Oil and gas exploration near South Park concerns some in Colorado Springs area — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

In a small plane soaring thousands of feet above the expanse of South Park, Jara Johnson surveyed one of the richest landscapes in the state, an area home to endangered wildlife, water, natural gas and uranium.

Although South Park has long been prized as the home of South Platte River and for its native elk herds, its energy prospects are what has put it on the radar of the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency has begun putting together a master leasing plan for South Park to evaluate the risks of drilling for oil and natural gas in what Johnson considers one of the state’s unparalleled playgrounds.

But for those who make their living off the wildlife and water in South Park, the area’s potential for energy development poses a serious economic threat, said David Leinweber, who owns the Angler’s Covey in Colorado Springs.

Leinweber’s business has one of the largest guiding permits for the South Platte and habitually fishes the “Dream Stream,” a state-designated Gold Medal fishery at the southern edge of the BLM’s proposed leasing site. Leinweber foresees disaster if oil and gas development were to harm the river and its tributaries.

“In South Park our big concern is not very much different from what just happened on the Animas (River),” said Leinweber, referring to the acid-mine drainage that polluted the southwestern Colorado river last month. “It’s the what-if story.”

For Johnson, the director of operations for the environmental nonprofit Coalition for the Upper South Platte, there is much more at stake than South Park’s rich fishing economy.

Last week, Johnson served as guide for a National Wildlife Federation-organized flight tour over South Park to highlight the area’s mix of crucial water resources and wildlife habitats.

To the uneducated eye, South Park is a treeless expanse that stretches between the Front Range to the east and the Mosquito Range to the northwest. But Johnson sees the 980-square-mile area as a complex ecosystem with rare high-elevation wetlands, agricultural fields and winter refuges for elk and pronghorn. The South Platte meanders through the heart of the park – so named because white settlers thought it was like a natural game preserve – and delivers most of the water for the Denver metro area.

While less than an hour by plane from southeast Denver, South Park might as well be an exotic high-mountain paradise for animals, microbes and plants.

“There are plants in the Mosquito Range that are found nowhere else in the world,” Johnson said.

South Park’s uniqueness comes in part from its geology – a mixture of ancient volcanoes, glaciers and lakes, which make the area precious to the Front Range for its connection to water. Denver, Aurora and Centennial get water from South Park’s rivers, streams and reservoirs. While Colorado Springs gets its water from the Homestake system west of Leadville, two pipelines shuttle water east through the park, right through the BLM’s proposed leasing site.

With 28 abandoned wells and no active permits for the area, South Park has seen minimal drilling, said BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo. Areas around Lake George are “prime for uranium development,” although none has happened, Johnson said.

Nonetheless, potential for oil and gas development has raised the alarm in Park County, which gets most of its water from aquifers beneath South Park. While locals are anxious to see how leasing will play out, they are getting what many consider an unprecedented opportunity to plan with the BLM.

In years past, master leasing plans were done once energy companies expressed interest in drilling on BLM lands. But in 2010, inspired by the risks and interest in South Park, the BLM reformed the process, Lacayo said.

“The concept of the leasing reform (is) it doesn’t wait for someone to submit an expression of interest,” she said.

Instead, the BLM triggered the process without active interest in energy development in South Park. And the BLM is seeking the input of people like Leinweber.

“I think that when we initiated the master leasing plans, it was to provide the public with more opportunities to take a closer look at oil and gas leasing,” Lacayo said.

Before 2010, the first time locals learned of plans to drill on BLM lands was when mineral rights were sold, Lacayo said. Now, residents and others impacted will know about the area’s potential for oil and gas development long before leases are made available. The BLM has placed a moratorium on energy development around the state until several leasing plans are completed, Lacayo said.

Lacking funds, the agency has relied on CUSP to jump-start conversations about the impacts of oil and gas development. The nonprofit received a grant from the Keystone Policy Center to host three public meetings from October to February to give Park County officials, residents and business owners a chance to express concerns.

In a report submitted in March, CUSP found that South Park’s cattle owners welcome oil and gas development, while others want limited or strict restrictions.

Park County residents are afraid oil and gas wells will pollute their vulnerable aquifers. Various wildlife groups proposed that drilling be prohibited in known wildlife areas, such as portions of the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. Water providers, such as Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, lobbied for mandatory setbacks for oil and gas development from water sources.

The BLM will take all the input into consideration for an environmental review, which will be released for another round of public comment after a draft is done, Lacayo said.

