Proposal creates ‘monumental’ friction — the Valley Courier

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument via the Bureau of Land Management

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Proponents of an expanded national monument met with water leaders and some resistance on Tuesday in Alamosa.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Board Member Dwight Martin , who lives in the southern part of the San Luis Valley where the proposed expansion would occur, was clear in his opposition to expanding the existing Rio Grande del Norte National Monument northward from New Mexico into the San Luis Valley.

“I am adamantly opposed to this monument designation ,” Martin said. “We really don’t need this monument in Conejos County. I really don’t see what it serves.”

He added that the Conejos County commissioners are also opposed to the monument expansion. Martin said about 90 percent of Conejos County residents at a meeting he attended on the monument were opposed to the expansion, and he questioned why the expansion was needed.

Anna Vargas, project coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, the organization promoting the monument expansion, responded that the meeting Martin attended was a meeting hosted by opponents .

“There has been interest in supporting the national monument, and there has been opposition that has been raised,” Vargas said. “We have tried to address all the concerns.”

Vargas told water board members on Tuesday that Conejos Clean Water had accepted language recommended by the water district to safeguard water rights within the monument, if it is expanded into the Valley. The language also recognizes the existing Rio Grande Natural Area, which lies in the proposed monument expansion.

“We are not trying to trump any of the work that’s been done on the natural area,” Vargas said.

Vargas recently completed the intensive water leadership course sponsored by several water groups including the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. She said the course gave her a better understanding of water issues and rights, such as the Rio Grande Compact. She said she had not viewed the monument expansion as affecting water rights but as more of a land protection issue . She said she now understood the potential problem implied water rights could generate.

“We don’t want national monument designation to have any implied water rights,” she said. The goal of the monument expansion, she said, is to preserve the land for traditional uses.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, encompassing 242,500 acres, was designated by presidential proclamation in 2013. The expansion proposal would bring the monument north of the New Mexico state line into the southern part of the Valley and would encompass about 64,000 additional acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, Vargas explained.

She said the goal would be to preserve traditional uses such as piñon and wood gathering, hunting, fishing and other recreational uses. The monument would also prevent the land from being sold or leased for mining extraction. The turquoise mine would be “grandfathered in,” she said.

Vargas said proponents of the monument expansion want to be proactive in protecting the land from oil and gas activity.

“To us, that is a threat,” she said.

In 2007 that threat was real, she said, with four oil/gas sales involving 14,500 acres in the San Luis Hills and Flat Tops. The reason drilling did not occur, she added, was “basically because of a loophole” created because private landholders had not been notified of the sales.

“What we don’t want is a repeat of that,” she said. There might not be a loophole to prevent it in the future, she added.

Martin said, “This is really about oil and gas and not about protecting the land. All the monument will do is make it more restrictive for landowners.”

Vargas said that is why Conejos Clean Water is trying to get more community input and address these issues. She said there are rumors that the group is trying to prevent such uses as cattle grazing, but that is not the case. Such traditional uses are what the monument would protect, she said.

The land would continue to be BLM property, public lands, she said.

“We want it to stay publicly accessible.”

“Thank you for recognizing the concerns the district expressed,” RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told Vargas.

The district also sent a letter to the Department of the Interior and Colorado’s congressional delegation expressing the district’s concerns about the monument expansion without terms and conditions that would ensure water resources and the Rio Grande Natural Area are not adversely affected. The Rio Grande Natural Area, created through a federal, state and local partnership, integrates the management of federal and private properties along the Rio Grande between Alamosa and the state line to protect the riparian corridor for several purposes including Rio Grande Compact deliveries.

