SB14-147 hits a wall in the Senate Ag Committee — indefinite postponement

April 20, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Senate Bill 14-147, “A Study to Determine the Impact of Increased Well Alluvial Well Pumping In District 2 of Water Division 1,” would have allowed wells to pump 20 percent more than their decrees permitted under the auspices of a study.

Testimony was given during the hearing that the additional 20 percent of pumping proposed in connection with the study would injure other water rights and should not be used to solve high ground water issues. Additionally, Jim Yahn of the North Sterling Irrigation District told lawmakers that, based on court documents, there have been localized areas of high ground water in the South Platte since the early 1900s.

“The bill would have conflicted with existing water court decrees and undo stipulations between parties in hundreds of water court cases, making it unconstitutional,” the press release from WRASP said. “It could also interfere with Colorado’s obligations under the South Platte River Compact.”

Following the hearing, WRASP member Joe Frank expressed ongoing concern with the idea behind this legislation: “Water rights in Colorado are property rights. WRASP will always oppose proposals that undermine these property rights to the detriment of Colorado farmers. Taking our water should never be an option to solving water shortages in other areas. WRASP remains committed to working with all parties for reasonable solutions.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

April 5, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

“This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

“It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

“There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.


The Rio Grande River Compact Commission meets today

March 20, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

The tension is expected to be thick Thursday as top water officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas gather for an annual meeting focused on management of the Rio Grande.

Texas and New Mexico are in the middle of a legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court over groundwater pumping along the border. The federal government is weighing in, claiming that groundwater falls under its jurisdiction and should be considered part of the massive system of canals and dams that deliver water to farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas.

It could be years before the court makes a decision, but some experts say the case could set precedent when it comes to state rights in the drought-stricken West.

In the meantime, farmers in southern New Mexico who are deciding whether to plant crops or leave their fields fallow are on “pins and needles,” said Scott Verhines, New Mexico’s top water official.

“Certainly the litigation, the threat of litigation, the fear of what’s going to come out of all this is clouding everybody’s ability to work toward a solution,” he said. “I think very unfortunately that we find ourselves fighting and not solving.”

Verhines will be among those gathering for the Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting. The decades-old compact spells out how much river water the states must share.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


‘Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive’ — Leroy Salazar

March 16, 2014
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Heading a water solutions team, San Luis Valley resident LeRoy Salazar told those attending a groundwater advisory meeting on Wednesday it is time to get beyond the blame game and work together to preserve Valley communities and the agricultural livelihoods that keep them alive. Part of a group trying to find solutions to affordable, equitable and successful water sustainability, Salazar said a year ago he was only 20 percent convinced “we would be able to make this thing work.”

He said he is presently up to 60 percent and hopes by the time the state well rules are in place, “I will have an 80 percent probability we are going to be able to keep this thing going.”

He added, “We are all working really hard.”

He commended the state engineer’s office for working hard to develop a groundwater model that would work and rules that would work for everybody.

“The well owners want these as bad as surface users,” he said. “We want to know what hand we are going to be dealt with.”

He said some flexibility may be required in the next year or two as water users work through some of the challenges they will come up against in complying with the state’s new rules.

“Some of those things may take us five to six years to work out,” Salazar added. “We may not be able to live at exactly the letter of the law. We can create a little bit of flexibility in there.”

He said it might not be possible to always replace depletions to the river in exactly the right time and place that the regulations will require.

“Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive.”

State Engineer Dick Wolfe said he believed “our greatest successes come from our greatest challenges,” and he is at an 80-percent confidence level. The well rules Wolfe hopes to submit to the water court yet this spring will require wells to make up for the injuries and depletions they have caused senior water rights and the aquifers.

Salazar said he has both senior water surface rights, which date back five generations , in addition to wells, which are junior water rights. He said wells are part of the reason that rivers are drier and aquifers diminished, but they are not the sole problem. The multi-year drought and the demands of the interstate Rio Grande Compact are also responsible, he said.

However, he said those trying to reach solutions must get beyond the blame game “and think what’s in the best interest of keeping our communities alive and keep them going.”

He said he could see at least 100,000 acres of land going out of production, and if solutions cannot be reached to the Valley’s water problems, that total could be twice that.

“Think what that will do to communities,” he said.

He said the two main issues to address are sustainability and depletions.

He said some of the solutions to sustainability are fairly easy. Changing farming practices to use less water would be a better solution than shutting wells down, he said. For example, while alfalfa requires 28-30 inches of water annually, barley only requires 20 inches, so a switch from alfalfa to grain would cut water usage by one third.

“We can do a little bit better than that,” Salazar added. “A lot of us that are raising grain and potatoes, there are a lot of conservation crops that can apply 6-8 inches that will raise some pasture for cows.”

A crop like sorghum sudan grass would only require 6-8 inches but would still provide pasture for cattle, for example.

“There’s alternatives without having to shut a bunch of wells down to increase sustainability,” Salazar said. “We know we have to reduce the drain on the aquifers. I think sustainability can be dealt with fairly easily if we all agree we need to cut back. I don’t think there will be too many farms go out of business if we cut back.”

Addressing the issue of replacing depletions is a bit trickier, Salazar said. He explained it would take on the order of 20,000-30 ,000 acre feet to replace those depletions throughout the Valley, with the Conejos system owing about 6,000 acre feet. If the drought continues, however, that number could increase to 8,000-10 ,000 ace feet on that river system, he said.

Forbearance is one key way to deal with the depletions , he said. Some senior water users who have been injured by well pumping may be willing to accept money instead of water, Salazar explained. However , there will be water right holders who will want “wet water,” and that will not always be easy to provide, he said.

“A lot of depletions we are seeing are owed on the lower Conejos might owe 10,000-15 ,000 acre feet of depletions. How do we get 10,000 acre feet down to that lower part if we have to replace it exactly in time and place and we can’t find enough forbearance agreements ?”

Another obstacle is reservoir storage in that area. Salazar said the Platoro Reservoir would be a good place to store water that could later be used to replace depletions. However, that reservoir is often restricted under the Rio Grande Compact on whether it can store water or not.

“It’s a Compact reservoir and a post-Compact reservoir , which means we can’t really store water from one year to the next ” which is what we really need to do if we are going to make this thing work. Trying to find storage is going to be a big issue.”

Dry riverbeds create other obstacles, Salazar added. If water has to move from one part of the stream to meet depletions on the other end, but there’s a dry riverbed in the middle, “we lose it all.”

Folks have four options in responding to the state’s pending groundwater rules, Salazar said. One option is to join a sub-district ; another is to formulate an augmentation plan; a third is to take the rules to court and try to keep them there as long as possible “that’s not a real good solution;” and a fourth option is to seek legislative mandates to force polices on the well users. Salazar said he would rather see the Valley work out its own solutions than to go to the state legislature.

The solutions committee, or team, has been trying to develop alternatives since last April, Salazar said. The team set up technical and legal sub groups and has held numerous meetings in the past year.

The team has looked at several alternatives such as diverting numerous junior water rights to pay for depletions and replenish the aquifer. Some of the people who own those junior water rights are not producing that much with them and would just as soon get paid for them. The San Luis Valley Well Owners own some junior water rights that produce a lot of water on certain years, Salazar said. That could be a source of replacement water.

The solutions committee is looking at many options and trying to find the most affordable and efficient ones, Salazar said.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


‘Our water right requires us to replace the water in the Box Elder. That’s what they (Select Energy) should do’ — Mark Harding

March 16, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

The meandering Box Elder Creek has become a battlefield as farmers and ranchers are facing off against a plan to drill wells along its banks to provide water for fracking and other oil-field operations. While the creeks wends its way north from Elbert County to the South Platte River in Weld County — Arapahoe County is ground zero for the fight.

Boxelder Properties LLC is proposing sinking four wells to draw 500-acre feet of water annually for the fracking and other oil-drilling operations. That is enough water to supply 200 average Denver homes for a year.

Ranchers and farmers along the Box Elder say the plan will dry out wells and pools used by cattle, as well as kill vegetation along the creek’s banks east of Aurora.

“These boys from Texas think they can just ride in. Well, the people on Box Elder are going to meet ‘em at the hill,” said Jerry Francis, who grazes about 30 head of cattle on the creek.

The dispute underscores the problem of trying to balance oil and gas development in Colorado with other economic activities.

“We want oil and gas development, but we have to do it so we don’t jeopardize our agricultural community,” Arapahoe County Commissioner Rod Bockenfeld said.

The county commissioners have sent a letter opposing the project to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, which must decide on the proposal.

The proposal has become so controversial that Houston-based Conoco-Phillips, the main company drilling in the area, announced that it wouldn’t use water from the wells. Houston-based Select Energy Services, the Conoco contractor that initiated the plan, has also abandoned the idea, according to company spokeswoman Brooke Jones.

Still, the permit application to drill the wells is pending with the water division, also called the Office of the State Engineer.

“The project isn’t dependent on Conoco; there are other oil service companies,” said Walraven Ketellapper, head of Boulder-based Stillwater Resources and Investment.

Stillwater, a water broker and agent, is handling the permit for Boxelder Creek Properties.

The state engineer has received 16 letters — from farmers, public officials, water districts — objecting to the plan and raising concerns about its impact on water supplies.

“We are going to do the engineering analysis, the groundwater modeling to show the wells can withdraw water without adverse impacts,” Ketellapper said. “That is our burden of proof.”

Just 15 miles east of Denver, suburban sprawl gives way to silos, barns and broad fields seemingly running all the way to the snow-capped Rockies. It is through this landscape that Box Elder Creek snakes its way to the South Platte River, 2 feet deep in some places, sometimes as wide as 12 feet, while in other spots it is just a dry, sandy bottom most of the year.

“We are a dry county,” said Bockenfeld, the Arapahoe County commissioner. “Many farms dry farm; there just isn’t a lot of water.”

Only in the early spring with the first snowmelt does the creek run full, but all year long a subterranean stream feeds ponds and pools, residents say.

“This pool is here all summer long,” Francis said as he stood in a field next to the creek. “The water and this buffalo grass gets cattle fat as a fritter.”

A retired John Deere worker who raises cattle to keep busy, the 67-year-old Francis said what he is most concerned about is the future.

“They take away the water, what’s left for my kids and grandkids?” he said.

A neighboring farmer, Bill Coyle, 60, has more immediate concerns. Coyle estimates he spent about $300,000 in an eight-year battle with the state engineer to get a water right for four irrigation wells on his 1,000-acre farm. Standing at one of his center-pivot wells, Coyle can see the spot where one of the proposed wells would be. It is beyond the state-required 600-foot setback — but still within sight.

The application for the four water wells says that they are drawing water from the creek and won’t impact local wells. Coyle doesn’t believe it.

“They are proposing pumping at 1,000 gallons a minute,” Coyle said. “My well is 42 feet deep. It will have an impact on the well, and it will be immediate.”

The decision to issue a temporary permit to drill and pump the four wells to produce 500-acre feet a year or 163 million gallons rests with the state engineer. The award of a long-term water right would be determined in Colorado Water Court — a process that can take as much as five years. The process is governed by Colorado water law — a byzantine set of rules organizing the right to draw water based on a priority system.

The key to being allowed to pump the water is a so-called augmentation plan to replace it so that the older or “senior” water rights are not impaired. This is an expensive process.

Select Energy offered four landowners — none of them local residents — $10,000 to drill a water well on their land and 1 cent for every barrel of water — about 42 gallons — pumped, according to one of the contracts.

They also purchased shares in the Weldon Valley Ditch to replace the pumped water. The application estimates that 10.4 shares — worth about $950,000 — would be needed to replace the 500 acre-feet drawn from the water wells.

Water, however, is vital to the oil and gas industry, with demand growing 35 percent to 18,700 acre-feet from 2010 to 2015, according to state estimates. The water, mixed with sand and chemicals, is pumped into wells under pressure to “hydrofracture” or frack shale rock and release oil and gas. About 4 million gallons is pumped into a single horizontal well.

“Water has always responded to the market in Colorado,” said Ken Carlson, director of the Center for Energy and Water Sustainability at Colorado State University. “First it was urban areas buying the water rights of farms. Now it is oil and gas.”

Select Energy is now getting its water from Denver-based Pure Cycle Corp., which has deep wells on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range, in Arapahoe County. Pure Cycle is opposing the plan because it also has a water right on the Box Elder that would be hurt, said Mark Harding, Pure Cycle’s president. The problem is that the plan calls for pumping along the Box Elder but returning the water about 50 miles to the north near Wiggins.

“Our water right requires us to replace the water in the Box Elder. That’s what they should do,” Harding said.

The state engineer will rule in the next few months on the temporary permit, which could enable pumping this year and last for as long as five years.

“This application is unusual in that the Box Elder isn’t a continuously flowing stream where the groundwater is continuously replenished,” Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein said.

“We take the concerns seriously, and we’ve asked the applicant to respond to them,” Rein said. “We’ll have to see what they say.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


South Platte River Basin: ‘…no simple answers’ to the issue of groundwater management in the area — Bill Jerke

March 13, 2014
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The question was asked: Is the conversation about agriculture issues more emotional today than ever before?

