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.

Comments on new Cotter Mill plan due August 1

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

State and federal health officials are inviting the public to submit informal preliminary comments on the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s Draft Quality Management Plan.

The 53-page plan outlines quality assurance, training, implementation of work, record keeping, response and corrective action protocols for the now-defunct mill as it moves toward decommissioning. The mill has been an EPA Superfund site since 1984 due to the seeping of uranium and molybdenum contamination into groundwater and soil which was caused by the use of unlined tailings ponds.

The draft plan can be viewed on the state’s Cotter website at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm.

Comments can be sent to state health department project manager Jennifer Opila at Jennifer.opila@state.co.us. Deadline is Aug. 1.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here.

Coloradans urge water fixes: Take Mississippi River water, ban fracking, close borders — The Colorado Independent #COWaterPlan

cropcirclescoloradoindependent
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons, Flickr

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

I’m a Coloradan and I drink water.”

That’s how several letters to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in response to the state water plan begin. The statement may be valid, but it’s not going to solve a predicted water shortage over the next 35 years or contribute much to a state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper, intended to address the looming crisis.
According to a 2010 study, Colorado may be short as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2050, due largely to an expected doubling of the state’s population. That’s about 1.6 trillion gallons of water.
The water conservation board has been seeking public input both into the development of the plan and on its first draft, which was released last December.

A second draft is expected in the next few weeks. A third draft will likely be released in September, with more public comment solicited. The plan is to be finalized and sent to the governor in December.

Coloradans flooded the CWCB with more than 24,000 emails and letters in the past 18 months, beginning when Hickenlooper mandated the plan’s development.

The CWCB staff is responding to every comment – no small feat for less than 50 people.

Many thousands of comments were easy-to-dismiss form letters and form emails. But thousands of Coloradans wrote to the CWCB to express concerns about the status of Colorado’s water and what should be done to improve it.
The vast majority of the comments were thoughtful, well-informed and came from Coloradans from every walk of life, including school teachers, college students, farmers, ranchers, elected officials at every level and retirees.

While many are long-time Colorado residents, with some whose families go back four generations, one person who commented said that she’d just moved to Colorado a year ago.

All of the input showed what CWCB Director James Eklund called “strong public engagement” with the issue.
The comments touched on every aspect of the water plan, although water conservation was the dominant theme.

“As far as I can tell, there is little emphasis on education about water conservation. In our household, our water usage is about half that of other households because we make an effort to conserve,” wrote one Coloradan.
But another person, who also called for more education about water conservation, complained that he witnesses a guy at the local YMCA who takes showers that are way too long.

And then there were those with some seemingly off-beat ideas about how to save Colorado water. Gary Hausler suggested importing water from east of Colorado, including from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

It’s not the first time somebody has proposed pumping in water from the Midwest. Two lawmakers during the 2015 session proposed studying the feasibility of extending a Kansas pipeline that brings in Missouri River water to the Eastern Plains. That bill, House Bill 15-1167, won approval from the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee but later died in the House Appropriations Committee.

Hausler is a proponent of piping in water from the Mississippi, south of Cairo, Illinois, to add one million acre-feet of water to Colorado.

“The Mississippi represents an immense source of unused water that meets Colorado’s future needs and eliminates the need for ag dry-up and additional trans-mountain diversions,” he wrote. (In Colorado, 80 percent of the water for the Eastern Plains comes through a system of 24 tunnels that travel through the Continental Divide from the Western Slope and its major rivers, including the Roaring Fork and Colorado.)

But Hausler said the proposal has been ignored and derided for years for political reasons, and he was careful to add that he has no financial interest in the proposal.

The CWCB staff replied that importing water from the Midwest has been studied and is not believed to be feasible for many reasons. However, the idea has been discussed by the various basin roundtable groups, the staff replied.
Colorado has eight major river basins. Each river basin has a roundtable group, plus a ninth, representing the Denver Metro area. The groups are made up of local governments, water districts and other representatives. Each basin roundtable developed its own recommendations for the state water plan.

Hausler’s suggestion was similar to one made months earlier by Brenda Miller, who called transferring water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope “futile” and a reflection of Denver’s “urban sociopathology.”
Look to a place with surplus, Miller suggested, such as the Missouri River, an “easy 400 to 500 miles from Denver.”

Another commenter wanted to offer his high-tech ag services to solve the predicted water shortage: “I have invented a growing system that uses less than half the water and produces more end product than conventional methods. It will save more water than I can claim,” said Larry Smith, who did not elaborate on his system.

Many letters dealt with a particular water use that writers believed ought to be curtailed: hydraulic fracking.
Sally Hempy wrote: “The biggest impact we can make in our Colorado waters is to outlaw the fossil fuel industry. You can’t protect one county that is free of fracking while the neighboring county mines, fracks and pollutes our acrifers (Note: aquifers).”

She also complained about runoff from agriculture and animal feedlots. “Let’s protect what we have!”

The CWCB staff said fracking doesn’t need a lot of water compared to other uses, such as power plants, and that the plan does not make a “value judgment” on any specific water use.

At least two letters suggested another ban: the livestock industry.

Jerry Daidian suggested eliminating “production of livestock feed as a beneficial use…The disproportionate use of Colorado’s [river] water by the livestock industry lies at the core of the problem.”

Other writers suggested Colorado close its borders and stop shipping water to other states.

Mary Ratz wrote that the state’s precipitation “is ours to use. We should not have to let ANY of it flow to other states and should not have to prove we own that water and that we need all of it. This is a state RIGHT, not for the federal government’s to decide.”

She also noted the Colorado River “is all ours” and shouldn’t be watering lawns in Las Vegas or any of the lower Colorado River basin states (Nevada, Arizona, California and New Mexico).

CWCB staff responded, trying to explain interstate compacts, Congressionally-approved agreements between states that govern just how much water goes from a headwater state, like Colorado, to its downriver states.

But by this spring, the CWCB staff had a different suggestion: The writer should read the “Citizen’s Guide to Interstate Compacts,” produced by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

Then there was the comment from Jeremy Davis: “Please lay-off. We are not merely cannon fodder. We are people with lives, dreams, and families. Leave our water alone. Allow us the opportunity to be.”

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