onto anything that might keep it alive. Today’s CWCB vote sends a strong message that it’s time to move on to other water demand solutions. No amount of discussion is going to make the pipeline less expensive or more realistic, and we applaud the CWCB for recognizing the need to move forward.”

The ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) is a proposal to pump 81 million gallons of water a year across more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates has consistently opposed the idea as unreasonable and unnecessary.

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

The task force funding drew criticism from conservation groups, who said the money would be better spent studying realistic conservation and reuse options for water. By some state estimates, the pipeline could have cost as much as $9 billion. The CWCB denied a request for $100,000 of state water money for continued study…

We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their decision to turn down spending additional money to examine new water diversions as a solution to meet Colorado’s water challenges, said Protect Our Flows director Molly Mugglestone. “It’s the right decision for what Coloradans want as reflected overwhelmingly in a recent bipartisan poll commissioned by Protect the Flows.

The poll showed that more than 80 percent of Colorado voters would tell state officials to spend their time and resources focusing on conservation efforts, rather than water diversions; a majority of voters across political and geographic lines oppose building additional pipelines; and almost all express strong regard for Colorado rivers and a desire to protect them.

[Aaron Million] has said the pipeline could actually help protect flows in over-used sections of the Colorado, especially in years like this, with abundant moisture in Wyoming, but well below average snowpack in Colorado.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


Steamboat Springs task force will tackle stormwater facility maintenance and upgrades

January 25, 2013

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From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night endorsed the creation of a new citizen-heavy task force that soon will help to decide how the city should execute and pay for costly upgrades to its stormwater infrastructure. The council also got a better idea of how costly the upgrades will be and when they will be needed.

Recognizing it never has had a comprehensive plan to improve and maintain the bridges, culverts and dams that make up its stormwater system, the city last year tapped Short Elliott Hendrickson — a firm of engineers, architects, planners and scientists — to perform the $180,000 study of the infrastructure.

Council members heard the preliminary findings of that report Tuesday night.

Public Works Director Chuck Anderson cautioned there still are some unknowns, including the extent of any new federal mandates for municipalities like Steamboat to improve stormwater systems to accommodate growing populations…

He said the task force will take five months to become experts on the plan and return to council with a recommended course of action.

The city also will host an open house Feb. 7 to explain the plan to the public.

The master plan from Short Elliott Hendrickson estimates that to upgrade, repair and improve the city’s stormwater infrastructure will cost $20 million to $33 million. Short Elliott Hendrickson engineer Steve Gardner told the council his firm’s study estimated that the immediate maintenance to the stormwater infrastructure will cost Steamboat $250,000 to $1 million…

Hinsvark has said the city lacks a dedicated source of revenue to pay for the projects, and it may need to consider proposing a fee or a new tax on property owners to help with funding. A fee system is used commonly in many municipalities along the Front Range…

In addition to city staff, Anderson is proposing that community members serve on the task force that will be charged with identifying a funding mechanism. He is recommending the group include a lawyer; a representative from the development, engineering and construction communities; an at-large resident; a home or business owner impacted by flooding; and a flood insurance provider, among other members.

More stormwater coverage here.


Flaming Gorge Task Force: ‘I guess neutral is a big win for us’ — Aaron Million

January 25, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More state discussions are needed on how to develop Colorado’s share of Colorado River water, a task force that met for more than a year on the Flaming Gorge water project reported Wednesday. The task force did not recommend either building or denying the Flaming Gorge pipeline idea, and wasn’t expected to. Instead, it worked to create a framework that would bring competing interests to the table to evaluate any project proposing development of a new supply from the Colorado River. Its conclusions will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which funded the task force. “I guess neutral is a big win for us,” said Aaron Million, who was one of two sponsors of a Flaming Gorge pipeline who met with the task force last year.

More engineering work is being completed so that the Flaming Gorge project can be resubmitted to a federal agency for environmental evaluation. Million said it would be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rejected an application last year, saying more information was needed. If FERC does not accept the new proposal, either the Army Corps of Engineers or Bureau of Land Management would be approached.

The task force recommended the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee, an umbrella organization that represents the interests of basin roundtables and the state, develop a way to evaluate if a project meets certain criteria. The top priorities are developing Colorado’s share of the water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and protecting the state from a call on the river that could diminish Colorado’s water supply.

The group recommended forming a committee that would continue to discuss issues relating to water and is asking the CWCB for up to $100,000 for phase 2 of the study. The first phase was funded at $72,000 in September 2011, over the objections of environmental groups who tried to kill any consideration of a Flaming Gorge plan.