Although research has begun, the BLM is possibly years from opening the leasing process in South Park. The area’s leasing plan is but a sliver of the BLM’s Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, which will take years and millions of dollars to complete.

South Park, meanwhile, will continue to be the recreational and wildlife mecca it has always been. But even if it doesn’t become the home to Colorado’s next natural gas boom, Leinweber believes that even the smallest amount of drilling could have devastating impact on the area if it goes wrong.

“What people don’t often recognize with some of the oil and gas things is that it often isn’t the big company that goes in and does the exploration,” he said.

“It’s these small guys that don’t really have the backing of something. If they were to make a mistake, it can be pretty impactful for a long time. My concern is containing any byproducts that come out of the these (drilling) processes that could jeopardize our industry as a business.”

@EcoFlight: Flight Across America 2015 #ColoradoRiver #drought #COWaterPlan


From the EcoFlight website:

Project Overview

EcoFlight’s Flight Across America program dynamically engages college students about environmental issues, using a broad range of perspectives, both aerial and on the ground, to bring attention to pressing conservation issues. Students learn how such issues impact their lives and the world around them, and how to personally participate in advocacy work. Through the aerial perspective and discussions with diverse stakeholders and experts on the ground, EcoFlight offers a tangible educational experience, engaging students in the complexities of environmental issues throughout the West. It is our hope that by offering students the opportunity to delve deeply into issues central to the West, they become better prepared to participate in meaningful discussions public lands and advocate for their beliefs, as the next generation of leaders.

Flight Across America 2015 will focus on water conservation concerns in the West, emphasizing the crucial role water plays in sustaining life, and the mega drought happening in many states across the West. The program provides an excellent learning environment for students, combining the aerial perspective of the role of water in the health of ecosystems and how watersheds connect landscapes, with on-the-ground discussions of the impact of energy development, urban planning, recreation and agriculture on our water resources. The Colorado River Basin is in its 14th year of drought, and water is a top concern for population centers and agriculture. We will discuss the coping mechanisms of multiple states in the West, as they plan for the future in an attempt to balance an already over-allocated water supply with growing domestic demand. Climate models are predicting an even drier future, with sustained periods of sparse precipitation and significant loss of soil moisture that span generations, about 10 times as long as a normal three-year drought. In the face of these “mega-droughts” it is imperative that we begin thinking in terms of the future and not just the present for water management in the West.

In a five-day tour of four states, FLAA 2015 will engage college students with diverse conservation concerns of water in the West. EcoFlight will provide aerial tours of water storage and diversion projects, over energy development (both fossil fuel and renewable), over agriculture, and wild landscapes, and watersheds that are vulnerable to drought and water-loss. On the ground students will meet with diverse stakeholders – planners, public officials, conservation groups, sportsmen, energy industry representatives, Native Americans, recreationists and journalists to discuss the different and often competing interests in water and water conservation.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Why so few water markets in the West? — The Mountain Town News

The Four Corners Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico draws water from the San Juan River. 2014 photo/Allen Best
The Four Corners Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico draws water from the San Juan River. 2014 photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Water intensity of energy but also why the West has so few water markets

The value of water depends upon context. To somebody in a desert, absent a drink for three days, nothing could be more valuable. In a flood, the value of the water would lie in its absence.

In Western states, where scarcity more generally prevails, we’re still fumbling with how much value to assign water. Stacy Tellinghuisen brings this observation to her work in evaluating water issues at the nexus with energy for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental non-profit. WRA in 2011 issued a report “Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity.”

Stacy Tellinghuisen
Stacy Tellinghuisen

In a conference call sponsored by The Biomass Monitor, Tellinghuisen said that one of the few water markets exists in northern Colorado. There, in the area north from Denver, many cities and farms get water diverted from the Colorado River via an elaborate diversion structure called the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Completed after World War II, the C-BT was intended to provide water to expand agriculture. Now, the water has mostly been purchased for municipal use in the Boulder-Greeley-Fort Collins area.

Water prices spiked between 2000 and 2008, said Tellinghuisen, reviewing the report that WRA did several years ago. “The price increased significantly, and that was largely due to significant drought in 2001 and 2002, combined with additional population growth in the region,” she said.

“I think that trend is a really relevant when you think about climate change and continued municipal growth across the West,” she added.

Why does this more highly developed market exist in northern Colorado? And why is it absent elsewhere?