Responding before the crowd at the University of Northern Colorado for the day’s panel on Colorado agriculture, Paul Sater, a Kersey-area farmer, threw in his two cents.

His answer was “yes.”

Sater said only a generation or two ago, everyone was just a grandfather or other relative away from the farm or ranch, and now, with only about 1 percent of the population involved in ag, an unknowing public has questions — leading some to even have suspicions.

“In absence of reason, you have emotion,” he said. “That’s where we are today.”

Taking the emotion out of the ag-conversation equation and providing information for voters on Colorado agriculture was the goal of the League of Women Voters of Greeley-Weld County, who hosted the event.

On the panel was Bill Jerke, a LaSalle-area farmer and former Weld County commissioner and state legislator; Brent Lahman, relationship manager at Rabo AgriFinance in Loveland; Ray Peterson, a Nunn-area rancher who serves as president of the Weld County Farmers Union and as a board member of the Weld County Livestock Association; Luke Runyon, agribusiness reporter for KUNC and Harvest Public Media, the latter of which is a reporting collaboration of several public media stations across the country that covers issues related to food and food production; and Sater, a rancher and farmer with experience in the dairy industry.

One of the topics brought up most was that of the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in food production.

The farmers and ranchers on the panel explained to the crowd that humans have been genetically modifying crops and livestock for thousands of years, through cross-breeding.

“Now, it’s just being done in a lab,” Jerke said. “That’s the only difference.”

Jerke also stressed that he has no issue with labeling food that contains GMOs on a voluntary basis, but not making it mandatory, which has been a ballot measure in some states recently.

Jerke said he was fine letting the producer or processor use the “GMO-free” label simply as a marketing tool, like the “organic” label is used.

He and others on the panel further noted, though, that true GMO-free food might be tough to come by, because of genetic engineering’s deep roots historically in human food production.

Peterson stressed the need for genetic modifying, explaining that his wheat crop one year was wiped out by pests before he began using a wheat variety that was resistant to it.

On the issue of water, Jerke stressed that there’s “no simple answers” to the issue of groundwater management in the area, and noted the ongoing depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. One of the world’s largest aquifers, underlying portions of eight states, including far east Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, is being mined and not replenished at an alarming rate, he said, and could become a major issue for the U.S.

He further stressed agriculture’s needs for completion of two area water-storage projects still in the works — the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which if approved would include two new reservoirs and provide 40,000 acre feet of water to northern Colorado, and prevent the drying up of about 60,000 acres of farmground, according to supporters’ studies; and the Chatfield Reallocation, an endeavor that would raise the Denver-area lake by as much as 12 feet, and, in doing so, provide additional water for area farmers and others.

In reference to the Chatfield project, Jerke said he didn’t understand why the studies and mitigation efforts to raise an existing reservoir just by 12 feet would cost the estimated $183 million.

Sater stressed that one of his biggest needs in agriculture is labor, but there’s no affordable way to bring to the U.S. the migrant workers who are willing to do the work.

“I do need labor, but don’t know what to do about it,” Sater said.

Lahman said some of his customers tell him that labor shortage is the No. 1 issue they have.

More South Platte River Basin coverage 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.


Rio Grande River: US siding with Texas?

February 27, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico could threaten the delivery of Rio Grande water to Texas, the federal government argued in a motion filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The motion dismisses arguments made by New Mexico in ongoing litigation with Texas over the river, with the U.S. government effectively taking Texas’s side in the case.

Be sure to click through to read the whole document with Mr. Fleck’s highlights.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


‘Colorado Supreme Court rules against holders of vested water rights inside and outside of an Indian reservation’ — Lexology

February 20, 2014
Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources

Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources

From Lexology (Daniel C. Wennogle):

In 2010 a group of water rights holders in Colorado raised a constitutional challenge to certain rules promulgated by the Colorado State Engineer’s Office regarding the designation of certain ground water resources as “nontributary.” The particular groundwater resources were located, in part on an Indian reservation, and the State Engineer’s determination was a part of an effort to promulgate rules regarding the permitting and regulation of oil and gas wells that extract groundwater in Colorado.**

The rule in dispute, referred to as the “Fruitland Rule,” was part of a set of “Final Rules” promulgated by the State Engineer under its authority granted by HB 09-1303, codified at C.R.S. § § 37-90137, 37-90-138(2), and 37-92- 308(11) (C.R.S. 2009). The Fruitland Rule related to underground water in a geologic formation called the Fruitland Formation, which extends into the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The Final Rules, which included the Fruitland Rule, contained a provision stating:

These rules and regulations shall not be construed to establish the jurisdiction of either the State of Colorado or the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over nontributary ground water within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation as recognized in Pub. L. No 98-290, § 3, 98 Stat. 201 (1984).

The Plaintiffs argued that the above-quoted provision in the Final Rules effectively divested the State Engineer from having jurisdiction to, among other things, designate water as nontributary in its rulemaking process. The trial court had agreed with this position, and stated that the State Engineer did not prove its authority. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed and held that the State Engineer’s authority came from HB 09-1303, which “authorized the State Engineer to promulgate the Final Rules to delineate nontributory groundwater extracted in oil and gas production throughout the state” of Colorado.

The Court of Appeals held that nothing about the above- quoted statement in the Final Rules did or could divest the State Engineer of this authority.

The Court of Appeals noted that its decision would not prevent a constitutional challenge to the Fruitland Rule based upon discriminatory application, if facts warranted.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.


New free online lessons available to household well owners to protect water quality — La Junta Tribune-Democrat

February 15, 2014
Typical water well

Typical water well

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

our new, free online lessons are available to household water well owners at the National Ground Water Association website http://www.WellOwner.org, the Association announced today.

The lessons were developed by NGWA with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Well owners can register by going to http://WellOwner.org or going th the following sites:

· Arsenic in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=1003&evt=arseniclesson
· Bacteria in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=963&evt=Bacteria
· Nitrate in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=973&evt=Nitratepre-test
· Radon in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=960&evt=Radon.

Other online well owner lessons previously made available cover what to test your water for, how to get a test and interpret the results, and the basics of water treatment. Well owners also can access two recorded webinars on water testing and water treatment.

NGWA Public Awareness Director Cliff Treyens encouraged household water well owners to take advantage of these new resources, as well as the toll-free Private Well Owner Hotline at (855) 420-9355 and the free monthly emailed Private Well Owner Tip Sheet. Subscribe to the tip sheet by going to http://www.wellowner.org.

“It’s never been easier for well owners to get the basic information they need to be good water well and groundwater stewards,” Treyens said. “These resources will help well owners to improve and protect their water quality.”

More groundwater coverage here and here.


Wiggins trustees approve hitching up with the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative…augmentation credits

February 15, 2014

Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.


From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

The Wiggins Board of Trustees voted to buy a share of the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative during its monthly meeting Wednesday night. That will cost $2,000.

On any one day, an individual or group with an augmentation plan might have more water credits than the person or group can use or less than it needs, and having the option of sharing credits could help those who are part of the cooperative, said agricultural producer Mike Groves. As it is, if a person or group has excess water credits, the individual or group has to just let it go down the river without use, but the cooperative may change that, he noted.

“It’s something that’s never been done before, but I get sick and tired” of seeing water lost because it cannot be used, Groves said.

Members could transfer water credits to help out those who need them, he said.

Even a little bit of water can make a difference at times, Groves said.

The copperative became official as of Jan. 1, after about seven years of work to put it together, he said. So far, a number of people and groups have become members, said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. There are two kinds of members: voting and non-voting, which cost $2,000 or $1,000 respectively for shares. That money becomes capital, and would buy one share of cooperative stock, just like other agricultural cooperatives, Frank said.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


Colorado Mesa University issues RFP for high altitude fen research

February 9, 2014

Cancer-causing chemical PCE contaminates Colorado soil, water and homes — The Denver Post

February 9, 2014
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Here’s an in-depth look at the problem of mitigating PCE (perchloroethylene or perc) spills around dry-cleaning operations, from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Spills releasing PCE, the cancer-causing chemical used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, have produced at least 86 underground plumes across Colorado that are poisoning soil and water and fouling air inside buildings.

Cleaning up this chemical is a nightmare — a lesson in the limits of repairing environmental harm. The best that Colorado health enforcers and responsible parties have been able to do is keep the PCE they know about from reaching people…

Dry cleaners are found in most communities nationwide. But the PCE problem hasn’t been as visible as the large-scale industrial disasters that mobilize advocacy groups. Unlike oil rig ruptures and chemical spills into rivers, PCE plumes remain hidden.

They formed because, in the past, PCE legally could be flushed into sewers, dumped out backdoors, emptied down alleys. Dry cleaners didn’t grasp the potential cumulative impact of day-to-day drips on their floors.

PCE is heavy, sinking through soil and groundwater to form pools that can remain volatile for decades and do not readily break down.

Health authorities say they worry most about sites where PCE levels in soil and groundwater are so high that vapors rise up and contaminate buildings.

More water pollution coverage here.


The COGCC explores expanded policy for horizontal drilling ‘communication’ with existing wells

February 6, 2014
Potential vertical and horizontal drilling conflict via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Robert Garcia)

Potential vertical and horizontal drilling conflict via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Robert Garcia)

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission plans to expand statewide a policy aimed at preventing horizontal wells from causing leaks involving existing wells, due to a leak southwest of De Beque where such a possible link is being investigated.

The Bureau of Land Management also is looking at what it can do to try to help head off such problems.

The agencies’ actions follow the Dec. 14 discovery of natural gas and fluids bubbling up around a Maralex Resources well on Jaw Ridge, which is BLM-managed land about seven miles from De Beque. The leak’s cause continues to be investigated, and one possibility the COGCC is considering is that it resulted from hydraulic fracturing of a Black Hills Exploration & Production well that was drilled from a surface site about a mile away, but made a 90-degree turn underground and passed within about 400 feet of the Maralex well.

The Maralex well was drilled in 1981 but was shut in shortly after its drilling. It stopped leaking Jan. 17, as work continued on permanently plugging it, an effort completed a week later. Fluids initially escaped from the well pad after the leak’s start. Maralex then opened the well and directed the flow into a pit for removal by truck. That flow fluctuated widely but averaged about 6,300 gallons a day during the month before it ceased. Authorities have found no indication of contamination of surface water or groundwater. Testing continues to try to determine exactly how far the fluids spread beyond the pad within what the BLM considers to be a known maximum spill parameter.

‘COMMUNICATION’ CONCERN

The COGCC currently has a policy aimed at preventing what it calls the potential for “communication” between horizontal wells and existing wells in 11 counties in eastern Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin. That area is seeing a boom in horizontal drilling aimed at producing oil and other liquids, in an area with numerous existing vertical wells that in some cases may not have been constructed to withstand modern-day, high-pressure fracture operations nearby.

“It is apparent that that policy needs to be pushed out statewide. It needs to be pushed out statewide very quickly,” COGCC director Matt Lepore told the commission at its last meeting.

The policy requires the COGCC engineer to evaluate all wells within 1,500 feet of a proposed horizontal wellbore to determine whether the existing wells have adequate cement sealing around them to isolate the geological formation to be fractured, as well as all groundwater zones. Also to be evaluated is whether an existing well’s wellhead and master valve are rated to 5,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, or alternatively that there is adequate mechanical isolation down the well.

If concerns exist regarding an existing well, the company proposing the horizontal well must take measures that can range from doing remedial cement work in the existing well to isolate all formations, to properly plugging it, to replugging it if needed or proposing alternative mitigation. An existing well’s owner cannot refuse to let mitigation work occur.

The COGCC initially implemented the policy for horizontal wells coming within 300 feet of existing wells. It eventually expanded the distance after pressure readings and other data collected at existing wells during fracking of new ones indicated a need to do so.

Lepore told the commission one concern companies have is the lack of data that would justify the 1,500-foot-distance standard in the case of wells outside the DJ Basin. He also noted that there are currently few plans to drill horizontal wells elsewhere in the state. Companies have been drilling a small number of such wells for exploratory purposes in the Piceance Basin.

LEAK THEORY INVESTIGATED

The Maralex well was drilled into the Dakota sandstone formation, while the Black Hills well targeted the Niobrara shale, part of the shallower Mancos formation. The COGCC says the Maralex well wasn’t cemented to isolate the Niobrara zone because that zone wasn’t considered a producing formation when the well was drilled. It’s looking at whether gas liberated from fracking the Black Hills well reached the Maralex well, pushing gas and water to the surface.

Bruce Baizel, energy program director with the Earthworks conservation group, has said another concern in horizontal drilling is that it may occur around older existing wells that may have corroded pipes or cement sealing that has weakened over time and can’t stand up to fracking pressures.

Maralex plugged its well in stages after the discovery of the leak. When it finished plugging the Dakota sandstone formation, the leak slowed but continued. The leak stopped once plugging was completed at the top of the Mancos formation. But that in itself hasn’t been enough to convince officials that the Black Hills well fracking caused or contributed to the problem.

Test results of fluid that flowed back from the Black Hills well are still being awaited. Samples of flowback fluid from another Black Hills horizontal well farther from the Maralex well proved to differ significantly from the fluid that came up the Maralex well.