More coverage from the Associated Press via the Laramie Boomerang. Here’s an excerpt:

In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee said questions that should be addressed include not only financing and how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river, but also alternatives to new water supply projects.

The committee said state leaders and each of the basin roundtables in Colorado should participate in the conversation, which it called a “key threshold step” needed to move beyond the status quo in developing significant new water supply solutions. The roundtables represent each major river basin in the state, plus the Denver area.

The report, released Wednesday, described an urgent need for action, citing the gap between the demand for water on the populated Front Range and the supply.

“The municipal gap on the Front Range is immediate, the dry-up of agriculture is real and certain, and the environmental and economic concerns are serious and numerous,” the report said.

The report also listed several characteristics of “good” water supply projects. For instance, they should have funding and minimize the need for new infrastructure, and they shouldn’t reduce supplies to existing water users, the report said.

Colorado’s river basin roundtables agreed to form the committee after entrepreneur Aaron Million announced a $3 billion pipeline proposal to carry Flaming Gorge Reservoir water to Colorado, and a separate coalition of water providers said it was exploring its own plan. The committee didn’t set out to endorse any proposal but wanted to answer questions about cost, feasibility, water rights and legalities, along with the environmental, socioeconomics, agricultural and recreational impacts of any Flaming Gorge project, among other issues.

Million has yet to gain permits for his project. He said Thursday his team is doing more engineering work after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year dismissed his permit application over a lack of specifics.

More coverage from the Wyoming Business Journal (MJ Clark):

The committee is aware of protests by environmentalists and issues raised by their own constituency.

“Rather than focusing on a Flaming Gorge project, the committee is exploring what the attributes would be of any successful new transmountain diversion,” the group wrote. “And foremost to that discussion is dealing with the uncertainties of water availability under the Colorado River Compact.”

Noting that the staff could not reach an agreement of whether or not to endorse the project, the group concluded that, “At this point, we don’t see the benefit of having the Flaming Gorge Committee continue … unless the board directs otherwise, this will be the direction staff takes.”

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


Flaming Gorge Task Force’s phase one report is hot off the press

January 24, 2013

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Click here to view the report and appendices A through F. Click here for appendices G through I. Thanks to Heather Bergman for sending them along in email. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Recommendations

In the course of its work, the Committee has come to more fully understand and appreciate the gravity and risks of the status quo and the need to develop new supply1 solutions that balance the current and future consumptive and nonconsumptive needs of both slopes and all basins. The municipal gap on the Front Range is immediate, the dry-up of agriculture is real and certain, and the environmental and economic concerns are serious and numerous. In the process of becoming informed about and discussing the benefits and costs of a specific new supply project focused around Flaming Gorge, the Committee has identified a key threshold step that must happen in order to move beyond the status quo in developing any significant new supply solution: an immediate and focused conversation with each roundtable and state leaders at the table must begin, aimed at developing an agreement or agreements around how water supply needs around the state can be met. Our conclusion and consensus is that the conversation needs to be transparent and inclusive in order to arrive at consensus agreements that can lead to meaningful statewide-level water supply solutions. The immediate need for this robust, focused, transparent, and balanced conversation is at the heart of each of our recommendations.

The Committee has developed a consensus flow chart that identifies threshold steps and a process framework for moving forward with major new supply allocation from the Colorado River. The flow chart and the process it outlines suggests a pathway to achieving statewide consensus for a new supply project, based on roundtables defining the scope of a project, the IBCC and CWCB providing insight and approval, and project proponents or participants designing a project based on statewide consensus about the criteria of what characteristics and components are needed to be included into the design, implementation, and operation of a water project for that project to be considered a “good” project for Colorado. The flow chart is based on several assumptions:

  • The goal is to minimize the risk of a Compact call.
  • An M&I gap exists and needs to be filled. Some of the water needed to fill that gap may come from the Colorado River. That portion of the gap that is not satisfied by identified projects or processes, conservation, or new supply will likely come from the change of agricultural water to municipal and industrial use.
  • The current legal framework will apply.
  • All roundtables are affected by a new supply project.
  • This process would be voluntary. An inability to complete the process (all STOP signs in the complete framework) means that proponents revert to “business-as-usual” for building a new project.
  • More coverage from KUGR News:

    A task force studying issues related to proposals to divert water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado says state leaders first need to agree on how Colorado’s water needs can be met. In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee says questions that should be addressed include how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river and who would finance a new water supply project. It also lists characteristics of “good” water supply projects, which it says shouldn’t reduce supplies to existing water users, for one. The report, released Wednesday, says there is an immediate gap between the Front Range demand for water and the supply and mentions “risks of the status quo.”