Tellinghuisen explained that she thinks it’s because of the unusual nature of the C-BT. The project was finished at one time, water becoming available in the form of shares. This is in contrast with water availability in so many other places governed by the doctrine of prior appropriations. Appropriation dates vary greatly, as do allotments and other factors.

Tap fees are one way of measuring the value of water. They are the costs of getting the right to hook into the water-delivery infrastructure of a city or other jurisdiction. In theory, tap fees would be more-or-less uniform across a metropolitan area, just as the price of bread varies only marginally from one store to the next. In practice, said Tellinghuisen, there is great variability. She cited the example of Denver, which charges $5,000 for a tap fee, as compared with one of Boulder’s suburbs, where the cost is $25,000.

Even within individual cities, water can be valued very differently. Southern Nevada Water Authority has specified rates for existing users. How then to explain the current efforts by Las Vegas to extend pipelines hundreds of miles away to tap aquifers along the Nevada-Utah border? The cost of that water would necessarily be much higher.

Water consumed in generating electricity also varies greatly. Coal-fired power plants used significant quantities, typically 500 to 600 gallons per megawatt of production, while nuclear power plants use on the order of 700 gallons per megawatt. Combined-cycle natural gas plants use less, 180 to 200 gallons per megawatt.

Dry-cooling techniques for fossil-fueled generation can reduce water use by up to 90 percent, and more electrical production now comes from natural gas, instead of coal, resulting in a net reduction in the water footprint of energy.

In the renewable sector, biomass plants vary greatly, between 400 and 500 gallons per megawatt. Wind and solar use virtually none, except for concentrated solar—which uses a lot of water.

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

Recent years have brought greater awareness of the water intensity of various forms of electrical production. Investor-owned utilities, the primary providers of electricity in Colorado and other states, are governed by state-appointed public utility commissions, and those utilities in recent years have begun describing water impacts in the resource-planning documents they are required to submit to regulators.

Arizona Public Service was among the first to begin disclosing water impacts, but others now do so, too. Statutes delegating authority to PUCs provide authority to consider water, said Tellinghuisen, but there’s also a broadening understanding of the water-energy nexus among energy companies and government regulators.

Why does it matter?

“It comes back to a zero-sum game,” said Tellinghuisen. Virtually all rivers in the West are tapped out. For expansion of water use for one purpose, other water uses must be curtailed. While there are laws that govern the transfer, meaning a new power plant couldn’t just seize water, causing cities and farms to go dry, it is part of societal choices. WRA obviously thinks that the minimal water use of renewables is a major argument for increased renewables.

Reclamation Releases a Draft Environmental Assessment for Developing Hydropower at Drop 5 of the South Canal

South Canal hydroelectric site
South Canal hydroelectric site

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff/Jennifer Ward):

Reclamation announced today that it has released a draft environmental assessment for a hydropower project at Drop 5 of the South Canal, part of the Uncompahgre Project in Montrose, Colorado.

The project, proposed by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, will be located approximately four miles downstream from the Drop 4 hydropower project on the South Canal. A Lease of Power Privilege will authorize the use of federal facilities and Uncompahgre Project water to construct, operate and maintain a 2.4 megawatt hydropower facility and associated interconnect power lines.

The hydropower plant will operate on irrigation water conveyed in the South Canal and no new diversions will occur as a result of the hydropower project. Construction activities and operation of the hydropower plant will not affect the delivery of irrigation water.

The draft environmental assessment is available and can be received by contacting Jennifer Ward by phone at 970-248-0651 or email jward@usbr.gov.

Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Comments can be submitted by email to lmcwhirter@usbr.gov or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Monday, September 14, 2015.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has $3 million over 3 years to fund small hydropower projects

Micro-hydroelectric plant
Micro-hydroelectric plant

From KCNF (Laura Palmisano):

Sam Anderson, an energy specialist with the department, explains how the program works.

“This entails converting existing irrigated lands to pressurized irrigation such as a center pivot,” Anderson says. “It would include installing hydropower equipment to power that equipment or provide electricity to the grid that would offset their energy costs for their agricultural operations.”

He says right now there’s $100,000 available for two projects, but more funding will be offered in the future.

“Our program has a budget of $3 million over the next four years,” Anderson says. “And, we plan to do 30 of these projects. So on average there will be about $80,000 per project available to the farmers for technical assistance and financial assistance.”

He says the goal of the program is to help farmers use water more efficiently and reduce their energy costs.

Earlier this year, the state received $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for the initiative.

Anderson says people interested in applying should contact their local NRCS office.