THE BLM’S ROLE

Agency spokesman Steven Hall called the Maralex situation a rare one for the BLM, which he believes has seen few instances where fracking has occurred close to shut-in wells on lands it administers in Colorado. While noting that the leak’s cause hasn’t been determined, he said the BLM wants to do what it can to prevent problems between horizontal and existing wells. He said the BLM is reviewing how it manages horizontal drilling and fracking on federal land in the state. The agency has no rules or policies addressing potential communication between horizontal and existing wells. But Hall said it has a lot of leeway during the process of reviewing drilling permit applications to impose conditions to try to avoid such situations. In addition, it is working to deal with the situation of wells that are shut in for a long time, to make sure they are permanently plugged, put into production, or tested to ensure their integrity.

“We’re going to try to be very aggressive in addressing those,” Hall said.

The agency previously has said that of 110 wells Maralex owns that involve federal lands or minerals in western Colorado, 86 are shut-in — in nearly half those cases for more than 20 years. It has met with Maralex about coming up with a strategy for addressing its shut-in wells.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Republican River Basin: Over-pumping will be part of the permanent well record under new rule

January 25, 2014
Yuma Colorado circa 1925

Yuma Colorado circa 1925

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Any overpumping of a large-capacity well from now on will remain on that well’s permanent record, no matter how many times ownership might change.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources held a meeting in Wray last week to discuss the overpumping issue. It was reported that about 60 people attended. State Engineer Dick Wolfe was among those representing the state government.

The state enforced overpumping orders beginning with the 2012 irrigation year. A total of 292 wells were overpumped, which actually accounts for only 8.8 percent of the 3,300 active high-capacity wells in Colorado’s Republican River Basin. Total overpumping by those 292 wells was 14,819 acre-feet, which is about the same amount as the maximum that could ever be sent downstream into Nebraska by the compact compliance pipeline. (Per the pipeline’s wells historical consumptive use.)

As reported in the past, the state issued orders dictating a one-for-one reduction in pumping in 2013 for those offending wells, i.e., a well that overpumped its allowed amount by 50 acre-feet in 2012 was to pump 50 acre-feet below its allowed amount in 2013.

All offending wells that complied with the overpumping orders in 2013 will be allowed to return to normally permitted acre-foot allocations in 2014.

It was reported last week at the Wray meeting that only 18 of the 3,300 high-capacity wells (0.5 percent) overpumped during the 2013 irrigation season. The total overpumped amount was 393.6 acre feet.

Of those 18, three were wells that also overpumped in 2012, meaning the owners did not follow the required overpumping orders from the state. Division of Water Resource staff is in the process of filing complaints with the court against those well owners. State officials said they will collect fines for pumping in violation of the orders. The Attorney General’s Office is in the process of preparing a settlement package for each owner, which the owners have the option to either agree to and sign or not.

The owners will be under orders again in 2014, only this time it will be a two acre-foot reduction for every one acre-foot overpumped.

Those wells will now be under order to never overpump again, and if do, the owners could be subjected to additional hefty fines, contempt and possibly more.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.


Oil shale: An alliance of conservationists are asking Utah to reconsider recent permits for groundwater disposal

January 25, 2014
Deep injection well

Deep injection well

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Conservation groups are asking the state of Utah to reconsider its December approval of a groundwater discharge permit for Red Leaf Resources’ oil shale project.

The request comes as the company hopes to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project in the Bookcliffs about 55 miles south of Vernal.

The groups on Tuesday filed what’s called a “request for agency action” with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the department’s Division of Water Quality. It seeks review and remand of the division’s December decision and an order revoking the permit.

Attorney Rob Dubuc of Western Resource Advocates filed the action on behalf of Living Rivers, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club.

In a news release, the groups said the permit “lacks measures to prevent or detect surface or groundwater pollution, in violation of state law.”

Shelley Silbert, executive director with Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said in the release, “Amazingly, they are not even requiring monitoring of springs, seeps, or groundwater on site.”

Spokespersons for the Department of Environmental Quality and Red Leaf Resources could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a December news release, the department said that “leachate produced from mining operations appears to have levels of dissolved contaminants that are comparable to, or less than, the levels in existing groundwater in underlying rocks.”

It also said rock just below the project area “is of very low permeability and protects underlying aquifers from any contaminants that could possibly be released from the capsule.”

Red Leaf Resources plans to try out what it calls a capsule approach in which it will excavate shale from a pit, install heaters and collection pipes, replace the shale and heat it to produce oil. The groundwater permit applies to a test capsule, and if the company wants to build additional ones for commercial production it would have to seek a major modification to the permit.

The conservation groups’ challenge of the permit says a planned 3-foot-thick liner made of up shale mixed with clay is inadequate. It says the Division of Water Quality determined groundwater just beneath the mine site doesn’t quality for protection because it is not usable, but in fact the division is required to protect all groundwater from contamination.

Meanwhile, a British Company, The Oil Mining Co (TOMCO), is moving ahead with plans to implement Red Leaf’s kerogen recovery process just west of the Colorado Border. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

A British company filed papers in Utah to begin mining oil shale on land just west of the Colorado state line. TomCo submitted a notice of intent to begin mining on 2,919 acres in Uintah County for shale, which it plans to roast in large earthen capsules to release oil.

Red Leaf Resources, which owns the technology that TomCo plans to use, last month received a groundwater discharge permit for its operation, and TomCo said it is working to obtain a similar permit for its leases, which are on state property.

TomCo, which is an acronym for The Oil Mining Co., anticipates tapping the leases for 126 million barrels of oil on what is known as the Holliday Block lease. TomCo licensed the Red Leaf technology, in which oil shale is excavated and the pit is lined with a network of pipes. The crushed shale is then replaced into the pit and covered over, then heated by the network of pipes beneath, to the point at which the oil breaks free of the surrounding rock and is collected with another network of pipes. Once the oil has been recovered, the material is left in place beneath its covering.

The EcoShale In-Capsule Process is expected to produce up to 9,800 barrels of oil per day on TomCo’s leases.

TomCo said it hoped the Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining would approve the permit for mining in the middle of this year, and then open the matter for a 30-day comment period.

Red Leaf, meanwhile, expects to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project the company hopes will allow it to tap as many as 600 million barrels of oil at the rate of 9,800 barrels per day.

Red Leaf Resources expects it to take a year to construct its first test capsule and that it will take into next year before oil will be recovered.

Red Leaf’s site is on Seep Ridge, about 15 miles southwest of the TomCo holdings.

More oil shale coverage here and here.


Loveland: Senior center utilizes geothermal for heating and cooling

January 23, 2014
Geothermal exchange via Top Alternative Energy Sources

Geothermal exchange via Top Alternative Energy Sources

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

In most buildings, the center of heating operations is called the boiler room, but the three-story Mirasol Phase II building is unlike most buildings, and is the first of its kind in Loveland. There are no water boilers, no air conditioning units. Instead, the 60 units in the building are heated and cooled by a geothermal exchange system and hot water to faucets comes from a solar collector system on the roof…

So how does it work? Temperatures below the earth’s surface remain unchanged throughout the year. By capturing that water and pumping it through a buried loop system, a heat exchange either cools the water down or heats it up. There are five closed loop heat exchange systems located in the basement of the Mirasol Phase II building, and the thermostat inside each unit dictates the action of the heat exchange…

Geothermal exchange systems can also be used to heat and cool homes but carry a hefty price tag, largely because of the need for wells to access the underground water. At Mirasol, 36 holes 500 feet deep were drilled where the parking lot is currently located, according to Joe Boeckenstedt of Pinkard Construction Co., which was the general contractor for the Phase II project.

Of the $13.4 million to build Mirasol Phase II, the solar panels and the geothermal exchange cost about $460,000, according to Loveland Housing Authority maintenance supervisor Bill Rumley, who said the agency expects to see a return on investment for the alternative energies within a decade.

More geothermal coverage here.


Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Project caught up in the federal Record of Decision slog

January 21, 2014
Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit continue to be in a holding pattern. Federal processes have slowed the completion of a record of decision for the conduit, a master storage contract and interconnection of outlets on Pueblo Dam.

The conduit is a plan to bring clean drinking water to 40 communities and 50,000 people from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.

The master contract would allow conduit users and others to purchase long-term storage in Lake Pueblo, while the cross-connection would give water users redundancy of water supply sources.

An environmental impact study was finalized in August, but changes in the Bureau of Reclamation leadership and a federal shutdown have delayed the ROD for five months, said Christine Arbogast, lobbyist for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the projects.

“Five months seems like a long time, but it’s looking good,” Arbogast said.

She said a decision could be made in a few weeks.

The lack of the ROD for the projects means very little work is progressing.

“Anything moving forward will be on hold until we get to the point where we have a ROD,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

This year’s federal budget includes $1 million for the conduit, but larger appropriations are needed in future years to move the project ahead.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


‘There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down’ — LeRoy Salazar

January 20, 2014
Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A water purchase nearly four decades ago may provide a major solution in the current challenge to keep farmers in business in the San Luis Valley. Representatives from the San Luis Valley Irrigation Well Owners Inc. received unanimous support from the Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable on Tuesday to perform a feasibility study to see if surface water rights they own can be used to offset depletion requirements for various groundwater management sub-districts throughout the Valley. The budget for the study is $180,000, with the local roundtable approving $8,000 of its basin funding for the project and supporting a request for $142,000 in statewide funds, which will be considered at the state level in March. The well owners group will provide $30,000 as its match.

The nonprofit well owners corporation was formed in 1973 to address groundwater rules and regulations that appeared imminent at the time, SLV Irrigation Well Owners Vice President Monty Smith told members of the Valley-wide roundtable group on Tuesday. In preparation for the rules/regs at that time, the well owners group, comprised of people who own irrigation wells, began an augmentation plan that incorporated the purchase of Taos Valley #3 water rights on the San Antonio River for augmentation water, Smith added.

“The augmentation plan was never completed and never needed to be used,” Smith explained.

“Thirty eight years later we find ourselves in a situation where we need to use that water and we need to complete the project.”

He added, “We feel this water is an absolutely crucial piece of our replacement for not only the Conejos area but it provides benefit for the entire basin. We need to figure how it can best be used.”

Agro Engineering Engineer Kirk Thompson provided more information about this potential water project and its importance to Valley water users, especially now that state groundwater rules and regulations for the Rio Grande Basin will soon be promulgated. Thompson said the Taos Valley #3 water rights were a relatively junior water right on the San Antonio dating to 1889. They were originally adjudicated for 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) and used for irrigation and storage. Since that time, however, a portion of the water rights was abandoned, leaving 245 cfs, which is what the well owners bought in 1976 for their augmentation plan. They converted 230 cfs of the 245 cfs total from irrigation to augmentation water and left the remaining 15 cfs in irrigation, Thompson explained. The well owners are considering converting that 15 cfs into augmentation water as well.

The well owners bought the water for the purpose of augmenting injurious depletions in the streams resulting from well pumping, Thompson said. Since 1976, the 230 cfs, also known as the Middlemist water, has been left in the San Antonio for the benefit of the entire river system, Thompson said. Since the state did not promulgate groundwater rules in the 1970′s , there was no formal requirement for augmentation in the intervening 38 years, he added.

Since this was a junior water right, some years the Middlemist water produced zero effect on the river system, and in other years it provided as much as 29,000 acre feet, Thompson said. Most years averaged about 10,000 acre feet of water from this water right to the river systems.

“This is a significantly large amount of water we are talking about and a valuable consideration as we move forward,” Thompson said.

Thompson reminded the attendees at the Tuesday roundtable meeting that the state is in the process of promulgating rules governing groundwater use in the San Luis Valley, and wells will no longer be allowed to pump unless their injurious depletions to surface rights are covered in a groundwater management sub-district or augmentation plan. Thompson said the state engineer’s goal is to have the rules/regulations to the water court by this spring, and Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten confirmed that in his report to the roundtable.

Cotten also confirmed that the well owners’ augmentation plan would have to go back to court, since it never was finalized in the ’70′s . The plan would have to be more specific on how it would provide augmentation and would have to prove it could deliver water where it needed to go, he said.

Thompson said the well owners group wants to perfect its Middlemist/Taos Valley #3 water right so that water can be used for augmentation purposes in a way that will benefit well owners in sub-districts throughout the Valley. Individual augmentation plans for every well owner would not be realistic at this point, so most well owners plan to join sub-districts as a means of meeting the pending state regulations. The purpose of the well owners’ project is to consider ways in which their surface water right could benefit those sub-districts , Thompson explained.

“As of today, there’s certainly not enough augmentation water currently perfected to go around and ” will be in very short supply and probably at high value,” Thompson said.

He said the average total depletions that well owners throughout the entire basin will have to replace will be about 30,000 acre feet every year. If the approximately 10,000 acre feet the Middlemist water produces every year could be used to offset those depletions, it could amount to about a third of the annual requirement.

Smith said, “This is a way to carry on our living and our way of life that we all enjoy in this Valley and to keep the Valley a viable place to live. I have farmed my entire life. I am third generation. My goal is to be able to continue to preserve my wells, to replace my injuries to the streams. This is one piece in that puzzle to bring that all together.”

