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

South Canal hydroelectric site
South Canal hydroelectric site

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold King catastrophe: Could that happen here? — Crested Butte News

From The Crested Butte News (Adam Broderick):

After the “catastrophe” last week near Silverton, Colo., when roughly three million gallons of toxic water ran into the Animas River, the question arose whether something similar could happen here in the Upper East River Valley. According to local environmental leaders, the answer is, possibly.

While Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials working on the old Standard Mine this summer say such an event isn’t likely, Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) says there is no guarantee that Coal Creek is completely safe from acid mine drainage…

Regional project manager for the EPA on the Standard Mine Project Christina Progess said that the EPA is very concerned about what’s happened at the Gold King Mine and that the management team at the Standard Mine on Mt. Emmons near Crested Butte has plans in place to help reduce the likelihood of a similar event happening there…

On a local level, Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) told the Crested Butte News this accident demonstrates how challenging it is to clean
up the legacy of acid mine drainage.

“Importantly, it’s not the EPA’s fault alone. Many are just as responsible,” Melton said of the Animas spill. “What we do or fail to do affects millions of people and animals and hundreds of local communities, not just ourselves.

“Over the years, we’ve seen how complicated these efforts often are when working in headwaters, involving complex hydrology between mine workings, ground water, and surface water, as well as seeps and springs, among other things,” Melton continued. “Most unfortunately, it’s the communities and taxpayers that are stuck with the legacy of contamination long after the mining has died out and still in 2015 with no silver bullet to remedy the contamination.”

Melton said although Crested Butte also has a legacy of acid mine drainage, here much of it is being treated by a water treatment plant operated and owned by U.S. Energy. However, no bond has been imposed on the plant, which would be a problem should U.S. Energy ever put operations on hold.

According to Melton, “Without a bond, we have no guarantee that the plant will continue to run without interruption, even though we rely on its continued operation to prevent Coal Creek from having acid mine drainage discharged directly into it.”

Steve Glazer, president of the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition board of directors, noted that in the Gold King Mine, the bulkhead, or dam, had built up mine drainage pressure and failed, releasing the contaminated water.

Glazer said, ‘“In the Standard Mine, there is only juvenile water [current year’s snowmelt] that is contaminated in Level 2 before being discharged at Level 1. The bulkhead planned for installation in Level 1 will have a valve in it and its purpose is only intended to level out the seasonal hydraulic variations and not to build up storage with only minimal pressure behind it.”

Glazer wrote in an email that the water treatment plant (WTP) has a retention pond that can hold one to two days of draining water storage, plus an emergency retention pond that can hold multiple days of discharge. He said if the WTP were to stop operating, after the emergency storage capacity was exceeded, untreated acid mine drainage would contaminate Coal Creek, the Slate River and the East River below their confluences.

“The dilution from the Taylor might be enough to prevent toxic levels in Gunnison (or not). This would have to occur before EPA would step in and take over the WTP. In an emergency, the Town could extend its intake upstream to avoid receiving any contaminated surface overflow,” Glazer wrote.

At the request of the Red Lady Coalition and HCCA, the Crested Butte Town Council agreed at a meeting in late July to go on record that the town needs protection and state and federal agencies will be asked to impose a bond on the plant. A letter is being drafted and an update could be presented at next week’s council meeting.

Progess addressed several differences between the Gold King Mine and the Standard Mine in an email to the News. She said there is a much better understanding of the water levels inside the Standard Mine than at the Gold King Mine because the management team has been inside the Standard Mine and boreholes from the surface have been drilled into the old mine workings so the presence of contaminated water levels and any buildup in pressure can be measured.

Progess noted that the workings within the Standard Mine are not completely full of water.

“We are driving a new tunnel to intercept existing workings behind collapses within the lowest level of the mine,” Progess wrote, pointing out that work at the Standard Mine is proceeding cautiously to ensure contaminated water is contained.

Progess wrote, “We have precautions in place such as containment ponds to trap sediment and water as it flows from the workings, and will be treating this water as it comes out prior to discharging it to Elk Creek. We also have a communication plan set up with the Crested Butte water treatment plant whereby we will notify them if a major release of contaminated water were to occur as a result of our work at Standard. This will allow them to switch to an alternate drinking water source if necessary.”

Carol Worrall, director of public health in Gunnison County, said after seeing what happened to the Animas she also wondered if something similar could happen here. She believes there is a certain amount of “we have the purest water” mentality here in Crested Butte, but we might not be aware of particular metals. She guessed that nearly 70 percent of people in Gunnison County rely on private wells and most people, when testing their wells, test for bacteria. But for cases like these, water needs to be tested for heavy metals, which aren’t as easily detected.

“The responsibility for the private wells lies on the property owners,” Worrall said. “People tend to have their wells tested when they’re initially getting permits, but then go about their lives and don’t do further testing. Most people, when testing their wells, test for bacteria. But when you’re looking at mining, you’re looking at heavy metals.”

Worrall said when she read about the Animas spill, she thought the visuals were pretty shocking and had hopes that maybe the spill would help influence people here to test their own well water. She thinks it would be best for people to test their well water now and then, and if there were some later disturbance, conduct follow-up testing.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health website, there is no generic water test for everything, so each contaminant must be evaluated individually. However, if you’re buying or building a house and need to have a well tested, a standard test is available and testing supplies are free of charge. Call (303) 692-3048 for more information and to order water tests.

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

Aspinall Unit operations update: Current inflow forecast for Blue Mesa = 105% of avg

Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 3000 cfs to 2000 cfs, over the next 3 days. Releases will be decreased by 400 cfs on Wednesday, July 22nd, by 350 cfs on Thursday, July 23rd, and by 250 cfs on Friday, July 24th. This reduction is in response to the declining inflows to Blue Mesa Reservoir which have allowed the reservoir elevation to drop to 2 feet below the maximum water surface elevation. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 710,000 acre-feet which is 105% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 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 1500 cfs for July and 1050 cfs for August.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 2000 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1000 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases from Crystal to be lowered to 2000 cfs #ColoradoRiver

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 3700 cfs to 2000 cfs between July 2nd and July 6th. Releases will be decreased by 200 cfs today, and then by 400 cfs each day over the next 3 days, with a final decrease of 300 cfs on the morning of July 6th. This reduction is in response to the continuing decline in runoff to the Aspinall Unit reservoirs. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is now 700,000 acre-feet which is 104% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 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 1500 cfs for July.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 2800 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 1000 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.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

UGRWCD: Morrow Dam spilling — beautiful

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The Ouray County Water Users Association hopes to score $50,000 in grant dough for engineering #ColoradoRiver

Ouray
Ouray

From the Ouray County Plain Dealer (Sheridan Block):

Making an effort to be prepared for the state’s uncertain water future, Ouray County water users are taking necessary measures to protect their supply.

In a joint discussion on the state of local waters last month, local water user groups left with a general consensus of pursuing a water engineering analysis, which would analyze data for the Upper Uncompahgre Basin and ultimately provide options for solutions to future water needs.

The analysis is estimated to cost about $50,000, and last week county attorney and representative on the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, Marti Whitmore, submitted a grant application for a joint project to the Roundtable.

“In talking with other people in the region, including people in the Colorado River District, everyone is supportive of such a widely supported and cooperative effort among many water users in Ouray County,” Whitmore told the Plaindealer. “This cooperative effort will benefit everybody. It’s a positive step in a positive direction and I’ve gotten a lot of favorable feedback.”

According to the grant application, the county (which for the project will also include the City of Ouray, Town of Ridgway, Ouray County Water Users Association and various Log Hill water user entities) is requesting $25,000 from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable and $25,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

More Uncompaghre River watershed coverage here.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases increasing to meet Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target of 2,054 cfs

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Significant rainfall in the North Fork of the Gunnison basin has changed things considerably over the last 24 hours. What was predicted to be a 1,500 cfs peak at the Somerset gage turned into a 2,600 cfs peak last night, with over 4,000 cfs in the North Fork at the confluence gage. This resulted in flows reaching 5,800 cfs on the Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage, above the peak flow target of 4,991 cfs.

Currently flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 1,050 cfs so release at Crystal Dam will continue to be increased in order to reach the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target of 2,054 cfs. The peak release for the Black Canyon Water Right will be maintained for 24 hours before releases are ramped down, starting late Saturday night, May 9th. The updated release schedule is shown below:

aspinallunitreleaseschedule0507thru05132015