The district’s letter to congressmen regarding the monument expansion stated: “Every federal withdrawal or designation carries with it an implication that sufficient water will be made available to support the purposes of the designation unless specifically disavowed. The flows of the Rio Grande and the Conejos rivers in this area of the San Luis Valley are intimately tied to the economic and social health of the entire region, and reflect 150 years of water use practices that support the entirety of the San Luis Valley’s population as well as a water management structure designated to allow Colorado to freely utilize its share of the Rio Grande and its tributaries pursuant to the Rio Grande Compact. Any new federal land use designation that could impact or interfere with the water use practices in the San Luis Valley or Colorado’s ability to utilize the water resources to which it is entitled must be strenuously resisted by our elected federal representatives , as well as all of our state officials . This matter is of enormous importance.”

Representatives of the district also personally met with congressmen and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor.

The district presented language protecting the Rio Grande Natural Area that it requested be included in the monument designation, were that to occur, and Conejos Clean Water has agreed to that language.

Robbins said the Valley’s congressmen and Department of Interior also assured the district they would not move forward with a monument expansion unless the district’s concerns were properly addressed.

Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

Funding Awarded for Two Small Hydropower Projects

Micro-hydroelectric plant
Micro-hydroelectric plant

Here’s the release (Christi Lightcap):

Two small hydropower projects have been awarded grants through the “Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency” (ACRE3) program. Both hydro projects generate electricity as water flows to the fields through irrigation pipelines.

The funding is part of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The RCPP small hydropower program provides funding for technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to install and maintain projects that address natural resource concerns in Colorado.

“The program addresses water quantity, water quality, and energy resource concerns by helping farmers upgrade outdated and labor intensive flood irrigation systems to more efficient pressurized irrigation systems using hydropower, or retrofit existing sprinkler systems with a hydropower component,” said Sam Anderson, CDA’s Energy Specialist. “Over the next three years, the project plans to install 30 hydro-mechanical or hydro-electric power systems across Colorado.”

2015 Grant Recipients:

  • Park Family Farm, Kersey, Colo., will receive $9,568 to install hydroelectric turbines that generate 10 kW of power for operating two center-pivot irrigation systems on 125 acres. The hydro turbines will power the center pivots through a net-metering agreement with Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association.
  • Susan Raymond, Hotchkiss, Colo., will receive $11,400 to install hydro-electric turbines for generating 8 kW through a net-metering agreement with Delta-Montrose Electric Association. The hydropower will produce electricity to run three center pivots on 37 acres and provide electricity for an on-site veterinary practice.
  • In addition to the $20,968 awarded by the ACRE3 program, the two projects will receive combined funding of $28,100 from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and additional funding from the USDA’s Rural Development REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) Program. These funds are made possible through the RCPP Pressurized Irrigation Small Hydropower Partnership Project, a partnership between CDA’s ACRE3 program and the NRCS, with the support of USDA Rural Development. The two grant recipients will use the funding to pay for the hydro turbines, improvements to the irrigation systems and pipelines, and water management planning.

    Now Accepting Applications:
    CDA is currently accepting applications for the next round of RCPP Irrigation Hydro Projects and will award funding for six more projects this year. For more information and to submit an application, visit the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s ACRE3 energy website: http://www.colorado.gov/agconservation/agriculturalhydro or contact Sam Anderson at 303-869-9044 or Sam.Anderson@state.co.us. The application deadline is May 13, 2016.

    #ColoradoRiver: Lake Powell tied at the turbines to ski lifts — The Mountain Town News

    How much electricity the turbines in the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam can generate depends upon how much water is delivered from the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the high mountains of Colorado into Lake Powell. Photo/Bureau of Reclamation.
    How much electricity the turbines in the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam can generate depends upon how much water is delivered from the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the high mountains of Colorado into Lake Powell. Photo/Bureau of Reclamation.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Just how much more water can be drawn from the rivers that originate near Winter Park, Breckenridge, and Aspen, as well as Crested Butte, Telluride, and Durango, before the electrical supply powering the ski lifts gets wobbly?

    That sounds a bit like a zen koan, but in fact, it’s at the heart of a discussion now underway in Colorado. The Colorado River that originates in those mountain towns is already heavily tapped by local farms. Then there’s the matter of the giant straws that convey 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet per year to Denver, Colorado Springs, and other cities at the base of the Rocky Mountains as well as other farms on the Great Plains.

