Mt. Emmons treatment plant deal in the works — The Crested Butte News

Mount Emmons
Mount Emmons

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

In what has been described as a “serendipitous” and “interconnected” moment, there could be real headway in a permanent solution to the Mt. Emmons water treatment plant and overall molybdenum mine situation.

While very preliminary, the signals are good that this new path with new players, in part spurred by last summer’s dramatic Gold King Mine release into the Animas River, could bring about substantial changes to the Red Lady situation.

Gunnison County, the town of Crested Butte, several departments in the state, mining giant Freeport-McMoRan and U.S. Energy, the company with rights to the local molybdenum deposit, appear to be headed toward a collaborative deal to upgrade and permanently fund the water treatment plant on Coal Creek and address the idea of a potential mine.

This most recent chapter in a very long story started late last August when the county and the town sent a letter to the state and feds expressing serious concern over U.S. Energy’s ability to maintain the water treatment plant, especially if an accident occurred at the plant. U.S. Energy had been taking a giant financial hit with the decrease in energy prices and it has only gotten worse, with its stock selling this week for under 30 cents a share.

The two local governments sent a letter saying that the environmental and human health consequences of any release of untreated mine drainage are beyond the governments’ response capacity. They asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to reopen a permit renewal process for the mine’s discharge permit, which regulates the water treatment plant.

Several state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, the State Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, set up a meeting in October. Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin, Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten and special counsel for the town, Barbara Green, met with them to discuss concerns about U.S. Energy and its financial ability to continue operating the plant. By all accounts, it was a positive meeting.

Shortly after that, Freeport-McMoRan, a renowned international copper, gold and molybdenum miner that operates the Climax and Henderson moly mines in Colorado, also came into the picture. While it never had an interest in the molybdenum beneath Mt. Emmons, the company bought Phelps Dodge in 2007. That mining corporation had acquired the company that originally built the water treatment plant. Freeport in essence became tied to the site through a connection of mergers and acquisitions.

Watering the West: How pioneers built local towns through irrigation — The Watch

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Watch (Regan Tuttle):

Telluride’s early days, survival depended dearly on water. The enterprises that built the region — farming, ranching and mining — required irrigation from rivers, and lots of it. Of course, water becomes scarcer the farther one moves from the mountains or from the San Miguel River.

For the pioneers, creating an infrastructure that could sustain them in the short term and withstand the march of progress was no easy task. Suffering cold conditions, subsisting on biscuits and beans, laboring with shovels, axes and other hand tools, pioneers worked to channel water from its source to where they needed it.
Back then, this was legal. Just decades ago, as the old-timers established our local towns, “Water could be diverted from the stream, and ditches built across public and private land to convey water to its place of beneficial use,” the Colorado Foundation for Water Education reported.

“In a dry and thirsty land it is necessary to divert the waters of the streams from their natural channels,” Colorado Chief Justice Moses Hallet said in the late 1800s.


During Telluride’s early days, water was hauled from the San Miguel River and from springs on the east side of town. Wilson Rockwell said in his book “Uncompahgre Country” that a man named Dutch George in the late 1800s delivered five-gallon buckets of water from the spring at Cornet Creek to saloons and businesses on what is now Colorado Avenue for 10 cents each, two buckets at a time, balanced by a yoke around his neck.

When attorney L.L. Nunn needed water for his commercial bathhouse on the east end, he ran a garden hose from Cornet Falls. Later, in 1886, H. H. Corbin constructed a 370-foot vertical pipeline that transported water from Cornet Creek into town.

Though people then said it couldn’t be done, high pressure water was flumed from Trout Lake to help establish the Ames power plant, and later the Ilium plant, that would put Telluride on the map as the first city in the world to be powered by alternating electric current. Of course, the purpose was to support the mining industry.


For some, creating access to water was more difficult. The Town of Nucla, formerly Tabeguache Park, was founded by a socialist organization whose members wanted to escape their greedy landlords in Denver. By accident, they discovered the location that provided everything they desired: mild winters, ample sunlight, virgin soil — but no water.

Called the Colorado Cooperative Company, the members, or comrades, set up camp in the late 1800s in what became the second largest city in Montrose County to bring water to the homesteads for which they’d filed claims.
They were told their task was impossible.

“I believe [that] actually helped build the ditch. When you are told you can’t, you’ll bust a tug to do it,” Leonard F. Zatterstrom said in a memoir published in Marie Templeton’s book “The Visionaries.”

The Colorado Cooperative Company constructed a 17-mile-long wooden flume, called the CC Ditch, built along the wall of the San Miguel River canyon. David Lavender in “One Man’s West” writes that those who worked on the ditch were compensated by “credit at the commissary for food and supplies, plus water credits toward the purchase of ditch rights. The canal succeeded, and several prosperous farms sprang up.”