The group asked the roundtable for help in funding a hydrologic feasibility study to consider the potential for using the Taos Valley #3 water for either surface water storage or groundwater recharge. Thompson said storage options are limited, so he believed recharge was a more viable option. The feasibility study would look at how the recharge could be accomplished so the water would go into the ground where it was needed to replace injurious depletions. The study would look at both confined and unconfined recharge options..

Those who will be involved in conducting the feasibility study will be Thompson of Agro Engineering, Eric Harmon of HRS Water Consultants, Allen Davey of Davis Engineering and in an advisory capacity, Steve Vandiver of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District , the sponsoring entity for the water management sub-districts .

The study would be the first of a multi-phased project . Phase 2 would look at physical infrastructure to get surface water where it needs to go, and the third phase would involve the court process to perfect the water right as an augmentation right, Thompson explained.

He said the well owners want to begin some wintertime well monitoring right away, using their $30,000 match. They want to begin this study as soon as possible since Harmon envisions the feasibility phase as taking a full year.

“If we don’t have the feasibility done this year we are talking another one or two years to get into the courts,” Thompson said. “If rules are released this spring, the subdistricts are under the gun to get formed and under the gun to find sources of water to replace injurious depletions in short order.”

LeRoy Salazar added, “There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down ” We don’t have a lot of time.”

Salazar said this project is key to replacing injurious depletions to surface water rights; creating a sustainable water table; and maintaining the Valley’s economy.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


South Platte Basin: Irrigators hope HB12-1278 study will help curtail pumping curtailment

January 15, 2014
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

Many Northern Colorado wells were shutdown, or access to them was reduced, by a 2006 Colorado Supreme Court ruling. Other owners had to follow augmentation plans, spending thousands of dollars to replace water they’ve taken out of the South Platte River.

Prompting the study was the issue of high groundwater in some locations along the river. When some farmers weren’t allowed to pump, homeowners were starting to see flooding in their basements.

Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute spent more than a year holding stakeholder meetings and researching the 209-page report [.pdf] — much of it before last year’s flooding. The report found a connection between the lack of pumping and required augmentation plans. It also said the system helped to protect senior surface water rights from injury.

The study proposes reintroducing well pumping as a way to manage the issue in specific locations like Gilcrest and Sterling. Other CWI recommendations call for more data collection abilities for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and a basin wide entity focused on more flexible management of water rights…

Longtime farmer Bob Sakata poked at the augmentation policy requiring well owners to cover past depletion of surface water. He thinks the situation was improved by the September floodwater.

“We should not have to pay past depletion,” said Sakata to applause. “That is the biggest nonsense there is in the rule.”

Republican State Senator and gubernatorial hopeful Greg Brophy enthusiastically took on the issue of erasing all past well debt along the South Platte.

“I agree with you guys,” Brophy said, announcing plans to co-sponsor a bill with Democratic Rep. Randy Fisher to wipe out those past pumping depletions as of Sept. 12, 2013.

Scientists question just how much September’s floods filled up the South Platte’s aquifers.

Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom says that floodwater replenishment may be true for wells right next to the South Platte. But that’s not the case miles away from the river.

“The groundwater data outside of the river floodplain was not affected by the flood,” Waskom said.

Meantime, Colorado legislators will need to introduce other bills to implement the recommendations of the Colorado Water Institute.

Rep. Randy Fisher says study recommendations that require funding — like proposed pilot projects in Gilcrest and Sterling — will require follow up…

In the last decade, [Nursery owner Gene Kamerzell] says state management of water rights has become more political than scientific, and farmers are suffering.

“A lot of our friends have gone out of business,” Kamerzell said. “We have friends that have large operations that have relocated to New Mexico because the water policy in this state isn’t being managed right.”

Kamerzell hopes that the scientific report and the proposed legislation will help restore a different balance. Along with most things in Colorado water policy though, he knows it can take years — not days — to measure progress.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: Potential groundwater bills bring hope for some irrigators in the South Platte Basin

January 13, 2014
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Talks of a proposed bill, one that’s expected to draw plenty of attention, highlighted the first meeting of the Ground Water Coalition on Friday. During the meeting, guest speakers Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and gubernatorial candidate Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, each said they plan to push legislation that would allow South Platte River Basin groundwater users to stop making up for depletions to the aquifer that precede September’s flooding.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. When Colorado’s augmentation requirements became more strict in the mid-2000s, many groundwater pumpers were not only required to fully augment for their depletions going forward, but also to make up for their estimated depletions to the aquifer going back years, or even decades. In some cases, the rules have farmers making up for depletions from as far back as the 1970s.

In their discussions Friday, Fischer, Brophy and others stressed that, with the many reports of high groundwater problems in recent years and the historic flooding in the South Platte Basin during September, the aquifer is believed to be plenty full, and groundwater pumpers — mostly farmers — only need to make up for their depletions from September 2013 and on.

The bill comes as yet another source of discussion — and likely friction — about how groundwater is used in the South Platte Basin. In general, some believe the existing rules and system work well, but others — many of whom have lost the ability to pump some of their groundwater wells — believe groundwater is being mismanaged and changes need to be made to get the maximum beneficial use out of groundwater and surface water and address the water shortages the region is expected to face in coming decades.

In 2012, the heated debate led to legislative approval of a groundwater study in the basin. That study was recently completed, and a report was delivered to lawmakers Dec. 31. Now, some lawmakers are looking to continue the discussions during the 2014 legislative session.

Talk Friday of Fischer and Brophy’s bill was music to the ears of many in attendance.

When the state increased its augmentation requirements in 2006, many farmers couldn’t afford all of the needed augmentation water, and thousands of wells were either curtailed or shut down across Weld County and northeast Colorado, and many remain so. Some have estimated that the curtailment and shutdown of the many groundwater wells has amounted to about a $50-100 million loss in agriculture’s economic impact.

Glen Fritzler — a LaSalle-area farmer and member of the new Ground Water Coalition, which was formed last month by other local farmers with the help of Weld County commissioners — said such a bill, if put into law, would help his agriculture operations, and that of others, tremendously.

The portion of water resources he’s been using to make up for his past depletions could be used for augmentation going forward. That would allow Fritzler to pump much more water from his curtailed wells without acquiring more augmentation resources.

“It’s certainly a good starting point,” said Fritzler, who, like several others in the LaSalle, Glicrest and Sterling areas, saw his basement flood and some of his fields become over-saturated from high groundwater in recent years. “There’s still a lot of things to be addressed.”

Many, like Fritzler, believe the high groundwater levels were caused by the state increasing its augmentation requirements in the mid-2000s. They’re now over-augmenting and over-filling the aquifer, they say.

But others disagree, saying the high groundwater levels were caused by a variety of factors — such as the historically wet years of 2010 and 2011 — and they believe the existing augmentation rules are needed to protect senior surface water rights. Over-pumping of groundwater — in addition to depleting the aquifer — also depletes surface flows, because it draws water that would otherwise make its way to rivers and streams over time.

All sides agree farmers years ago were pumping too much water out of the aquifer and not enough was being put back in the system. There just hasn’t been agreement on how much groundwater pumpers should be augmenting, among other issues.

The debate came to a head in 2012. That summer, Weld County farmers, along with Weld County commissioners, asked Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an emergency declaration that would allow them to temporarily pump some of their curtailed wells — in hopes of bringing down the damaging high groundwater, and to also save their crops during the ongoing drought. But objectors, and ultimately Hickenlooper, said no to the idea.

While those in attendance Friday were excited to hear of Fischer and Brophy’s proposed legislation, they’re also predicting the bill will see plenty of pushback. However, they also believe it’s just one of many things that need to be addressed when it comes to groundwater issues in the South Platte Basin.

One of the main objectives of the new Ground Water Coalition, organizers say, is to make sure groundwater is fully taken into account in the South Platte Basin and statewide long-term water plans.

“It’s a resource that’s an estimated 10 million acre feet underneath us, but we’re not including it in our long-term plans, and that’s unacceptable,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. “That’s why we started this coalition … to make sure this resource is not only a part of the equation, but is used responsibly, and to its full potential.”


Sterling: ‘The plant is doing what it was built to do’ — Jim Allen

January 12, 2014
Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Sara Waite):

…Allen said they have yet to receive any reports of discolored water, and there is no evidence of issues with lines breaking due to the new water. He said he didn’t believe a problem last week with the service line to Pizza Hut was due to the water treatment system, although he acknowledged it would be hard to prove either way. But, he said, when the problem arose and city crews dug up the line, they found it was an old lead service line, which they usually replace anyway with newer materials.

Allen was reluctant to talk about the probability of those problems — he said he doesn’t like to discuss things he doesn’t want to happen — but he was happy to report that the uranium levels in the water, which prompted the need for the new treatment plant, are falling. The membranes (in the reverse osmosis system) are working, he said.

He said that the newly treated water likely has not fully replaced the “old” water in the system, as it has to cycle through the storage tanks and into the water service. The timeline on that depends on the volume of water in storage and usage.

The water is safe to drink, he reiterated.

“The plant is doing what it was built to do,” he said.


HB12-1278, South Platte Groundwater Study Augmentation report released

January 7, 2014
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

Here’s the executive summary. Click here to access the full report.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A long-awaited groundwater report suggests lawmakers give Colorado’s state engineer more say in future water functions, add staff to the Water Resources Division office in Greeley and further monitor areas where high groundwater caused extensive damage in recent years in Weld and Logan counties. The groundwater research endeavor in the South Platte River Basin — referred to as the HB 1278 study, and spearheaded by Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom — was initiated in 2012 and has been of great interest to many northeast Colorado farmers and other residents. Waskom’s report and his 2014 legislative suggestions had to be finished and delivered to state lawmakers by Dec. 31. He met the deadline, and his findings were posted on the Colorado Water Institute’s website on Monday morning.

Many water providers and users might have something to gain or lose from any new policy in the state’s groundwater management. Some believe the existing system works well, but others believe changes need to be made to get the maximum beneficial use out of groundwater and surface water and address the water shortages the region is expected to face in upcoming decades. The debate goes back years and came to a head during the 2012 drought, when crops were struggling in fields but some farmers couldn’t pump their wells to provide relief, even though groundwater was at historically high levels in some spots — even seeping into basements, over-saturating fields and causing other issues. Many impacted residents and others believed the high groundwater problems were caused by the state’s augmentation rules, which had become more stringent in 2006.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the rivers because groundwater pumping draws water that would otherwise make its way into nearby rivers over time. When the state increased its requirements in 2006, some farmers couldn’t afford the augmentation water, and about 8,000 wells were either curtailed or shut down in Weld County and northeast Colorado.

In the summer of 2012, local farmers, along with Weld County commissioners, asked Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an emergency declaration that would allow them to temporarily pump some of those curtailed or shutdown wells — in hopes of bringing down the damaging high groundwater, and to also save their crops. But many other water users — particularly surface users downstream from Greeley — urged the governor not to allow it. They said it would deplete senior surface water supplies to which they were entitled. The governor didn’t allow any emergency groundwater pumping for local farmers, saying that the state would likely face a barrage of lawsuits if he did so.

However, those 2012 discussions led to lawmakers approving the groundwater study, to see if the state has rules in place that are getting the best use out of its water supplies. Now, that study is complete.

In his recommendations, Waskom wrote that the state engineer — the head of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, a position currently held by Weld County native Dick Wolfe — should be more involved and have more input in augmentation and recharge projects.

Waskom also wrote that “the state engineer should be directed by the General Assembly to promulgate new rules for the S. Platte to establish a framework for the voluntary movement of excess water supplies between augmentation plans … ” and “promulgate new rules for the S. Platte to establish basin specific guidelines for the implementation of administrative curtailment orders … that reduce waste and facilitate efficient management and distribution of available water supplies …”

A number of farmers have called for the state engineer to have more authority and more of a say in water functions, rather than being dominated by Colorado’s Water Court system.

Additionally, Waskom also writes that:

• “Two pilot projects should be authorized and funded by the General Assembly to allow the state engineer to track and administer high groundwater zones for a specified period of time to lower the water table at Sterling and Gilcrest/LaSalle while testing alternative management approaches.”

• “Funding should be authorized to provide the Division 1 Engineer (Dave Nettles in Greeley) with two additional FTEs (full-time employees) and greater annual investment in technology upgrades. Additionally, Colorado DWR (Division of Water Resources) needs one additional FTE to focus on data and information services.”

• “The General Assembly should authorize the establishment of a pilot basin-wide management entity with a defined sunset date.”

• “The CWCB (Colorado Water Conservancy Board), CDA “Colorado Department of Agriculture” and DWR (Colorado Division of Water Resources) should work with the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) to implement the basin-wide groundwater monitoring network outlined in this report.”

• “The State should cooperate with the S. Platte Basin Roundtable and water organizations in the basin to fund and conduct a helicopter electromagnetic and magnetic survey to produce detailed hydrogeological maps of the S. Platte alluvial aquifer.”

More groundwater coverage here.