    There’s only so much water in the Colorado River, and its use is strictly governed by interstate compacts: a 1948 compact apportioning use among the headwaters states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. More importantly, those four upper-basin states are obligated to allow roughly half the water in the Colorado River to flow downstream from Lake Powell and through the Grand Canyon, to the lower-basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, as well as to Mexico.

    Just how much water remains to be developed in Colorado, whether for ski areas, cannabis farms, or Front Range cities? Nobody really knows.

    But an upcoming $50,000 study funded by several organizations from the Western Slope of Colorado aims to get a better answer. Aspen Journalism reports that water organizations on Colorado’s Eastern Slope also want to get involved.

    Chris Treese, the external affairs manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, recently explained the dynamics. If Lake Powell drops so low it can’t produce hydropower, he said, it also means the dam will not be able to release enough water to meet its rolling 10-year obligation under the 1922 Colorado River Water Compact.

    “The earlier crisis point—and I don’t think that’s overstating it – is when Lake Powell falls to a level that is below the point where power can be produced through the dam,” Treese explained. That, in turn, means there’s too little water in Lake Powell to release the 8.23 million acre-feet required to meet the compact obligations.

    Aspen Journalism explains that this call for a more definitive study has been spurred by a disagreement among river basins on Colorado’s Western Slope. The Yampa-White River Basin (includes Steamboat Springs) wants to reserve the right to dam and divert more water. The Gunnison Basin (includes Crested Butte) is concerned it will hasten what is called a “compact call,” or reduced water use in all basins.

    And about that electricity? The turbines at Glen Canyon Dam, which creates Lake Powell, produce massive amounts of electricity, along with those at other dams in the West. This low-cost (and non-carbon) electricity is then distributed to utilities that serve many of the ski towns in Colorado and other states, too.

    Mineral owners assert property rights #keepitintheground

    Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation
    Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

    From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

    At a contentious meeting in Adams County in January that carried on until the early-morning hours, several mineral rights owners stood up before the commissioners and lambasted a proposed 10-month drilling moratorium as an abrogation of their property rights.

    In late February, a group of mineral owners appeared before a state House committee to support HB-1181, a bill that would require communities that ban drilling to compensate mineral owners for lost royalties.

    And on Tuesday, those who own minerals are being encouraged to attend a Greeley City Council special meeting in which the council will consider an appeal from Extraction Oil & Gas to drill up to 22 wells on the city’s west side. The plan was turned down by the city’s planning commission earlier this year in the wake of strong public resistance.

    “It’s all about protecting the economic foundation of our country, which is private property rights,” Smith said. “The issue is this is my property, and I have every right to realize the benefit of that property right.”

    That right, she said, is enshrined in the very fabric of the state constitution and reflected in Colorado’s long history of mining.

    No simple line

    But Rep. Michael Foote, D-Lafayette, said the issue is not that cut and dried. Where one person’s property right ends, he said, another’s begins.

    Foote was one of five Democratic legislators on the State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee to vote to kill HB-1181 on Feb. 24.

    “It can’t just be that someone has mineral rights and they say they can exploit those rights any way that they see fit,” he said. “You have surface property owners who are losing value in their homes when drilling is done right next door.”

    Foote characterizes the clash of property rights revolving around oil and gas activity as a “big issue” playing out across the state. It has even reached the Colorado Supreme Court, where the high court is set to decide in the coming weeks on how far a local community can go in limiting oil and gas development.

    Emily Hornback, a community organizer with the Western Colorado Congress, has spent the past few years advocating for residents of Battlement Mesa. They worry about the impacts of a plan by Ursa Resources to drill 53 natural gas wells in the neighborhood.

    In December, the company got special use permits from Garfield County but still must get approval from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before moving forward.

    Hornback said residents of the 5,500-person community, many of whom are retirees, fear for their property values in the face of heavily industrialized activity on their doorstep.