People like Zatterstrom worked eight-hour days building the flume, sleeping in the bunkhouse, buying their food through the company store and receiving rations of milk from the cooperative’s dairy cows.

Nucla was born when the project was completed in 1904, and “Piñon became a ghost town practically overnight,” Zatterstrom said.

But the hard work didn’t pay off for everyone. Mary Rogers was a 9-year old girl during the CC Ditch project. Because both her parents died, she went to live with her grandmother and uncles, the Heinemans, who worked on the CC Ditch. Like others, the German family came to Piñon in search of a better life, and hoped to one day own a farm.

“My mother worked in the garden and did dishes,” Norma McKeever, now 88, said. According to her, the conditions were not pleasant, especially in the winter. Rogers said the food was terrible, just biscuits and beans at the camp’s boardinghouse in the cold season. But it was worth it to the family. They’d filed a homestead claim with hopes that when the CC Ditch was done, they’d have irrigation water and could build a life.

Rogers was in her teens by the time the CC Ditch was completed. But the water didn’t reach the Heineman’s farm in 1904. The majority of the CC Ditch workers had accomplished what they’d needed for their own homesteads, and they weren’t willing to extend the project. What can you do with a farm that has no water?

Grandmother Heineman went to work as a washerwoman and housekeeper for those who owned prosperous farms. Mary Rogers got a job at the Western Hotel in Norwood. One of her uncles moved to Nevada and never came back.

McKeever said the Heinemans, buried in the pauper site at Nucla Cemetery, weren’t the only ones to feel cheated out of their homestead dreams.

Though socialism failed, the town has not. Water still serves Nucla to this day, though the wooden flume has mostly been replaced by more practical means. The town celebrates the water victory every July with their Water Days celebration.


Wilson Barrett of Redvale is the ditch rider — the patroller or inspector — for the waterway that is the lifeblood of Norwood, the Gurley Ditch. He is the only employee of Farmer’s Water Development, the stock company that “owns” the Gurley and divides its shares of water. But nobody really owns the water in Colorado, he said, just the rights to use it. According to him, life in Norwood wouldn’t be possible for anyone if the old-timers hadn’t dug the ditch.

In the late 1800s, when pioneers began settling Wrights Mesa, Rockwell said Ed Joseph — of the Joseph family, one of the first to settle the area — began construction of a reservoir east of the Lone Cone in the high country.

Some people disagree as to who later built the Gurley Ditch and finished the reservoir above it. Barrett said it was Naturita Land and Cattle Company. Regardless, whatever company worked on the project went bankrupt. One of the owners in that outfit was named Charles Gorley. Over time, the spelling of “Gorley” evolved into “Gurley,” which is used today.

To avoid losing the rights to use their water, local farmers and ranchers on the mesa decided to purchase the floundering company, buying it out of bankruptcy, and then established Farmer’s Water Development.

Now irrigation water runs from the dam through Beaver Park and to Wrights Mesa, mostly for agricultural purposes, but a small percentage is used for domestic water in town.

Barrett’s great uncle, Gordon Barrett, was one of the first workers to help dig the Gurley.

“They came in 1914, and they worked on the ditch in the fall. If you worked in the fall, you could get shares in the company,” Barrett said. “He was nominated to work on the ditch as part of the family so they could get more water.”

Recently, going through old paperwork, Barrett found one of the original invoices for equipment. He discovered a purchase order, sandwiched between old papers, for picks, boxes of dynamite, shovels and other tools that made the Gurley.

Without the ditch, Barrett said, Norwood would not have survived.


Most people probably don’t know that Ridgway almost didn’t survive. Years ago, in the 1960s, there were plans for a dam to be constructed just north of where Ridgway now sits. Had the original plans been executed, Ridgway would now be under water.

Some refer to it as “the town that refused to die,” and Ridgway lucked out when officials in the 1970s decided to move the dam farther north. Now, the Ridgway Reservoir, constructed in the late ‘80s, covers what was the old ghost town of Dallas.

Though Ridgway is situated on the Uncompahgre River, that stream is not the town’s source of water. Sometimes running yellow or orange, the Uncompahgre is known as a “dirty river” due to the minerals it contains. The town of Ridgway sourced its water in the late 1800s from Hartwell Lake, now Lake Otonowanda, below Mount Sneffels.

Ridgway completed a major expansion of its reservoir last summer.


Today, being on town water is a luxury most people probably don’t think much about. While just 100 years ago we were hauling water and digging ditches through the local mountains, most folks now just turn on the tap. Our pioneers have made it possible for us to have access to water even in places where water didn’t naturally occur.