Leadville: Evans Gulch susceptible to contamination — CDPHE survey shows

December 24, 2013
Leadville

Leadville

From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Dan Ramey):

Parkville Water District’s surface water sources in Evans Gulch have a moderate susceptibility to contamination, according to a survey performed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The report looks at the susceptibility of a district’s sources of water to two types of contaminants.

Discrete contaminant sources are areas “from which the potential release of the contamination would be confined to a relatively small area,” according to the report. These sources include such things as Superfund sites and mining sites.

Dispersed contaminant sources are defined by the report as “broad based land uses and miscellaneous sources from which the potential release of contamination would be spread over a relatively large area.” These sources includes things such as animal pastures and septic systems.
According to the report, the district’s surface water sources in Evans Gulch are at risk from one Superfund site and 53 existing or abandoned mining sites. Meanwhile, the surface is only at risk from three dispersed contaminant sources.

The report also found that Evans Gulch surface water has a moderately high physical setting vulnerability rating. The physical setting vulnerability rating looks at how the area around a water source can buffer that source from possible contaminants. The higher the rating, the less of a buffer the water source has.

Another survey from the state also assessed the susceptibility of the district’s other water sources, all of which are groundwater sources. All of those five groundwater sources had a total susceptibility rating of moderately low. Those five water sources are threatened by just seven possible discrete contaminants and 18 dispersed contaminants, according to the report.
The physical setting vulnerability ratings for those water sources vary from moderately low to moderate.

The survey is part of the state health department’s Source Water Assessment and Protection program. The surveys are also an important part of the water district’s Source Water Protection Plan. The plan uses information found in the two state health department surveys to develop ways to prevent the district’s water sources from becoming contaminated.

Contamination of the district’s sources, especially those in Evans Gulch, could prove disastrous, Parkville General Manager Greg Teter said. The district has other sources besides those in Evans Gulch, but those other sources would likely only be able to supply half of the community’s demand.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of a potential situation,” Teter said.

One of the keys to the protection plan is the sharing of information between Parkville and other local entities. The district recently signed an intergovernmental agreement with Lake County.
As part of the agreement the county and the district will share both GIS data and information, Teter said.

For example, the Lake County Building and Land Use Department will share information with the district about potential mining applications near Parkville water sources. This will allow the district to be proactive about protecting its water sources, Teter said.

Another key part of the plan is education and ensuring that businesses and community members know where Parkville’s water sources are, Teter said. The intergovernmental agreement and protection plan do not create any new restrictions on land uses around water sources, Teter said. They merely facilitate the sharing of information and create an awareness of potential threats to the community’s water sources.

In addition to protecting the community’s water sources, the Lake County watershed is also important because of its location along the Arkansas River.

“Ours isn’t the biggest, but it’s important because it’s the first on the Arkansas,” Teter said.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Colorado takes important step in resolving Republican River dispute

December 21, 2013
Republican River Basin

Republican River Basin

From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Todd Hartman):

Colorado this week completed successful negotiations with Kansas and Nebraska to allow for operation of the Compact Compliance Pipeline to deliver water to the North Fork of the Republican River in 2014. The agreement marks an important step toward resolving long-standing disputes under the Republican River Compact and providing more certainty to the agricultural economy across the region.

The agreement allows Colorado to operate the pipeline in 2014 and demonstrate its benefits to agricultural operators in Kansas and Nebraska. The 12-mile pipeline will deliver irrigation water directly to the North Fork of the Republican River near the Nebraska state line, providing the water necessary for Colorado to meet its Compact obligations with Kansas and Nebraska.

“This is a great step forward,” said Colorado’s State Engineer Dick Wolfe. “This has been a hard-fought matter, and hopefully this demonstrates that we can work together as three States to address these challenging issues and come to a permanent resolution on the Republican River.”

Colorado sought arbitration of this matter in May after Kansas denied Colorado’s request to operate the pipeline indefinitely to comply with the Compact. This fall, Kansas proposed a path forward that would allow Colorado to operate the pipeline for Compact compliance in 2014 so all parties could gain experience with its operations.

On Thursday, the three states voted to approve a resolution to use the pipeline in 2014. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources and its Division of Water Resources, along with the State Engineer, express their appreciation to the Attorney General’s Office in its efforts to negotiate with Kansas, and also thank the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Sandhills Ground Water Management District for their efforts to assist in reaching a resolution.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas have agreed to use a 12-mile pipeline to transfer water from wells in northeastern Colorado to the Republican River for agriculture in Kansas and Nebraska in 2014.

The deal made this week may help resolve a decades-old dispute over rights to water in the river, which flows from eastern Colorado into Kansas and Nebraska. Colorado hasn’t been meeting its obligations under the 1942 Republican River Compact that governs use of the river.

In May, Colorado officials sought arbitration after Kansas rejected a request to use the pipeline to meet its obligations under the compact.

Kansas also has argued that Nebraska farmers took more than their share of river water and tried to stop Nebraskans from irrigating 500,000 acres in the 5.8 million-acre Republican River Basin.

The pipeline would carry irrigation water pumped out of the ground into wells north of Wray and deliver that water to the North Fork of the Republican River near the Nebraska state line. Colorado natural resources officials said Friday the pipeline potentially could deliver 13,000 acre-feet of water a year to Nebraska.

State engineer Dick Wolfe called the deal to use the pipeline “a great step forward” in a hard-fought matter. “Hopefully this demonstrates that we can work together as three states to address these challenging issues and come to a permanent resolution on the Republican River.”

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers in recent years has convened state legal officials to encourage collaboration. Past agreements have aimed at state monitoring and control over water use to comply with the compact, which allotted 300,000 acre-feet a year for Nebraska, 240,000 acre-feet a year for Kansas and 40,000 acre-feet a year for Colorado.

More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.


The COGA is disputing the recent University of Missouri study of endocrine disruptors in Garfield County waters

December 21, 2013
Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Doug Flanders, COGA’s director of policy and external affairs, issued a statement this week calling the study’s link between drilling and chemicals known as endocrine disruptors “short sighted.”

“The Colorado River is a drainage basin for almost half of western Colorado,” reads the statement. “To correlate the (endocrine disrupting chemical) levels in the river to oil and gas drilling is extreme cherry-picking from a number of sources that are known to contain (endocrine disrupting chemicals).”

The study from researchers with the University of Missouri at Columbia and the U.S. Geological Survey who collected water samples from the Colorado River and water wells near oil and gas development in Garfield County found chemical activity linked to cell destruction. The study is published in the journal Endocrinology…

She noted that though the study found higher levels of the endocrine disruptors in waters near fracking sites, more research is required to determine whether fracking is causing more of the chemicals to appear in the water supply. Nagel is conducting additional testing on the Western Slope as part of a new, more comprehensive study, she said.

The researchers collected control water samples in Boone County, Missouri, an area with no natural-gas drilling, and found lower levels of endocrine disrupting chemical activity.

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association argues that the region in Missouri has a different geology, topography and environment.

“Additionally, authors of the study are unsure of the exact source of the (endocrine disrupting chemicals) and even acknowledge that the chemicals could come from a host of other sources besides fracking,” the industry group’s statement reads.

Naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals could contribute to the activity observed in water samples collected by scientists, according to the study. Researchers noted, however, that they collected samples in areas without recent agricultural activity and wastewater contamination that could have led to additional endocrine disrupting chemical activity.

The researchers also contend that water samples taken in the more urban Boone County lend further support for a link between fracking and chemical activity in water.

“The more urban samples were found to exhibit the lowest levels of hormonal activity in the current study,” the study states.

Meanwhile, the State of Colorado has toughened regulations for oil and gas spills. Here’s the release from the COGCC (Todd Hartman):

The nine-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today unanimously approved new spill reporting regulations that significantly tighten the volume thresholds and timeframe for operators to report spills of oil as well as exploration and production waste.

Under the new rules, any spill of five barrels or more must be reported within 24 hours. In addition, any spill of one barrel or more that occurs outside secondary containment, such as metal or earthen berms, must also be reported within 24 hours. The previous threshold for such reporting in both instances was 20 barrels, and spills between five and 20 barrels could be reported within 10 days.

The rules continue to require reporting within 24 hours of any spill that impacts or threatens to impact waters of the state, any occupied structure, livestock, a public byway or surface water supply area.

The rules approved Tuesday build upon House Bill 13-1278, which was approved by lawmakers earlier this year and took effect August 7.

“These are important improvements to our spill reporting requirements and improve our ability to track and respond to spills and releases across Colorado,” said COGCC director Matt Lepore.

“These regulations will improve the public’s confidence in our ability to protect public health, safety and our environment.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Colorado delivers annual accounting for Arkansas River administration to the compact commission

December 20, 2013
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado’s credit for water deliveries at the Kansas state line stands at more than 58,700 acre-feet under a rolling 10-year average. The annual accounting of deliveries, related to a 24-year U.S. Supreme Court case over the Arkansas River Compact, was given to the compact administration Wednesday.

In 2012, marked by statewide drought, there was a net depletion of 5,500 acre-feet to the Arkansas River. That was combined with other flows since 2003 to calculate the 10-year average.

While the final decision in the court case was issued in 2009, Colorado and Kansas continue to work through issues related to water deliveries.

Bill Tyner, assistant engineer for Colorado Division 2, reported that 1,160 acre-feet of replacement water was made available by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to compensate for on-farm sprinkler improvements on more than 14,500 acres covering 100 farms.

Tyner reported a pond study is showing about 18 percent seepage, which is nearly twice the assumed rate in a “conservative” computer model. The pond study will be complete next year, but results from individual measurements already are being applied as credits for about 20 individual farmers.

“We’ll report next year on any changes we make in the model,” Tyner said.

Kansas accepted Colorado’s evaluation of the presumptive depletion for well pumping at 36.5 percent next year, said Kelly Thompson of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

Kansas still has issues with a Colorado water court decree for the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, said Eve McDonald, of the Colorado attorney general’s office.

For the second consecutive year, Kansas took no water from its account in John Martin Reservoir because of the low volume of water, dry conditions and the timing of flows, which arrived past the point when they could be used in Kansas.

“We lose less through evaporation than by running it down the river,” said Kevin Salter of the Kansas Division of Water Resources.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


De Beque: COGCC is probing flow of water and gas from non-producing well near DeBeque, new activity in area the cause?

December 17, 2013
Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

State oil and gas personnel are trying to determine whether hydraulic fracturing of a horizontal well outside De Beque is responsible for water and gas flowing from a non-producing vertical well a half-mile away. Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said fluid at the surface has been captured in a trench and contained in a pit on site.

“No surface waters have been impacted and the nearest known water well is roughly six miles away. (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) personnel will be working to determine any potential impact on groundwater,” he said.

“COGCC is investigating the possibility the hydraulic stimulation of the horizontal wellbore communicated with the vertical wellbore.”

He said Black Hills Exploration & Production was doing the horizontal drilling and fracturing operation on Bureau of Land Management property. Its well reached about 6,000 feet deep and the fracking was done within the last few weeks. The vertical well, owned by Maralex Resources Inc., is 7,300 feet and was drilled in 1981. It hasn’t produced for many years, Hartman said.

He said COGCC field inspection personnel were on the site Monday and more, including environmental specialists and engineers, would be arriving Tuesday to determine what happened and assess and remediate any impacts. The agency is collecting water samples as part of its investigation. Representatives with both companies also are involved in the investigation.

Horizontal drilling involves drilling down and then out horizontally to follow geological formations. The practice has taken off as companies have combined it with hydraulic fracturing to successfully produce significant quantities of oil and gas.

The practice also has led to some concerns about the possibility of impacting pre-existing vertical wells that may not be designed to withstand the kind of pressure associated with the fracking, which involves pumping fluids into a formation to create cracks and foster oil and gas flow. In October, Encana said its fracking of a horizontal well in New Mexico may have been responsible for releases of fluid from a nearby vertical well, according to a report by KRQE in Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, a group of 9-15-year-olds have delivered a petition asking the state to stop issuing permits for oil and gas exploration and production. Here’s a report from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

A group of eight 9-15-year-olds from Boulder, Lafayette and Englewood have asked state regulators to stop issuing permits for drilling oil and gas wells, or for fracking them, “until it can be done without adversely impacting human health,” safety, or Colorado’s climate, water, earth and wildlife.

The petition was filed Nov. 15 by the Boulder-based Earth Guardians with the Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency that regulates the state’s multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry. It’s available here, on the COGCC website.

“The COGCC will consider initiating this rulemaking at the January 27-28, 2014 Hearings,” the agency said in a note posted on its website.

COGCC Executive Director Matt Lepore said the petition was posted to the COGCC website Monday, after the commissioners decided to hear the children’s request for a new rule. The petition was filed under a state law that allows individuals to ask the state to make rules, change them or repeal them.

Finally, here’s a look at finding common ground in the oil and gas debate from Allen Best writing for the Mountain Town News. Here’s an excerpt:

In a lecture on Dec. 10 sponsored by the Center of the American West, oil-and-gas attorney Howard Boigon called this “the latest reel in a long-running movie.”

This latest reel can be distilled into one word: fracking. Short for hydraulic fracturing, it’s a technical process, just one component in the broader activity of drilling. But the word is now fraught with additional meanings, depending upon who is using it.