The deadline for applications for the first round of funding is Aug. 17th.

USGS: Mercury in the Nation’s Streams—Levels, Trends, and Implications

Mercury in Colorado graphic via The Denver Post
Mercury in Colorado graphic via The Denver Post

Click through to read the report. Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Dennis A. Wentz, Mark E. Brigham, Lia C. Chasar, Michelle A. Lutz, and David P. Krabbenhoft):

Major Findings and Implications

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish to levels of concern for human health and the health of fish-eating wildlife. Mercury contamination of fish is the primary reason for issuing fish consumption advisories, which exist in every State in the Nation. Much of the mercury originates from combustion of coal and can travel long distances in the atmosphere before being deposited. This can result in mercury-contaminated fish in areas with no obvious source of mercury pollution.

Three key factors determine the level of mercury contamination in fish—the amount of inorganic mercury available to an ecosystem, the conversion of inorganic mercury to methylmercury, and the bioaccumulation of methylmercury through the food web. Inorganic mercury originates from both natural sources (such as volcanoes, geologic deposits of mercury, geothermal springs, and volatilization from the ocean) and anthropogenic sources (such as coal combustion, mining, and use of mercury in products and industrial processes). Humans have doubled the amount of inorganic mercury in the global atmosphere since pre-industrial times, with substantially greater increases occurring at locations closer to major urban areas.

In aquatic ecosystems, some inorganic mercury is converted to methylmercury, the form that ultimately accumulates in fish. The rate of mercury methylation, thus the amount of methylmercury produced, varies greatly in time and space, and depends on numerous environmental factors, including temperature and the amounts of oxygen, organic matter, and sulfate that are present.

Methylmercury enters aquatic food webs when it is taken up from water by algae and other microorganisms. Methylmercury concentrations increase with successively higher trophic levels in the food web—a process known as bioaccumulation. In general, fish at the top of the food web consume other fish and tend to accumulate the highest methylmercury concentrations.

This report summarizes selected stream studies conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) since the late 1990s, while also drawing on scientific literature and datasets from other sources. Previous national mercury assessments by other agencies have focused largely on lakes. Although numerous studies of mercury in streams have been conducted at local and regional scales, recent USGS studies provide the most comprehensive, multimedia assessment of streams across the United States, and yield insights about the importance of watershed characteristics relative to mercury inputs. Information from other environments (lakes, wetlands, soil, atmosphere, glacial ice) also is summarized to help understand how mercury varies in space and time.

More USGS coverage here

Reclamation Awards $37 Million Contract to Replace Glen Canyon Powerplant Transformers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Kerry Schwartz):

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced that it has awarded a $37 million contract to Yellowstone Electric Co. of Billings, Mont., to replace the 12 single-phase transformers and appurtenant equipment at Glen Canyon Powerplant that have reached the end of their service life.

“Reclamation is the nation’s second-largest producer of clean, renewable hydropower,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “We’re excited to award this contract and begin the work that will continue the performance of Glen Canyon Powerplant well into the future.”

Design, manufacture and installation work for the new transformers will take place between August 2017 and the spring of 2020. The project is a first for Reclamation, as it will be the first to use transformers of this size filled with natural ester oils derived from seed and nut oils as the insulating liquid rather than petroleum-based mineral oils typically used in most transformers. The sustainable, bio-based ester oils are safer because of the higher flash-point, which reduces the risk of fire, and they are environmentally beneficial because they disperse quickly in water and bio-degrade readily in oxygen and sunlight in the unlikely event of an oil spill.

“Bringing sustainable design to our powerplants is key to guaranteeing their length of service,” said Upper Colorado Regional Director, Brent Rhees. “It is important to our region and across Reclamation that we support green initiatives when and where we are able.”

Each of the transformers being replaced is original equipment that has been in service since the powerplant became operational in 1964. The plant’s eight generation units are connected to the transmission grid through these transformers that increase the voltage to allow the electrical power generated at the dam. The power is efficiently sent hundreds of miles to several communities throughout the southwest.

All powerplant maintenance and replacement activities are scheduled in full coordination with the Western Area Power Administration, which sells power to municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, Native American Tribes and government agencies in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Glen Canyon Powerplant has a total capacity of 1,320 megawatts and annually produces approximately five billion kilowatt-hours of power to help sustain the electrical needs of about 5.8 million customers.

For more information about Glen Canyon Dam and Powerplant please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/gc/index.html

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.