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


    Folks from both sides of the Great Divide are finding economic common ground around urging caution in the development of oil shale #coriver

    January 14, 2013

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    Here’s a guest column written by Deborah Ortega and Allyn Harvey running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    It is not often that we find common ground across the Rockies on issues that affect our friends and neighbors. We sometimes think of issues as “ours” or “theirs,” though many issues transcend the mountains.

    Communities and local businesses across our state depend on clean, abundant water from the Colorado River Basin. There is no greater reminder of that fact than the current drought and the resulting economic impacts we are facing.

    It is with those challenges in mind that people in communities from the Western Slope to the Front Range — such as Carbondale, New Castle, Rifle, Grand Junction, Thornton and Denver — support a balanced, commonsense approach to oil shale that requires research prior to commercial leasing of taxpayer-owned land in the West.

    Oil shale development could pose a significant risk to the health of our rivers and the availability of water for agriculture, drinking supplies and local businesses. We need to know the risks ahead of any commercial development.

    Energy development in our state has always been a significant economic driver, but it must still work in concert with our other job-creating industries that rely on their fair share of the water supply. Impacts to our water sources could affect the livelihoods of millions of residents in every corner of our state.

    The technology to make oil shale viable still has not been developed. Since commercial technology does not yet exist, there is no possible way to know the impacts, especially on our water, that would accompany full-scale oil- shale development. All of us have a right to know the facts, so that municipalities, farmers and ranchers, as well as tourism and outdoor recreation businesses that depend on healthy rivers and safe drinking water supplies can plan and make wise decisions. Some have suggested that development will not use much water, and others say it will take too much. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know for sure.

    The Government Accountability Office reviewed a wide range of estimates that found that industrial-scale oil shale development would require as much as 140 percent of the amount of water Denver Water provides each year (or as much as a city 30 times the size of Grand Junction would use).

    There are also those who say that investing public land and water in oil shale will provide a worthwhile return in jobs on the Western Slope and energy for our nation. We hope they are right. We don’t know that for sure either. But we have 100 years of promises and a dismal record of failure with projects such as the Exxon Colony Project, which devastated the local economy after laying off more than 2,000 workers when it closed down on “Black Sunday,” May 2, 1982.

    No good investor would put money into a venture without first seeing the books. The Bureau of Land Management’s new plan does just that by requiring oil shale companies to do the research first, so we know just how much water would be needed and what the impacts to water quality would be, before going forward with commercial leasing.

    Our neighbors in Arizona and Nevada have also asked that we know the impacts to water — particularly the Colorado River — prior to commercial development.

    It was former Denver Water Manager Chips Barry — often heralded by those on both sides of the divide for bringing people together — who cited concerns that industrial-scale oil-shale development could prevent Colorado from fulfilling its obligations to downstream users. In 2009, he told The Denver Post, “That is a risk not only for Denver Water but for the entire state.”

    More than 100 business leaders, recreation organizations, farmers, ranchers and others asked the BLM to ensure that Colorado water is protected. Sportsmen have cautioned that reduced stream flows will negatively impact fish and the region’s outdoor-dependent economy. These businesses depend on healthy rivers and safe water supplies. We cannot afford to gamble the backbone of our economy without fully understanding the risk that oil shale poses to it.

    We have much to offer here in the West. People come to our communities to visit, and sometimes they stay and call it home, largely because of our big skies and outdoor recreation. We are all concerned about the potential impact on existing water rights throughout the Colorado River Basin once oil shale companies begin to exercise the senior rights they hold. In a worst-case scenario, this could turn the West Slope into an industrial zone, ruin the Colorado River and threaten drinking water supplies on both sides of the Copntinental Divide.

    As local officials, our responsibility is to ensure safe, healthy drinking water for our residents and a healthy community. With that in mind, both of our municipalities have taken positions supporting a cautious approach to oil shale. Given that a commercial industry does not yet exist, it is just smart planning to require that research of oil-shale technologies be completed first and impacts fully analyzed before moving forward with a commercial leasing program, as the federal plan suggests. That is an approach that puts the health of our water and the future of our communities first, to ensure that communities on both sides of the Rockies — and our entire region — continue to thrive.

    More oil shale — the next big thing for over a hundred years now — coverage here and here.


    Grand Junction: CMU 2013 Water Course – Feb. 11, 18, 25 #COriver

    January 11, 2013

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    Here’s the link to the announcement from Colorado Mesa University:

    CMU University Center Ballroom, Grand Junction, CO

    The public is invited to this evening seminar series on how water is managed in our region.
    Continuing education credits will be sought for water system operators, attorneys, realtors, and teachers. Certificates of completion will be provided.

    More education coverage here.


    ‘There’s been a great deal of speculation on water needs for oil shale, but it’s all based on unproven technology’ –Steven Hall

    January 9, 2013

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    Oil shale has been “The next big thing” in Colorado for over a hundred years now. Here’s an article exploring the water needs of oil shale development, from Judith Lewis Mernitc writing for the High Country News via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Click through and read the whole article, there is a lot of good detail there. Here’s an excerpt:

    Trapped in fossil-fuel purgatory, oil shale has to be heated to super-high temperatures, a process called “retorting” that requires enormous amounts of water. No one can even say for sure how much, although some energy companies try.

    Utah-based Red Leaf claims its technology needs only a tiny amount; other estimates say that full-scale development of oil shale in Colorado would require more water than all of Denver uses in a year.

    “There’s been a great deal of speculation on water needs for oil shale, but it’s all based on unproven technology,” says Steven Hall, Colorado spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, which recently signed a lease with ExxonMobil for an experimental oil shale project in the Piceance Basin.

    “I don’t think the technologies those (low) water-use estimates are based on are commercially or environmentally feasible,” Hall said.

    In November, the BLM published a fresh analysis of oil shale development’s environmental impacts on Western public lands. Much of the analysis, which also looks at tar sands in Utah, is concerned with water — the lack of it in this arid region, the great need any energy-extraction technique has for it, and the vulnerability of freshwater aquifers to industrial contamination…

    Lawmakers including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warn that the BLM’s parent, the U.S. Department of Interior, stands in the way of economic progress. But not even the oil producers have figured out how to get the water to the rock without incurring huge energy costs — costs that may not pencil out in the final analysis.

    In other words, it may take more energy to get the water to the oil shale than anyone can actually extract from it…

    This problem with the so-far embryonic industry is what regulators and industry experts call an “energy-water nexus” issue: Just as water needs energy to travel from source to tap, nearly every form of energy needs water throughout its lifecycle, from mining to generation to reclamation.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.


    Silverthorne: The next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force is January 3 #CORiver

    December 29, 2012

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    Here’s the agenda via email from Heather Bergman.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


    Silverthorne: Next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force December 18 #CORiver

    December 18, 2012

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    Here’s the agenda.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


    The Flaming Gorge Task Force October meeting summary is hot off the press

    December 4, 2012

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    Click here to read a copy.

    More Flaming Gorge Task force coverage here.


    CWT Request for Water program recap: ‘We needed senior water rights that would still yield some water even in a really dry year’ — Zach Smith #CODrought

    November 21, 2012

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    From KUNC (Aspen Public Radio and Marci Krivonen):

    The so-called “Request for Water” initiative called on water rights holders to voluntarily give up unused water for the health of streams.

    “We needed senior water rights that would still yield some water even in a really dry year, and we didn’t know how many people would be willing to do it because we’d never really done anything like this before,” says Colorado Water Trust staff attorney Zach Smith.

    The Colorado Water Trust jump-started the water leasing program from a 10-year-old, never-used law. Extreme drought conditions this year forced down stream flows and warmed up water, threatening fish. So, the group came up with a solution…

    The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District offered to lease 4-thousand acre feet of water from a nearby reservoir…

    The Water Trust paid for the water ranchers, districts and other entities that stepped up to offer. Overall, the program added water to more than 190 stream and river miles this summer.

    More water law coverage here.


    Yampa River: Steamboat Springs is using a GOCo grant west of town to improve the fishery and access

    November 17, 2012

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    From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

    Steamboat Springs Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department supervisor Craig Robinson said Wednesday that crews with Nordic Excavating and Ecological Resource Consultants have embarked on a month-long project that will install boulder clusters and shape channels in the river to improve its aquatic habitat and make it more habitable to fish and anglers alike.

    “These improvements will benefit everybody,” Robinson said, noting that as a secondary benefit the project should improve recreational opportunities on the stretch of the river that has suffered from severe bank erosion…

    In addition to the restoration project, the city has plans to add paved access and a parking lot to the piece of open space for use by anglers and kayakers.

    Grant funding also will cover revegetation in the area.

    In June, the city received a $2.4 million grant from GOCo to fund the river restoration project and also to help secure a conservation easement south of city limits…

    Work on the Yampa also is supported by a $150,000 grant from the Bureau of Land Management through the America’s Great Outdoors program.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


    Steamboat Springs is considering establishing a stormwater enterprise

    November 17, 2012

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    From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

    Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark said [November 8] that the scope of the fee, or whether it will be assessed at all, will depend on the results of a $180,000 infrastructure study of Steamboat’s bridges, culverts and dams that is expected to be completed by the end of this year…

    If a fee system is implemented, Steamboat would join several other growing Colorado municipalities that already charge residents a monthly bill to help pay for their own infrastructure upgrades. A March 2011 study conducted for the city of Greeley by AMEC engineering showed residents in 30 Front Range municipalities from Lakewood to Fort Collins typically were paying between $1.98 per month to $14.26 per month for stormwater infrastructure. Fort Collins represented the high end of the spectrum.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Glenwood Springs: The next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force is October 30

    October 26, 2012

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    Here’s the agenda for the meeting.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


    Colorado college students get a birds eye view of oil and gas development in NW Colorado

    October 22, 2012

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    From the Craig Daily Press (Joe Moylan):

    On Thursday, five students representing Colorado Mountain College, the University of Colorado and Colorado Mesa University flew over Craig as part of an educational program exploring the relationship between energy development and water conservation.

    The program, organized by EcoFlight, an Aspen-based environmental nonprofit, blends airborne- and ground-based education designed to inform college students about current conservation issues from a broad range of perspectives…

    In addition to flying over Craig Station and learning about oil and natural gas development in Moffat County while in the air, the students participated in a discussion at the Tin Cup Grill in Craig about local environmental issues with Luke Schafer, Western Slope campaign coordinator with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

    Schafer covered a lot of ground during his hour-long talk, bouncing from topic to topic and presenting his opinions on everything from water conservation, the Front Range’s thirst for Western Slope water, balanced and sustainable energy development and sage grouse.

    Schafer told the students that sage grouse could be an environmental game changer because they are considered an indicator species…

    Although the students were captivated by Schafer’s views on sage grouse, they were stunned to discover he also was an avid hunter.

    “It’s easy to demonize people, especially hunters, but I want you all to know that’s me,” Schafer said. “People often forget that the conservation movement, the environmental movement or whatever you want to call it, traces its roots back to a group of hunters who wanted to protect that (Dinosaur National Monument) out there.

    “No other group does more for conservation than hunters, but we do get a bad rep because not every hunter is quick to pull out their checkbook and contribute.”

    More education coverage here.


    Yampa River: ‘A water lease to the rescue’ — Sandra Postel #CODrought

    October 21, 2012

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    From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

    That summer of 2002, the river “smelled like rotting seaweed,” Van De Carr recalled. “It was a nightmare.”[...]

    But 2012 would turn out differently. On Friday, June 29, as if by a miracle, the river started to rise. By 9:30 that night, it was flowing at 71 cfs.

    Something had happened that had never happened before in Colorado: an intervention to spare a river – and its dependents – from decimation during a drought.

    Back in the spring, when the skimpy mountain snowpack spelled disaster for so many of Colorado’s rivers and streams, the non-profit Colorado Water Trust (CWT) issued a statewide request for water. Anyone willing to sell or temporarily lease water was encouraged to contact the CWT. If the water could help a river weather the drought, the CWT would consider buying it.

    One answer to the call came from Kevin McBride, director of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in Steamboat Springs. McBride had just had a contract with a customer fall through, leaving 4,000 acre-feet (1.3 billion gallons) of Yampa River water unclaimed in Stagecoach Reservoir. For the right price, McBride was willing to lease that water to the Colorado Water Trust.

    “We rocketed that (project) to the top of our priorities,” said Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the water trust, based in Denver.

    “It looked like a system that was ecologically going to crash,” Beatie said. “The river was starting to crater.”

    So for a total of $140,000, or $35 per acre-foot, CWT leased the water district’s spare water. McBride had set the price, based on what he knew his board would approve. In that part of the West, the cost was very reasonable.

    On June 28, the leased water began flowing out of Stagecoach Reservoir into the Yampa. The extra flow would directly benefit seven crucial miles downstream of the reservoir, as well as the river’s course through Steamboat and beyond. The idea was to keep the river as healthy as possible through the summer, by releasing about 26 cfs a day into September.

    Along the way, the leased water provided multiple benefits. It generated extra hydropower at the Stagecoach Reservoir. It provided aesthetic and recreation benefits in Steamboat, helping businesses like Backdoor Sports avoid tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenues. Further downstream of the reach targeted for the lease, some irrigators even got more water for their crops, a welcome boost during a drought and dire economic times.

    “The purpose of the lease is to maximize the beneficial use of water in Colorado,” Beatie explained. “These incidental benefits make this a win-win-win-win. “

    Besides rescuing a river and its dependents, the Yampa drought-lease set a precedent in Colorado. It was the first use of a 2003 state law, passed in part in response to the devastating 2002 drought, that allows farmers, ranchers, water districts or other entities to temporarily loan water to rivers and streams in times of need.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


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