The rift has become so deep that, like gang colors, sides can be differentiated by how they spell the word. To drillers, the abbreviated word is spelled “frac.” To most everybody else, including those more neutral about the practice, it is “frack.”

If we can’t agree how to spell the word, there’s even deeper division as to what it refers. Until a few years ago, it was clinically called a “downhole completion procedure,” one done only after a drilling rig had been laid down. So far, as Boigon noted, there are no confirmed cases of fracking fluids sullying potable drinking water — this after a million fracks during the last 60 years.

In the language of some, thought, fracking involves much more—and is much more sinister.

“In its most pointed form,” he said, “it is used to describe in a pejorative way the injection of known carcinogens underground which can percolate into groundwater, with the resulting production of large quantities of toxic fluids which are often spilled on the surface before having to be disposed of in underground wells that cause earthquakes.”[...]

Boigon was at his best in dissecting the oil and gas industry. It is, he said, “an industry that in many ways is bolted to the past…A stubborn reliance on property rights as the sacred foundation of the industry underlies attitudes and actions. Oil and gas is found where it is found, therefore we must go and get it wherever it is, and our right to do is inalienable and must be protected…. Independence and self-reliance, the willingness to take risk, an aversion to interference by government or neighbor—these are the attributes of the oilman…Oilmen are competitive and notoriously self-confident, sometimes to the point of arrogance and dismissiveness, believing they know best how to do their business and that there is nothing they can’t do. “

His acknowledgement of the technological prowess of drillers also bears citation:

“The fact is that the oil and gas industry is one of the most innovative on the planet, and our civilization has benefited greatly from this. Think about the basic technology of the business, drilling a hole several inches in diameter miles below the surface to targets imperfectly identified, through virtually impenetrable rock under conditions of high heat and pressure, under surface conditions ranging from extreme cold to thousands of feet of water to dense jungle to challenging topography to fragile environments to urban surroundings, in political and regulatory contexts all over the world ranging from highly developed to primitive. The imperatives of meeting these challenges have generated extraordinary creativity and innovation, from deepwater platforms to multi-well pads to horizontal drilling to multi-stage hydraulic fracturing to pitless drilling, to water recycling, to fracking without fresh water, to name just a few. Technology is constantly evolving. You give them a challenge, and they figure out a way to meet it.”[...]

I have made the argument that it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more drilling rigs in our midst, to retain an element of reality in our lives. Those drilling rigs are our rigs, after all. Our giant houses, 12 mph pickups, weekend flights to Las Vegas – we’re all part of this story. It’s not them vs. us. It’s us.

Does this drilling give us the illusion of sustainability? The late Randy Udall probed this in a presentation at the Colorado Renewable Energy Society in March. We’ve chained ourselves to the drilling rig, he said, and thrown away the key.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap: Pumping down 30,000 acre-feet from 2012

December 16, 2013
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

VALLEY Pumping in the Valley’s first sub-district is down 95,000 acre-feet from 2011, and 30,000 acre-feet from last year. Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program General Manager Steve Vandiver said during the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting on Tuesday afternoon the fees for the 2013 irrigation year were tallied up last month, totaling $7.1 million, down a touch from last year. About 168,000 irrigated acres were charged for 230,000 acre-feet of water pumped.

Sub-district No. 1 affects 175,000 irrigated acres and 500 or more individual property owners, and lies north of the Rio Grande in what is known as the Closed Basin area within Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties . Its purpose includes repairing the damage from well users to surface water rights, helping the state meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states and replenishing the Valley’s underground aquifers.

“It’s not like the well owners in that area aren’t doing something,” Vandiver said. “It is working well.” One problem unveiled this year, he said, was found in some well metering systems, but alternative methods were used to obtain pumping data.

One problem solved this year, he added, was figuring out how some government entities like the Center Conservation District existing within the sub-district pay their dues since they are tax-exempt. The Colorado State University San Luis Valley Research Center, however, has not reached an agreement with the sub-district .

The pumping decline complements the snowfall of late, which Division 3 Water Engineer Craig Cotton said is between 130 and 140 percent of the annual average.

“We are looking better than we have in a number of years,” Cotton said. “We still have a lot of winter to go… hopefully we will get more snow.”

While the Valley waits to see what will happen this season, preparations for water challenges in the future are being addressed. Vandiver said the RGWCD is moving forward with meetings regarding the creation of more Valley sub-districts and groundwater rules and regulations, which are scheduled for adoption next spring. “We are pushing really hard to get started (with the new sub-districts ),” Vandiver said. “Those participating in a sub-district or participating in an augmentation plan need to pay attention (to the groundwater rules and regulations). It is a pretty important time.”

He added, “There is power in the sub-district . We can do it as a group instead of one-on-one , and it makes a lot of sense.”

The Division of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct meetings today regarding several proposed Valley sub- districts. The meetings will discuss the modeling results and the replacement and sustainability requirements of the sub-districts , and are as follows:

  • Saguache and San Luis Creek Sub-districts , 9:30 a.m., Saguache County Road and Bridge Department
  • Alamosa La Jara Subdistrict , 1:30 p.m., Monte Vista Coop
  • Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district , 7 p.m., Monte Vista Coop The San Luis Valley Advisory Committee to the state engineer concerning rules and regulations for ground water use in the Rio Grande Basin meets tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Inn of the Rio Grande in Alamosa, and, Vandiver said, all water users are encouraged to attend.
  • In addition, the RGWCD purchased a property within the sub-district boundaries with two irrigation wells and Rio Grande Canal water rights, he said. The parcel will be placed in a permanent forbearance plan.

    “This is certainly very helpful to Sub-district No. 1,” Vandiver said. outdoor recreation opportunities . A complete list of grant awards is available at goco.org.

    GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife , rivers and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created by voters in 1992, GOCO has funded more than 3,500 projects in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support . The grants are funded by GOCO’s share of Colorado Lottery revenues, which are divided between GOCO, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Conservation Trust Fund and school construction. Projects in Saguache County have received more than $13.1 million in GOCO funds over the years.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    COGCC expects to look at riparian setbacks in the wake of September flooding and Parachute Creek spill

    December 15, 2013
    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 -- Photo/The Denver Post

    Production fluids leak into surface water September 2013 — Photo/The Denver Post

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said Thursday that no firm decisions have been made about how to deal with the question of riparian setbacks following contamination problems in Parachute and on the Front Range. But in response to a question from Rifle citizen activist Leslie Robinson at the quarterly Northwest Colorado Oil & Gas Forum, commission director Matt Lepore promised some kind of action soon.

    “We will sit down in the not-too-distant future in a little more formal way and look certainly at the flooding in September and certainly Parachute Creek as well, as sort of a lessons-learned — what in light of those incidents seems appropriate to change or require or what have you,” he said.

    Lepore was speaking in reference to massive floods that caused damage including the leaking of tens of thousands of gallons of oil and produced water from production facilities, and to last winter’s leak of natural gas liquids from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant near Parachute Creek.

    During a major rules rewrite in 2008, the COGCC set aside action on the question of riparian setbacks, except for requirements it imposed to protect municipal water supplies. Some activists consider it to be unfinished business that recent events have shown needs revisiting.

    In an interview, Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she hopes the COGCC isn’t going to consider lessons learned just on its own. “I hope that they ask for input from environmental and conservation groups like the GVCA,” she said. She said while the Front Range probably has been more impacted by problems related to oil and gas infrastructure near rivers, she’s worried about the proximity of wells to the Colorado River in the Parachute area and potential vulnerability to flooding.

    The leak up Parachute Creek resulted in an estimated 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids getting into groundwater, with benzene ultimately reaching the creek. Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray said Thursday no benzene has been detected in the creek since August.

    Results are pending on a quarterly round of water testing in November that involved hundreds of sampling points.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Michigan State University: Saving the Great Plains water supply

    December 14, 2013
    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

    From Michigan State University Today:

    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate.

    In the current issue of Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, Michigan State University scientists are proposing alternatives that will halt and hopefully reverse the unsustainable use of water drawdown in the aquifer. The body of water, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, spans from Texas to South Dakota and drives much of the region’s economy.

    “Already, there are regions in Texas and Kansas where farmers can’t pump enough water to meet the demands of their crops,” said Bruno Basso, co-author and MSU ecosystem scientist. “If current withdrawal rates continue, such depletion will expand across extensive portions of the central and southern areas served by the aquifer during the next few decades.”

    Despite the widespread, rapid decline of the water table, the number of irrigated acres across the region continues to increase. The situation isn’t completely dire, though, as the National Science Foundation-funded research revealed. Basso, David Hyndman and Anthony Kendall, MSU colleagues and co-authors, offered some policy solutions to avert some aspects of this water crisis.

    Federal crop insurance could be changed to allow substantial water reductions, especially crops categorized as fully irrigated. An example of such a sustainable model was recently proposed by the governor of Kansas. It could save significant amounts of water, and it could be adopted regionally.

    Another sustainable approach would be to adopt wholesale precision agriculture strategies. These would allow farmers to identify which areas in fields need more water and fertilizer. New precision agriculture strategies combine GPS technologies with site-specific management to apply optimal amounts of water and nutrients, which will increase farmer’s profitability and reduce environmental impact.

    “When you have a cut in your hand and need disinfectant, you don’t dive into a pool of medicine, you apply it only where you need it and in the quantity that is strictly necessary; we can do the same in agricultural now,” said Basso, part of MSU’s Global Water Initiative.

    Lastly, policies should address the issue in terms of crop yield ­– more crop per drop of water. Selecting crops with higher density can increase yield and decrease groundwater evaporation. Upgrades in irrigation systems can reduce water loss from 30 percent to almost zero. And careful water management can stop excess water from flooding fields and leaching valuable nutrients from the soil.

    Simply put, the current water management strategies of the High Plains Aquifer are unsustainable. For the region to maintain this water source, there has to be a complete paradigm shift, Basso added.

    “We emphasize the critical role of science as a foundation for policies that can help mitigate the disaster that is occurring across this region,” Basso said. “Policies solidly grounded in science are critical to ensure long-term sustainability and environmental integrity for future generations.”

    More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here and here.


    NASA’s GRACE Satellites Show #ColoradoRiver Basin’s Biggest Water Losses Are Groundwater (2005-2013) — Circle of Blue

    December 14, 2013
    US combined water storage levels April 2008 via NASA JPL (click on graphic to launch animation)

    US combined water storage levels April 2008 via NASA JPL (click on graphic to launch animation)

    From the animation:

    This animation illustrates the highs and lows of combined land water storage (Snow, soil moisture and surface water) over the continental U.S. from 2003 to early 2013 as measured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. The changes are depicted in millimeters of equivalent water height, with increased land water storage shown in blues and decreased storage in reds. Annual seasonal variations are prominent, as are periods of flooding and drought.

    Here’s a report from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Stephanie Castle…presented [UCI’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling] most recent findings on Wednesday, December 11, in San Francisco at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest Earth sciences conference. Like earlier studies of California’s Central Valley and the Tigris-Euphrates Basin in the Middle East, the UCI research team assessed fluctuations in water storage using data from NASA’s GRACE mission, a pair of satellites that translate changes in gravity into changes in water volume…

    From March 2005 to June 2013, the Colorado River Basin lost 5.7 cubic kilometers (4.6 million acre-feet) of water per year, or more than 47 cubic kilometers (38 million acre-feet) over the 100-month study period. The cumulative losses are equal to 1.3 times the storage capacity of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Most of the water losses are attributed to groundwater pumping, mainly for irrigated agriculture.

    The GRACE satellites measure total water storage – the water in mountain snowpack, reservoirs and rivers, soils, and aquifers. By subtracting the known quantities from other data sets, the value for each component can be reckoned. The research team is still analyzing those data, but preliminary results strongly suggest that groundwater is the prime culprit for the losses.

    Castle told Circle of Blue that she compared the GRACE data to groundwater monitoring wells that are operated by state and federal agencies in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins. The water levels in the monitoring wells were consistent with what the satellites were detecting.

    Though Castle acknowledged that water agencies in Arizona and Nevada – which, along with California, make up the three Lower Basin states – are storing water underground in a process called “water banking,” those savings accounts are relatively small when compared with the broader picture of water use in the region.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    New online database charts water quality regulations related to oil and gas development

    December 11, 2013
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

    A searchable, comparative law database outlining water quality regulations for Colorado and other states experiencing shale oil and gas development is now available on LawAtlas.org.

    The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database project is led by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices (BMP) Project in partnership with Temple University’s Public Health Law Research program and its LawAtlas.org website.

    The newly launched Oil & Gas – Water Quality dataset (http://www.lawatlas.org/oilandgas) was created as a comparative tool for examining water quality laws and regulations related to oil and gas activities in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

    The database allows policymakers, local governments, industry officials and citizens to study the scope of water quality law in their state or to make comparisons with other states. An interactive map allows for easy navigation across different jurisdictions, and downloadable PDFs are available that document each state’s water quality regulations.

    “Across the nation, local and state government jurisdictions are experiencing new or increased oil and gas development,” said Matt Samelson, dataset creator, attorney and consultant for the CU-Boulder Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project. “When development occurs in these jurisdictions, there is tremendous value in examining regulatory regimes already in effect in order to guide conversations about best regulatory practices.”

    Oil and gas production has increased nationwide as technological developments improved directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing practices, which involve pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals deep down well bores to create fissures in the shale in order to free oil and natural gas.

    In October, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that the United States would surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas by the end of 2013.

    “The development of oil and gas wells, particularly in urban and suburban areas, coupled with the practice of hydraulic fracturing has stimulated interest in laws designed to protect water quality,” said Kathryn Mutz, director of CU-Boulder’s Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project.

    Because water quality regulations depend on the stage of development, the Oil & Gas – Water Quality database has been divided into five stages of oil and gas activities: Permitting, Design and Construction; Well Drilling; Well Completion; Production and Operation; and Reclamation.

    Web users can select multiple queries and search by statute categories or by state. The water quality dataset contains nearly 100 distinct questions and corresponding regulations addressing oft-cited oil and gas development issues, such as public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid; baseline water source testing; disposal of water in hydraulically fractured wells; and spill and accident reporting.

    The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database is curated by CU-Boulder’s Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project, part of the CU-Boulder Law School’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment.

    The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database is supported by the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Program and a Sustainability Research Network grant from the National Science Foundation. The dataset is part of Public Health Law Research’s LawAtlas, an online portal exploring variations in laws relating to current public health issues nationwide. In the coming year, datasets for water quantity and air quality pertaining to oil and gas development will be added to the website.

    To learn more visit http://www.lawatlas.org/oilandgas.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Republican River Basin: Special Master William Kayatta, Jr. reduces Nebraska’s damages to $5.5 million

    December 10, 2013
    Republican River Basin

    Republican River Basin

    Here’s a report the Imperial Republican (Russ Pankonin) via The Yuma Pioneer. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Last Friday’s report by Special Master William Kayatta, Jr. gave Nebraska the upper hand in a dispute between Kansas and Nebraska that dates back to 2010.

    “The decision could have only been $5.5 million better,” said Upper Republican Manager Jasper Fanning. Kayatta said Kansas was entitled to damages of $5.5 million versus the $80 million they had sought.

    Fanning said the only way the report could have been more favorable for Nebraska was if Kansas hadn’t gotten any damages at all, he noted. Fanning said the reduction in damages was important. But even bigger was a change in the accounting process that ultimately determines how much water is available to Nebraska, he added. That will be worth many times more over the years than the $5.5 million Nebraska will have to pay Kansas, Fanning said.

    In addition to the accounting change, Kayatta said Nebraska should not be charged for evaporation that occurred from Harlan County reservoir in 2006.

    These two rulings will gain the basin from 16,000 to 18,000 acre feet towards water use calculations for 2007.

    In addition, the accounting change will result in additional water supply annually, Fanning said. That additional water will be a boost in helping Nebraska stay in compliance with the 2002 settlement agreement reached with Kansas over basin water supplies, he added.

    More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.


    CSU, Noble Energy and DNR partner on groundwater monitoring project in the Wattenberg field

    December 6, 2013
    Groundwater monitoring well

    Groundwater monitoring well

    From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

    Like the crime scene investigators on television, researchers in northern Colorado will be taking an intense look at water wells throughout the oil patch in a demonstration study in the coming months to determine changes in the water over time. Conducted through Colorado State University in partnership with Noble Energy, the Colorado Water Watch demonstration project will soon begin water table monitoring in test wells at roughly 10 Noble production sites in a real-time look at how the water changes.

    “It was conceived not so much as a research project but as a tool to provide information to the public,” said project lead researcher Ken Carlson, an associate professor Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU. “The oil and gas industry is taking the initiative here to provide some visibility.” Read the rest of this entry »


    Republican River Basin: Arbiter Martha Pagel issues ruling on compliance pipeline

    December 5, 2013
    Republican River Basin

    Republican River Basin

    From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl) via the Imperial Republican:

    Colorado and Nebraska entered into arbitration with Kansas earlier this year after Kansas’ representative on the Republican River Compact Administration voted against Colorado’s proposals on both issues.

    The hearing was held before arbiter Martha Pagel earlier this fall, and Pagel issued separate rulings on both issues last Wednesday, November 27. In essence, Pagel ruled Colorado is taking the proper steps, but that Kansas remains “reasonable” in its objections.

    “Although the Arbitrator found that Colorado’s revised Compact Compliance Pipeline (CCP) proposal had made significant progress in addressing unresolved issues from the prior arbitration proceeding, and that Colorado had offered a reasonable and persuasive proposal for modifying inputs to the Groundwater Model, the district is disappointed that Arbiter Pagel was not able to provide Colorado with any relief from the obstructionist behavior of Kansas officials,” stated the Republican River Water Conservation District in a statement issued by its legal representative, Peter Ampe of Hill & Robbins. Read the rest of this entry »


    ‘Groundwater will be a part of the state water plan’ John Stulp #COWaterPlan

    December 5, 2013
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Call it a wet-headed stepchild. Colorado has puzzled for years about how to account for its underground water resources, with about the same impact as water sloshing in the bottom of a precariously carried bucket. A state water plan will attempt to incorporate groundwater management, including possible aquifer storage, even though the relationship between surface water and well water is not fully understood.

    “Groundwater will be a part of the state water plan,” John Stulp, the governor’s water adviser, told about 80 attendees of a groundwater conference this week. “There are a number of studies and plans that will go forward as the state water plan is developed.”

    The conference, organized by the American Groundwater Trust, was designed to address policy as a follow-up to more technical reports generated from a 2012 conference.

    While Colorado water rights stretch back to the mid-1800s, groundwater in the state was of little concern until more high-capacity wells were drilled in the 1950s and 1960s. It wasn’t until 1969 that well use was incorporated into the elaborate web of prior appropriation water right, explained Steve Sims, a water lawyer who once defended the state’s water rights in the attorney general’s office. But since then, a tug-of-war between the General Assembly and water courts has muddied how groundwater is treated. Non-tributary wells are regulated by a separate commission.

    “What we got was a hodgepodge of rules,” Sims said. “It’s been driven by real estate developers.”

    Key court cases eroded the jurisdiction of water courts themselves as well as the power of the state engineer to regulate wells, he said. The Empire Lodge case triggered a legislative fix to substitute water supply plans in 2002. The 2009 Vance case changed the way the state accounts for water produced by oil and gas drilling.

    Geography also plays a part. Alluvial well regulations differ in all of the state’s major river basins, as well as in non-tributary basins. There is little scientific understanding of the relationship of groundwater levels to surface flows, other than the common wisdom that surface irrigation or flooding increase the levels, while pumping and drought decrease them. But the timing of return flows, availability of underground storage sites and long-term effects of pumping are still unknown.

    “It’s not a precise science,” said Reagan Waskom of the Colorado Water Institute, which is completing a study of the South Platte basin mandated by the state Legislature in 2012. “If you had a valve and could put water back into the river when you need it, it would be great.”

    More Colorado Water Plan 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.


    Highlands Ranch water rates to go up in 2014

    November 30, 2013
    Highlands Ranch

    Highlands Ranch

    From the Highlands Ranch News (Ryan Boldrey):

    Following spikes of 2 percent in 2012 and 3.8 percent in 2013, Highlands Ranch residents are expected to see rates go up 6.8 percent this coming year. This year’s proposed increase is due to the district’s involvement with both the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE) and Chatfield Reallocation Project, said Bruce Lesback, CWSD director of finance and administration…

    “We held off as long as we could before increasing rates to this level for our customers, but it appears both projects are now going forward,” Lesback said.

    For CWSD, the two projects are a major step toward cementing a long-term water supply and not relying as much on groundwater or leased water.

    “We’ve got many years of full supply, but some of that full supply comes from leases that are not long-term,” CWSD General Manager John Hendrick told Colorado Community Media earlier this year. “We want to add to our portfolio with long-term or near-permanent surface water sources.

    “We’ve got ample groundwater for droughts, but in wet years we’ll now be able to take in more than we need to and top off our reservoirs with surface water.”[...]

    A public hearing was held Nov. 25 on the proposed CWSD budget. The board of directors will vote to adopt the 2014 budget at its Dec. 16 meeting.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    ‘In water, we never use the word fair. It is not part of the vocabulary’ — Nathan Coombs

    November 30, 2013
    Students pulling samples

    Students pulling samples

    From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

    Colorado youth are tomorrow’s water leaders, and in the Valley they are getting a head start. Natural resource education opportunities are abundant between the Sangre de Cristos and the San Juans, and teachers are connecting their students to one of the Valley’s most priceless resources – water – through Colorado Academic Standards approved lessons in nature’s classroom.

    “Water, where it comes from affects us and what happens in our community,” explained Conejos Water Conservancy District Manager and Conejos County Conservation District Supervisor Nathan Coombs to a group of North Conejos School District students earlier this year. “And we have to measure water to know if it is going to the right places… the value of water is tremendous.”

    After breaking down water management in the Conejos District to a few key vocabulary words – priority, compact, curtail, diversion, aquifer, ground water and surface water – Coombs brought it to life standing over the Conejos River on the Manassa Ditch No. 1 with the 65 middle school students, discussing the 97 diversions between the Platoro Reservoir and where they were standing. “In the river, it doesn’t matter where you are,” Coombs said. “It’s all about your number.”

    He added, “In water, we never use the word fair. It is not part of the vocabulary.”

    After detailing how the rivers in Colorado deliver water to seven states, Rio Grande Compact obligations and how it takes 44 hours in a raft to float on the Conejos River from the reservoir to Las Sauces, the students couldn’t stop asking questions and volunteering answers.

    Water leaders like Coombs make these experiential lessons an option for Valley teachers with help from interested classroom teachers and environmental educators like the Rio Grande Water Conservation Education Initiative (RGWCEI) specialist Judy Lopez.

    “This gives the students a real life connection,” said Conejos science teacher Andrew Shelton while watching his students turn on to their natural environment this fall. “This is a farming community , and it really hits home with them.”

    RGWCEI works with the Valley’s conservation districts , school districts, community members and producers with a goal to create an educated populous that not only respects the Valley’s natural resources, but also understands the big part agriculture plays in conserving those resources, Lopez said.

    “Not only are they getting lectures, but hands on experience that will ultimately build an intrinsic value system,” she said. “Science today tends to be taught within the context of labs and boxes. These experiences create problem solvers.”

    About 85 percent of Valley students either stay here or return after college, she added, making natural resources lessons during younger years much more important .

    “The youth are going to value the Valley more,” Lopez said. “They will be responsive to the natural resources as citizens, parents and families.” Students of all kinds Natural resource education in the Valley isn’t limited to the K-12 classroom. Last spring, the Rio Grande Leaders Course graduated a number of locals looking to understand and protect the Valley’s water. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District (SLVWCD), Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) and RGWCEI sponsored course provided 25 community members the opportunity to engage in education and networking to prepare to take a future role in safeguarding , developing and managing the Valley’s water resources. It included information on Valley hydrology, water rights administration, notable court cases, current events and local partners and projects. Course attendees included young farmers, federal agency employees and other interested individuals , making for interesting dialogue and numerous perspectives on water use.

    “It opened my eyes,” said Aliesha Carpenter, originally from La Jara and now married to a fourth generation Center potato farmer during the course’s closing ceremonies in March. “It wasn’t just about agriculture. It was about wildlife, the Sand Dunes and life for people. Without it, our agricultural economy would disintegrate. There needs to be a younger generation in agriculture.” Bureau of Land Management (BLM) assistant field manager Paul Tigan added, “I think the course helped with the understanding of the long term context of water management in the Valley. Federal employees have a tendency to come into a place, stay for a few years and then move on. This is a good opportunity to develop a context and to understand .”

    RGWCEI is also reaching out to education professionals through its annual teachers workshop series. The series, now in its seventh year, offers educators from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn how to teach in the outdoors and from the outdoors. It includes a one-week experiential learning course annually over a three-year timeframe. The series is broken into three sectors: From Watershed to Cup Year One: Following Water Through the “Creekulum;” From Watershed to Sustainability Year Two: Building a “Stream” of Consciousness; and From Watershed to Table Year Three: Following Water Down the Food Chain. The series is based out of the Trinchera Ranch in Fort Garland, but uses the entire Valley as its classroom.

    “It’s a way for teachers to reconnect,” Lopez said. “They learn how to teach in the outdoors, and it gives them a background. A teacher’s biggest fear is that they don’t know enough. They get to be on the ground with natural resource specialists and leave with hands on lessons , creating more confident educators.”

    Completion results in three graduate credits, an extensive education in the Valley’s natural resources and their systems and the ability to build natural resources-based activities through the K-12 Project Wet curriculum, an outdoor environmental education tool. State supported initiative

    In May 2010, the Colorado Kids Outdoors Grant Program Legislation, HB10-1131 was signed into law, recognizing the importance of the outdoor environment on the health of the state’s residents, especially youth.

    It aims to prepare students to address present and future environmental challenges and innovations that impact quality of life, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Colorado Environmental Education Plan (CEEP) published in 2012. Colorado’s environment , economy and communities depend on informed citizens who can make decisions about air and water quality; the health of farms, ranches, forests and wildlife; how to meet energy and other resource needs; how to create and sustain healthy communities; and how to provide opportunities for residents to partake in the state’s natural beauty while protecting it for future generations.

    In 2011, a partnership was born between CDE and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to write CEEP, and to foster awareness needed to promote, coordinate and sustain standards-based environmental education across the state.

    The plan is designed to support implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards while developing students’ knowledge and skills related to the environment and getting students to spend more time outside, according to CEEP. The timing of this plan is advantageous as districts, schools and teachers are revising curricula and improving instructional practices to address the strategic imperative of developing all students’ postsecondary workforce readiness. Its strategies support teachers in addition to encouraging the integration of high quality environmental education opportunities and use of the outdoors in ways that are relevant, connected and meaningful for their students.

    More education coverage here.


    ‘[Governor Hickenlooper] should talk to the people who approved the bans, not the people who oppose them’ — Dan Randolph

    November 28, 2013
    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    Directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing graphic via Al Granberg

    From Colorado Public News (David O. Williams/Dale Rodebaugh) via The Durango Herald:

    “The fracking ban votes reflect the genuine anxiety and concern of having an industrial process close to neighborhoods,” Hickenlooper said recently in a prepared statement. The statement came after a tally of final votes showed residents in Broomfield successfully passed a fourth so-called “fracking ban” in Colorado.

    Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette voters passed similar bans by much wider margins earlier this month, but Broomfield’s vote was so close (10,350 to 10,333) that it has triggered an automatic recount.

    Christi Zeller, director of the La Plata County Energy Council, said the votes in Boulder and Lafayette are symbolic. Boulder County has some production, but the city of Boulder’s last gas well was plugged in 1999, she said.

    “The bans are an emotional response,” Zeller said. “A lot of professional agitators are manipulating people’s response.”[...]

    Hickenlooper said mineral rights need to be protected and that the four communities can work with the state’s chief regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, to mitigate environmental and health concerns.

    “Local fracking bans essentially deprive people of their legal rights to access the property they own. Our state Constitution protects these rights,” the governor said. “A framework exists for local communities to work collaboratively with state regulators and the energy industry. We all share the same desire of keeping communities safe.”

    But Dan Randolph, director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said that Hickenlooper, as a former gas and oil industry employee, doesn’t get it.

    Randolph said there are legitimate concerns tied to gas and oil production. He cited health, water quality and noise.

    “There is no question that there is an increase of volatile organic compounds in the air during gas and gas development,” Randolph said. “There are and have been serious concerns elsewhere. This is not unique to Colorado.

    “He should talk to the people who approved the bans, not the people who oppose them,” Randolph said. “His credibility on oil and gas issues is very low with the general public.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Denver: AGWT is hosting a Colorado aquifer management event on Tuesday

    November 27, 2013
    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    From The Greeley Tribune:

    The American Ground Water Trust, based in New Hampshire, is hosting a Colorado aquifer management event on Tuesday in Denver.

    The event is a follow-up conference to the two-day program held in Denver in November 2012, where legislators, groundwater experts and water managers discussed stream depletions due to well pumping, and other groundwater issues.

    Presenters include Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University; James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Reed Maxwell, director of the Integrated Groundwater Modeling Center at the Colorado School of Mines; Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer at the Division of Water Resources; Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau; Andrew Stone, executive director of American Ground Water Trust; Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Eaton; Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins; and Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.

    To register for the event or learn more, go to http://www.agwt.org/events.

    More HB12-1278 coverage here. More groundwater coverage here.


    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: November 5 spill caused by pipeline joint failure

    November 23, 2013
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

    Jennifer Opila, Radioactive Materials Unit Leader for the CDPHE, explained how the 1988 pumpback system at Cotter functions. Opila said the cause of the Nov. 5 spill was that a joint in the pipeline of the pumpback system broke. She described it as a “catastrophic break,” meaning it was not a “slow and seeping” spill.

    Opila said employees found “water coming out of the ground” just north of well No. 333 and “that’s how they knew the pipe had ruptured.”

    According to Cotter’s Environmental Coordinator/Radiation Safety Officer Jim Cain, the spill was measured within a 12-hour window and based on inspection times and flow, an estimated 4,000 to 9,000 gallons of water was spilled. A water sample was collected and the analysis reported that .03 pounds of uranium and .15 pounds of molybdenum was found, according to Cain.

    Cotter made the required oral report of the spill and provided a requested written report, Opila said, and the pipe was repaired and operable by the next day.

    The pipeline is three feet underground and consists of 3,856 linear feet of six-inch schedule 90 PVC pipe and 3,053 linear feet of four-inch schedule 90 PVC pipe.

    Vice President of Cotter Mill Operations John Hamrick said there have been three leaks “in three different years, all for different reasons.”

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: 9,000 gallon spill contained on mill property

    November 8, 2013
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill site via The Denver Post

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill officials on Tuesday discovered contaminated water escaped a pump-back system at the mill site but the spill has been contained to the mill property. According to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department, the release of contaminated water was limited to between 4,000 and 9,000 gallons. The leak occurred at the junction of two pipe sections near the Soil Conservation Service pump back site, which is designed to prevent contaminated surface water from seeping into the neighboring Lincoln Park neighborhood.

    “The soil in the area of the release is saturated. It will be allowed to dry so the pipe can be excavated and repaired,” Smith said.

    Water samples were analyzed and based on concentration levels present, the maximum estimated release of uranium is limited to 1.1 ounces and the estimated molybdenum release is 2.6 ounces.

    Contaminated water usually is pumped, along with groundwater, to an onsite evaporation pond to prevent further contamination in Lincoln Park, which has been a part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1988. The now-defunct mill is in the process of decommissioning and has not been used to process uranium since 2006.

    From the Colorado Independent (Shelby Kinney-Lang):

    Cotter Corporation informed the health department of the leaking pipes on Tuesday in a “verbal report” delivered over the phone. No health department personnel have inspected the spill site, as yet, and no formal report has yet been filed. Cotter said it will let the contaminated ground dry before excavating and repairing the pipe…

    “We’ve got a company looking to walk away from a problem without actually cleaning it up,” said Travis E. Stills, an energy and conservation lawyer who has been working with community groups in Cañon City since the mid-2000s. Stills represents Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste on several ongoing state open records suits that seek information that passed between Cotter, the state health department and the Environmental Protection Agency concerning the uranium mill and the Lincoln Park Superfund Site, but which health department withheld from public review.

    Uranium is extraordinarily toxic. The health department reports that if the pipe did in fact leak 9,000 gallons, the concentration in the water of uranium would be 834 micrograms per liter and the concentration of molybdenum, also a toxic chemical, would be 2,018 micrograms per liter. For perspective, the EPA places the health safety level of uranium at 30 micrograms per liter…

    “They got a hole in the pipe and it leaked back into the ground,” he said.

    Warren Smith, community involvement manager in the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the department, insisted there was no danger to public health.

    “There is no public health risk here, because there is no exposure to the public,” Smith said. “Health risk depends on two factors: the release and exposure. If there’s no receptor to be exposed to it, where’s the risk?”

    Smith said that the health department performs regular inspections of the Cotter site. The most recent was a September inspection. Because the pipe was buried, Smith said it would be a stretch to “characterize it as an [inspection] oversight.”

    Smith said it would be a serious lapse if Cotter had failed to report the spill. Inspections don’t occur often enough for the state to have happened upon the spill any time soon.

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


    Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette pass bans on hydraulic fracturing, Broomfield = no by 13 votes (2:41 AM numbers)

    November 6, 2013
    Dilbert's company embraces hydraulic fracturing for competitive advantage

    Dilbert’s company embraces hydraulic fracturing for competitive advantage

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    The votes in four Colorado cities on fracking within city limits — in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette — attracted attention far beyond the state’s borders in recent weeks as the nation debates the pros and cons of the widely used practice. And those involved say the issues raised by the campaigns will continue to be debated for months and years to come.

    Boulder’s anti-fracking measure was passing handily late Tuesday, while those in Fort Collins and Lafayette saw smaller margins in the “yes” column.

    Meanwhile, the yes and no votes on Broomfield’s fracking measure were fairly close late Tuesday, although at least one anti-fracking advocate — Sam Schabacker, Mountain West regional director for Food & Water Watch — appeared ready to concede defeat there.
    “We are witnessing historic victories tonight with the anticipated passage of measures to stop fracking in Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette, and what appears to be a narrow defeat of a fracking moratorium measure in Broomfield,” he said in an emailed statement at 10:29 p.m. MST…

    Doug Flanders, a spokesman for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group, said his organization…will continue to work with communities about the importance of energy and energy development.

    “We never believe a ban is necessary,” Flanders said earlier Tuesday, before the polls closed…

    The four initiatives:

    • Broomfield: Question 300, which would have imposed a five-year prohibition on all fracking.
    • Fort Collins: Its measure will place a five-year moratorium on fracking and storage of waste products related to the oil and gas industry in town.
    • City of Boulder: 2H imposes a five-year moratorium on oil and gas exploration.
    • Lafayette: Question No. 300 will ban new oil and gas wells in town. (Click here for more on the Lafayette measure, which goes further than the others.)

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Dick Wolfe to San Luis Valley pumpers — [Lacking sub-district plan or augmentation] ‘You are going to get shut off’

    November 4, 2013
    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Wells will be shut down. Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe and Deputy State Engineer Michael Sullivan reminded the large crowd attending a well rules advisory committee meeting on Thursday they mean business about implementing groundwater regulations.

    “You are going to get shut off,” Wolfe responded to a question on Thursday about what will happen to irrigators who neither have an augmentation plan in place nor belong to an organized water management sub-district after the grace period for the groundwater regulations is over.

    “That’s the intent of the rules. We made it very clear. There are three options: groundwater management plan accepted by the court, like a sub-district; augmentation plan; or you get shut off.”

    Sullivan reiterated, “You form a sub-district, get an augmentation plan or you turn the wells off and go to Hawaii or wherever you go and quit irrigating.”

    Although it has been two and a half years since the well rules advisory committee met, the timeline for state regulations of groundwater use in the Rio Grande Basin is now moving rapidly forward.

    Wolfe and Sullivan said they expect to have all the pieces of the rules in place in about six months. The rules would then be submitted to water court for approval. The groundwater rules will affect thousands of wells throughout the Rio Grande Basin, encompassing the San Luis Valley. Domestic wells are exempt, but most irrigation, commercial and municipal wells will be covered under the rules.

    Whether or not there are protests to the rules and delays through the courts, the time clock for compliance with the rules starts ticking when they are submitted to the court, they said. That is when they are considered promulgated, Wolfe and Sullivan explained. Wolfe said the rules are effective 60 days after they are published with the water court. The state engineer has built in timelines for people to comply with the rules. For example, irrigations have one year following the promulgation of the rules to get an augmentation plan filed with the court or join a sub-district .

    “We have built into this some realistic and achievable benchmarks people can meet,” Wolfe said. He recognized that many people are already making decisions about what they are going to do to comply with the state rules.

    “These rules are coming. They are going to be put in place, and if you don’t meet these benchmarks, drastic things are going to happen.”

    “You can start now,” Sullivan encouraged irrigators in regards to becoming a part of a sub-district or submitting their own augmentation plan. He said if someone gambled on court delays holding the rules in abeyance, that person would probably lose.

    “If you don’t meet your benchmarks, you are basically done,” he said.

    Wolfe said he hoped there would not be any protests to the rules because he has given the public every opportunity to be involved in the rule-making process. He added, “and the legislature told us this is what we have got to do. If this fails, something will happen. The legislature will have to step in. I am very confident we will get through this.”

    He said it is possible the court could remand the rules back for corrections and refinement, but he was hopeful that all of the work upfront and all of the public involvement beforehand would result in success.

    Wolfe also encouraged those who are forming subdistricts throughout the San Luis Valley to get them organized and not wait until the groundwater rules are promulgated. Data is available now, or will be in the next few months, for the remaining sub-districts to become organized and develop plans for water management.

    One of the biggest factors for the delay in subdistrict and groundwater rules implementation has been the refinement of the Rio Grande Decision Support System, the computer model used to calculate depletions from well users to surface water rights, streams and the aquifers. The groundwater model now has most of the data available for the sub-districts to proceed.

    Wolfe encouraged those attending Thursday’s meeting to email his office with suggestions on how the proposed regulations could be improved. He and his staff reviewed the proposed rules and the changes that had been made since the last advisory committee meeting more than two years ago.

    Wolfe and his staff will return to the San Luis Valley the end of November or first part of December for another advisory committee meeting.

    More San Luis Valley Groundwater coverage here and here.


    John Fleck: The new political economics of moving water

    November 3, 2013

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue


    From inkstain (John Fleck):

    …it seems clear that the days of federal funding for big projects like this are long over. There are examples of non-federal projects of this scale. Los Angeles has done it. But that’s for municipal water supplies, for which one can charge a lot more.

    More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here and here.


    Nitrogen fertilizer remains in soils, leaks towards groundwater for decades @AWRACO

    October 26, 2013

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