Those who live further out in the country have other water issues, and real estate in many parts of Colorado becomes complicated when water rights enter the picture. Sometimes water rights are a part of landownership; sometimes they’re not. Water is overseen by water commissions and boards in various regions.

These days, one cannot simply dig a diversion ditch from an existing stream or take water from a manmade ditch. Now, water projects involve planning, permits, engineering work and financing. The Colorado Doctrine, a set of laws pertaining to water use and landownership, has been in place since the 1860s.

Some producers, especially the new farmers without water rights, have trouble wrapping their heads around the laws.

Last July Leila Seraphin, formerly of California, bought a property in Norwood that the Gurley Ditch runs through. She said she wishes she could use some of that water for her own farming and gardening, but she knows it’s against the law.

“We were told right when we moved here water was a big issue and taking from the Gurley was not allowed, and that all the water was owned,” she said.

Building a life as a new producer on Wrights Mesa, she has learned a lot about where her water comes from.

“It’s hard to imagine water being free to use, as every drop has a price tag,” she said.

Barrett said people living in this region should be grateful for their water.

“The water we have — 99 percent of it was done with a shovel and a pick. Without the pioneers, there would be nobody here,” he said.

He believes that is especially true for Wrights Mesa, as he said that before the Gurley ditch, life didn’t exist in Norwood.

“The early homesteaders had to go clear into the San Miguel River or into Naturita Creek with wagons and barrels to haul it to have any water at all,” he said. “I’d say for most people [this] is new information.”

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south
Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

#COWaterPlan tackles state water shortages — The Crested Butte News #ColoradoRiver

Crested Butte
Crested Butte

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

“The final version of the Colorado Water Plan adds more clarity as far as the position on trans-mountain diversions,” said local water expert Frank Kugel. As general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Kugel said the plan makes it clear that, “The Front Range interests—if they pursue trans-mountain diversion—understand there’s not a firm supply. They would accept the risk of any project development that the water may not be there when they need it.”

In addition, Governor Hickenlooper made it clear that diverting more water across the mountains will be a last resort.

According to the Denver Post, Hickenlooper stated that if water conservation is ramped up, water is incorporated into land-use planning and reservoir construction is done right, “the diversion of more water across the mountains won’t be necessary.”[…]

Kugel says that’s a good thing for the Western Slope.

“The other aspects of the water plan that are favorable for our basin are that there are other proposals [besides trans-mountain diversion] for meeting the gap between supply and demand,” he said.

They include reuse projects for the Front Range, limits to the permanent drying up of agricultural lands, opportunities to lease water rights and temporary fallowing of farmlands.

“The plan is a step in the right direction as far as providing for the future of Western Slope water. We certainly need to remain vigilant to guarantee that the protections laid out in the plan are followed through, but there has been a great deal of good work done to solve future water problems,” Kugel continued.

The plan also outlines projects for the local water basin, including about 130 projects to deal with decreasing water supplies. According to Kugel, climate change studies project that on a local level, warmer temperatures will lead to increased evaporation and transpiration and in turn a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in water supplies by the middle of the century.

Droughts and shortages experienced in 2002 and 2012 could become more commonplace. In 2002, diversions on the East River and the Slate River completely dried up.

The projects outlined in the water plan will look at water consumption and shortages as well as environmental and recreation concerns. Stream management plans for Ohio Creek and the East River are already under way. While the projected population growth on the Front Range makes its water problems most noticeable, Kugel says that meeting water demand is a statewide issue.

“The shortages are state-wide. In the coming decades there are more acute projects for the Front Range because of growth… making conservation and other methods and efficiency efforts more important there. But as citizens of Colorado we all have obligations to maximize the use of water.”

More information on the Colorado Water Plan is available at, including an executive summary.

Peanut Lake restoration project underway to prevent breach — The Crested Butte News

Sunrise over Peanut Lake via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise over Peanut Lake via Bob Berwyn

From the Crested Butte Land Trust (Mark Reaman) via The Crested Butte News:

Heavy equipment started rumbling around Peanut Lake this week for a fall restoration project.

Work has begun by the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) to shore up the lake. The Riparian Restoration Project is meant to reduce the risk of a breach of the lake, located just west of Crested Butte below the Lower Loop trail. A natural riparian floodplain buffer between the lake and the Slate River will be created through the $130,000 project.

“We broke ground yesterday [October 28, 2015] morning with an excavator and loader, amidst the wind and rain, after a year of studying and planning with a team of ecologists,” said CBLT stewardship director Danielle Beamer. “Things are going well on the ground—we’ve been able to transplant large, whole mats of willows and vegetation, which will really benefit the regrowth of the wetlands and the river banks. We were running out of time, so we are really grateful that the community stepped up to help us out.”

A team of ecologists had informed the land trust that a breach was likely sometime in the next ten years, but when it would occur was impossible to predict. The lake is there primarily as a result of beaver dams and is actually about three feet above the Slate.