    But they don’t have the political power as an unincorporated community to do much to mitigate the impacts, she said.

    “For the adjacent landowner, the world appears against them and they don’t have much legal recourse,” Hornback said. “Whose property right is winning and whose property right is losing?”

    Doug Saxton, a retiree who has lived in Battlement Mesa for 11 years, said his wife has asthma that is exacerbated by emissions from oil and gas activity.

    Saxton said with the dramatic advances in horizontal drilling technology in the last few years, Ursa should be able to get to the natural gas deposits under Battlement Mesa — and in turn pay the mineral rights owners for their assets — from a much farther distance.

    “They have tremendous technology they like to brag about,” he said, “and they ought to be using it when they’re going to impact this many people.”

    Key issue

    Lance Astrella, a Denver-based attorney who has represented landowners and mineral owners alike, said providing “reasonable” access to minerals beneath the surface is the key issue under Colorado law.

    That’s because the state operates under a “split estates” rubric, in which the surface rights and the subsurface rights are often owned by different parties.

    Under state law, the mineral estate is considered the dominant estate and operators cannot be prevented from “entering upon and using that amount of the surface as is reasonable and necessary to explore for, develop and produce oil and gas.”

    But that dominance isn’t unbridled.

    Astrella helped draft a 2007 state statute that introduced the concept of “reasonable accommodation” for a surface owner affected by nearby drilling activity. The law states that an operator shall conduct its operations in a manner that minimizes “intrusion upon and damage to the surface of the land.”

    The industry insists that it has made numerous accommodations to surface owners and communities over the years, buffering noise with berms and walls and reducing pad size through the use of directional drilling.

    In some communities, oil and gas operators have agreed to abide by memorandums of understanding, which are specific agreements between companies and local governments spelling out stricter standards of operation than what the state mandates.

    But Astrella said the people who own the oil and gas deposits that the companies are trying to extract find it hard to prevail in the court of public opinion.

    “The ones who have the intrusion and negative effects of oil and gas drilling — their situation is obvious and they have the public’s attention,” he said. “The mineral owners are less likely to have that benefit.”

    Smith, with the National Association of Royalty Owners, said that’s because the conflict is between a property you can see — a home — and one you can’t — a pocket of natural gas.

    “We don’t have the same voice because the legislature will take care of the property right on the surface rather than the property in the mineral estate,” she said. “It’s out of sight and out of mind. However, it’s a property right you can buy and sell like any other property right.”

    Paying the bills

    Minerals rights can also be inherited. That’s how Mike Paulsen, a wine and spirits deliveryman in Denver, obtained his minerals in Weld County. He said he used to get $200 a month from his holdings, but the industry’s recent price and production drop means he now gets a $50 check every few months.

    It’s harder for him to keep up on his bills and pay off his debts.

    “I not only used it to pay my bills but to have something to pass on to my kids,” said Paulsen, 53. “There’s not going to be anything left by the time I get my bills paid.”

    He worries about the rising movement to limit oil and gas operations spreading to where his minerals are and impinging on his property rights.

    “It really bothers me,” Paulsen said.

    The total amount of royalty income in Colorado is hard to determine, Smith said, because agreements between oil and gas companies and mineral owners are privately negotiated. But based on the $475 million in royalties paid out in 2014 on state and federal lands, Smith extrapolates that total payouts statewide were around $1.1 billion.

    Jon Isaacs of Adams County showed off a measley $102 check from Anadarko Petroleum Corp. The money represents a year’s worth of royalty payments off a 30-year-old oil and gas well on Isaacs’ property.

    It’s not much, he concedes, but the real value under his 40-acre spread located just 4 miles north of Denver International Airport lies in the future. He smooths out a spreadsheet in his basement office that shows estimated royalty collections should a firm using the latest highly productive extraction methods drill new wells on his land.

    At $31 per barrel, Isaacs says he’d get $19,000 in royalties a year. That rises to $37,000 annually by 2021, assuming a rebound in prices to $75 per barrel.

    It’s his retirement fund, he said. No different than someone who invests in stocks, bonds or cattle futures.

    “It’s so I can stay here at this house that I’ve improved and plant crops on my land and stay in Adams County into retirement,” said the 58-year-old, who bought this windswept parcel only because it came with mineral rights. “I bought this land as an investment.”

    Roni Sylvester of La Salle is also looking to the future, which she now deems “uncertain” given recent anti-oil and gas efforts in the state. Her husband was planning to donate a ranch he owns in Wyoming to Colorado State University’s agricultural college.

    That plan is now on hold because the couple can’t be certain their royalty income stream will remain intact.

    “There’s no way you can plan,” Sylvester said. “It knocks the foundation out from underneath you. You have to plan for the absolute worst-case scenario.”

    New Interior rule to protect streams in coal-mining areas draws criticism #keepitintheground

    Mountain top removal for coal mining
    Mountain top removal for coal mining

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A federal proposal to better protect streams from impacts of coal mining is coming under scrutiny regarding its level of necessity, particularly out West, and what benefits it would provide.

    The National Mining Association is criticizing the proposal by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, saying it applies a nationwide approach to dealing with issues arising with so-called mountaintop removal surface mining in Appalachia.

    “Obviously we’re very concerned about this (proposal), for the impact it will have on production,” said Luke Popovich, an NMA spokesman.

    The Interior Department released the proposal last July, saying it would protect some 6,500 miles of streams over 20 years. It would replace regulations adopted in 1983, incorporating updated science and benefiting surface and groundwater, fish and wildlife, Interior said.

    Companies would have to monitor stream conditions before, during and after operations, and the rule also addresses post-mining stream restoration. [ed. emphasis mine]

    A rule adopted during the Bush administration in 2008 was challenged by environmental groups, who said it would weaken existing stream protections. That rule was vacated in a court ruling in 2014 and remanded for further action.

    Adam Eckman, associate general counsel with the National Mining Association, said the Obama administration instead decided to develop a rule that “bears no resemblance” to the 2008 rule, which was narrowly aimed at a small set of issues in Appalachia.

    “It really is confusing why this is being expanded out West to Colorado when Colorado has a nearly perfect reclamation record (by mines) and when no science related to impacts in the West has been cited at all” in support of the proposal, he said.

    The NMA sees the rule, and other Obama administration moves including its court-challenged Clean Power Plan and its current moratorium on new federal coal leasing, as being part of an administration effort to eliminate coal-burning altogether.

    Jeremy Nichols of the conservation group WildEarth Guardians said the proposal would impact Colorado’s underground mines only to the limited degree they have surface impacts, while having larger implications for surface mines like Colowyo and Trapper in northwest Colorado.

    But he said a minimum level of such protections should apply nationally.

    “Our clean water is just as deserving of protection as Appalachia’s clean water,” he said.

    A study done for NMA estimates the new rule could cost up to 77,520 mining jobs, including potentially more than 10,000 in the West.

    The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement says it could cost an average of 260 jobs related to coal production a year, which would be offset by an average increase of 250 jobs a year related to complying with the rule.

    It estimates the compliance cost at $52 million a year, including $2.5 million for Colorado Plateau surface mines and $200,000 for underground mines on the plateau.

    The NMA study estimates the rule could result in a 27 to 64 percent decrease in access to recoverable coal reserves, and up to $6.4 billion annually in lost federal and state revenue.

    The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has sent the Reclamation and Enforcement office a letter supporting certain details of the proposal, but listing a number of concerns about it.

    It says the rules would require extensive permit coordination between Reclamation and Enforcement, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and states, which could delay permitting.

    “The proposed rules do not account for regional differences in hydrology, climate, and mining methods/practices,” the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety added.

    #ColoradoRiver: Happy 80th Hoover (Boulder) Dam #COriver