“There are three main components of this week’s project,” explained Beamer. “First, we’ll remove a manmade gravel berm on the eastern side of the river. This berm has prevented the Slate’s natural migration, and forced it towards Peanut Lake’s eastern bank, so much so that the lake’s bank is seriously eroding. At the same time, we’ll realign a short segment of the Slate River, which will widen the area between the river and Peanut Lake, significantly lessening the likelihood that the river will break through the lake’s fragile bank. This will return the river and lake to a more natural environment. Finally, we’ll plant willows and other wetland plants—some this week, and more early spring, to restore acres of healthy wetlands, and ultimately benefit the wildlife of the wetlands, including the blue heron, beavers and elk.”

The work is expected to take about ten days. “We expect to finish the restoration work by the end of next week at the latest—it’s a little weather-dependent, but the crew is ready and willing to work through the weekend if need be. We’ll also monitor the area closely for the next five years,” said Beamer.

“Preventing a breach of Peanut Lake is one of our main objectives,” continued Beamer. “By increasing the extent of the wetlands between the river and the lake, the wetlands can act as a sponge, absorbing the heavy flows of spring run-off. We’ll do what we can, and hope that the landscape can return to a more natural system that will protect the lake as well.”

The work is expected to create about an additional 2.5 acres of wetlands in the area after volunteers help plant approximately 1,000 willows.

Funding sources include the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Great Outdoors Colorado, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Tip for the Trust, the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund, and New Belgium Brewery. CBLT executive director Ann Johnston said the CBLT also received some very generous gifts from community members.

As for any trail reroutes, Johnston said, “We’re working closely with CB Nordic to reroute a portion of the winter Beaver Trail.”

Drainage district sends out notices of impending fees — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries -- Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Grand Valley Drainage District boundaries — Robert Garcia The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Several thousand Mesa County businesses and governments received notices this week of the bills they will get in January from the Grand Valley Drainage District.

Many of them promptly put in calls to the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which as it happens has scheduled a roundtable on Friday with the district about those very fees.

“It’s a job-killer,” chamber President Diane Schwenke said of the district’s plans.

Actually, said Tim Ryan, general manager for the district, the bills were tailored to be “palatable, but still generate revenue” the district needs to manage storm water.

While the chamber doesn’t question the need to control storm water filling the district’s pipes and ditches, the district’s plans for fees are an unnecessary damper on an already struggling local economy, Schwenke said.

While some businesses might be able to absorb the fees, for many others the costs will be significant, Schwenke said.

“They’re solving a problem by creating a problem,” Schwenke said.

The drainage district this summer put in motion plans to collect a $3-per-month base fee on the more than 44,000 tax parcels within its boundaries, and a $500-per-unit impact fee on new development. The $3 fee is based on parcels containing 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — which describes most of the affected residential parcels.

The fee schedule, however, makes no accommodation for large properties.

The biggest bill, for $14,000, will go to Halliburton, Ryan said, who noted that when the company received notification, it starting making arrangements for payment.

Many of the 100 most-substantial bills will go to companies with headquarters outside the county, so, “We’re actually bringing in outside money and hiring local people to do the construction,” Ryan said.

A major problem is that the $500 fee on new construction could damper business expansion, said Schwenke, who contends that the district should look at how other communities are collecting storm water fees.

The district’s fees, however, are minor in comparison with water, sewer and traffic fees, Ryan said.

It’s difficult to offer reduced fees to businesses or other entities with large, impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, because the size of the surfaces contributes to the runoff issues the district is trying to control, Ryan said.

The chamber is hosting a business roundtable from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday at Ute Water Conservancy District’s office, 2190 H 1/4 Road, to discuss the drainage district fees.

Reclamation Releases a Draft Environmental Assessment for Piping the Zanni Lateral of the Crawford Clipper Ditch

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Jenny Ward):

The Bureau of Reclamation announced today that it has released a draft environmental assessment on the Zanni Lateral of the Crawford Clipper Ditch located in Delta County, Colorado.

The project would replace approximately 1.7 miles of open irrigation ditch with buried water pipeline. The purpose of the project is to improve the efficiency of water delivery to canal users and reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Basin.

The draft environmental assessment is available online at, or a copy can be received by contacting Jenny Ward at 970-248-0651 or

Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Comments can be submitted by email to or by mailing Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Friday, December 11, 2015.

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison River through Black Canyon streamflow to increase to 1100 cfs

From email from Reclamation Erik Knight:

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 1100 cfs on Monday, November 16th. The purpose of this increase is to lower Blue Mesa Reservoir down towards the winter icing target. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 673,000 acre-feet which is 81% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for the remainder of the year.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1100 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn