Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

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From email from the Bureau of Reclamation (Kara Lamb): "As you've probably noticed, yesterday afternoon we bumped releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan up by 60 cfs. Later today, we will bump up another 60 cfs. With approximately 37 cfs coming down the Rocky Fork, a total of around 257 cfs should be flowing down the 'Pan by this evening. The reason for the increase is because we are approaching our target storage elevation at the reservoir."

Category: Colorado Water

9:26:39 PM    

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The Cortez Journal is reporting disappointing news about fish populations in the Dolores River downstream from McPhee reservoir. They write:

Fourteen years ago when a team of biologists traveled the Lower Dolores River and conducted a fish survey, they found thousands of flannelmouth suckers, a native fish. When a team of biologists returned to the same stretch of water again this year, they didn't find any. "That's not a good sign," said Joe Lewandowski, public information specialist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.Two teams traveled two different sections of the Lower Dolores River, one a 19-mile section just below the Bradfield Bridge and the other a 14-mile section below that. The teams conducted the survey between May 21 and 25 and recently announced their results. The electro-fishing team that conducted the survey below the Bradfield Bridge found no flannelmouth suckers. The second survey team surveyed a section of river that had never been surveyed before, Lewandowski said. That team, headed up by Jim White, an area biologist for the Division of Wildlife, found three flannelmouth suckers...

Jim White's team also found five round-tail chubs, also a low number when compared to historic numbers, Lewandowski said. White did find, however, a large number of smallmouth bass, 83 to be exact. "That is cause for some concern because they aren't native and are a predatory fish," he said. The smallmouth bass accounted for 63 percent of the fish the Division of Wildlife caught, Lewandowski said...

The survey teams also found a large number of brown trout in the lower section of the Lower Dolores, something that is quite unusual since trout live in cold water and the lowest sections of the Lower Dolores can get up to 80 degrees. Researchers speculate erratic releases from the dam pushed the trout downstream, Lewandowski said. On May 16, releases from McPhee had the lower Dolores running at 2,500 cfs, and two days later the river was down to 50 cfs. "There are just not that many fish down there," Lewandowski said. "There is not a lot of water, so there are not a lot of fish."

Category: Colorado Water

8:19:52 AM    

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Here's a report on the snowpack in the San Juans from the Durango Herald. They write:

The snowpack in the San Juan, Animas and Dolores basin on June 1 wasn't great - 47 percent of average for the date - but it was greater than the Colorado statewide average and greater than the average in four other basins in the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service...

Statewide, the June 1 snowpack was 40 percent of average. The June 1 snowpack for the South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins was 69, 68 and 53 percent, respectively, of average. The snowpack for the North Platte, Colorado, Gunnison and Yampa/White basins was 39, 34, 26 and 20 percent of their June 1 average...

"We've had spots with lots of rain (in May)," said Gary Smith a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. "Over by Pagosa, they got almost 3 inches (2.89 inches). In Durango, they got 2.28 inches." Durango's average May rainfall is 1.09 inches. Pagosa Springs' average is 1.2 inches. Other rainfall totals in Southwest Colorado included 3.63 inches at Lemon Dam, 2.88 inches at Ouray and 3.6 inches at Vallecito Reservoir...

Water users should remember that the June 1 figure is a better indicator of how the snowmelt is progressing, rather than the season's total accumulation, the agency said. Below-average runoff should be expected this year, particularly on the Western Slope, the NRCS said. Total runoff in many basins is expected to be less than 70 percent of average. Reservoirs in the basin, however, this year contained 119 percent of average for June 1. On June 1, 2006, reservoir storage in the basin was 106 percent of average.

Category: Colorado Water

8:08:02 AM    

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Congratulations to Ken Neubecker for being named Conservation Activist 2007 last week by the Colorado Environmental Coalition, as reported by the Aspen Times (free registration required).

Category: Colorado Water

7:43:14 AM    

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Colorado Springs is selling excess water now that they've filled all their storage, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

For the first time since a drought began in 2002, Colorado Springs Utilities is selling water it can't store in full reservoirs. "It hasn't happened since 2001," said Springs Utilities water supply manager Wayne Vanderschuere. "We suspended sales during the drought completely. This is a return to more normal operations." He said this year's snowpack and cool, wet spring have resulted in the city's reservoirs being full, including Lakes Meredith and Henry east of Pueblo, the source of water sold to two canal companies and the Colorado Division of Wildlife...

The city-owned utility sold 2,400 acre feet, or about 780 million gallons, to Colorado Canal farmers, who get preference under long-standing agreements. Fort Lyon Canal sought water about the same time and bought 3,781 acre feet, or 1.2 billion gallons. Both Arkansas Valley irrigation groups paid $11 per acre foot for the water, delivered in the last two weeks.

This week, the city delivered 2,000 acre feet, or about 650 million gallons, to the Colorado Division of Wildlife at the negotiated price of $15 per acre foot. The water will be added to the permanent water storage pool at John Martin Reservoir west of Lamar, according to a press release. The Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation helped with the purchase.

Category: Colorado Water

7:38:43 AM    

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This article from EcoWorld asks the question, "Is Biofuel Water-Positive?". From the article:

An arcane but instructive way to evaluate corn ethanol, along with all biofuels, may not just be to audit their "net energy balance," but also their "net water balance." Evaluating whether or not a biofuel crop could be "water positive" is even more subjective to calculate than whether or not that crop is energy positive, but here goes:

Corn is one of the better temperate crops to use as a primary biofuel feedstock, since cellulosic extraction isn't here yet and sugar cane doesn't grow in Iowa. Using corn as an example, a good ethanol yield is about 480 gallons per acre per year, which is based on 160 bushels per acre, and 3.0 gallons of ethanol per bushel. How much water corn needs varies greatly, and the range we've arrived at for this analysis is between 300 and 900 cubic meters per ton. Our source for 900 m3/ton is from a reference to UNESCO's "The Water Footprint of Nations," and our source for 300 m3/ton is from Colorado State University.

Since a bushel of corn weighs about 70 pounds, based on a yield of 160 bushels per acre, expressed in tons the per acre yield of corn is about 5.6 tons. This means, at the lower figure of 300 cubic meters of water per ton of corn, the average acre of corn requires 1,680 tons of water per harvest cycle, which equates to 444,000 gallons of water for every 480 gallon yield of ethanol. Clearly, from this perspective, the 3-6 additional gallons of water required after harvest to refine each gallon of corn ethanol is not the critical factor - particularly when petroleum fuels also require water during their refining process.

If it takes 925 gallons of irrigation water to grow corn for every gallon of ethanol that can be distilled from corn, how much energy would it take to desalinate seawater to irrigate that corn? Would there be energy left over after the ethanol had been used to power the desalination plant that provided the fresh water for irrigating the corn? The answer is yes, but only when we use the lower figure - 300 cubic meters of water per ton of corn harvested.

Since 2.0 kilowatt-hours is necessary to desalinate a cubic meter of seawater, then at 300 cubic meters of water per ton, and 5.6 tons per acre, it takes 3,360 kilowatt-hours of electric power to desalinate enough water to irrigate an acre of corn for a year. Since ethanol has about 80,000 BTUs of energy per gallon, at a yield of 480 gallons per acre you will extract 38 million BTUs. Theoretically, 3,400 BTUs equals one kilowatt-hour, but even the best electric generating plants only succeed in capturing about 60% of those BTU's. This means that in terms of electric power, corn ethanol is good for about 23 million BTUs, equating to 6,776 kilowatt-hours.

So is corn ethanol water positive? At 300 cubic meters of water per acre, you would require 50% of your corn ethanol yield per acre to power the desalination plant to irrigate the corn. At 900 cubic meters of water per acre, your corn crop would not yield enough ethanol to desalinate the water required to irrigate the corn. Under these assumptions, growing and refining corn ethanol is certainly not a decisively water-positive enterprise.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

7:16:33 AM    

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The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is running an article about the recently released Colorado Conservation Voters report, Colorado Legislative Conservation Scorecard 2007 [pdf]. From the article:

Western Slope lawmakers helped spearhead "the most pro-conservation legislative session in our state's history," according to a Colorado Conservation Voters report released Wednesday. The "2007 Conservation Scorecard," which tracks House and Senate votes on environmental, energy, water and wildlife reforms, shows that more than half of the region's 11 lawmakers were strong supporters of conservation values throughout the legislative session...

The report card highlights the roles Western Slope lawmakers played in pushing conservation measures, including Reps. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, Al White, R-Winter Park, and Sens. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, and Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. Each lawmaker, according to the report, had conservation scores of 70 or more on a 100-point scale. Buescher, Curry, Gibbs and Schwartz recorded perfect scores. The report says they played crucial roles in pushing surface-rights legislation, open-space protections, oil and gas drilling reforms, and water-quality protections this year...

Duke Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, attributed the session's conservation credentials to the leadership of Gov. Bill Ritter in pushing energy reform as a priority and the Legislature's willingness to work with him. "The big difference is Bill Ritter," Cox said...

The report is not so glowing for every Western Slope lawmaker. The report singles out an amendment Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, offered during an April 23 debate on House Bill 1037, which directs the Public Utilities Commission to develop rules for a program promoting energy efficiency for natural gas distributors. Penry's amendment, which failed in a 17-18 vote, would have capped the amount of energy efficiency that the bill could achieve, according to the report. Based on this and other floor votes, the report ranks Reps. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Ray Rose, R-Montrose, with scores of 50. Penry and Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, received scores of 60, according to the report.

Category: Colorado Water

7:04:52 AM    

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Here's a recap of Tuesday's meeting about the Southern Delivery System in Colorado Springs, from the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Common ground appeared to be more like the stream bed of Fountain Creek - turbulent, muddy and prone to flood - at a forum Tuesday. Sponsored by The Pueblo Chieftain, the "Common Ground: Put yourself in Pueblo's place" forum gave Colorado Springs residents a chance to hear the concerns of several Pueblo officials and Sen. Ken Salazar's aide about Fountain Creek. An estimated 150 people attended, and by a show of hands late in the three-hour meeting, approximately one-third said they were employees of Colorado Springs Utilities. Officials from other communities, including Pueblo and Fountain, attended as well as Colorado Springs residents.

Emotions ran high at the event. Some in the audience were chastised at one point for their behavior, which included cheering pro-growth statements and at one point hissing Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. Pueblo City Council member Barb Vidmar also said she was threatened with phone calls prior to the meeting...

The meeting addressed questions about how both Pueblo and Colorado Springs envision future efforts to turn Fountain Creek into an amenity rather than a hazardous waterway prone to contamination and flooding. Thiebaut explained a federal lawsuit he is pursuing along with the Sierra Club will benefit Colorado Springs in the long run. "Clean water benefits everyone," Thiebaut said. "If the river ran the other way, my friends, you would be in Pueblo tonight." After questions from the audience, Thiebaut said he would prosecute large-scale pollution the same way if it occurred in his district, but insisted Colorado Springs is not doing enough...

[Pueblo City Council member Barb Vidmar] said she was embarrassed for both communities, saying she would prefer to be working jointly with Colorado Springs on economic development issues rather than fighting over Fountain Creek. "When I was elected to council 1 years ago, I never dreamed I'd be dealing with these water issues," Vidmar said. "I should have realized after 40 years of living in Colorado that all roads lead to water."[...]

Pueblo County land-use consultant Ray Petros, a Denver water lawyer with Pueblo roots, calmly presented statistics supporting his plan to use a reservoir on Fountain Creek for flood control and reuse of Colorado Springs return flows. Noting that Colorado Springs imports 85 percent of its water, Petros explained there is ample opportunity to reuse flows. Coupled with conservation, a dam on Fountain Creek could increase Colorado Springs water supply by 50 percent, Petros said...

[Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera] also took Chieftain Assistant Publisher Jane Rawlings to task, saying the editorial position of the paper is biased against his community. "If we're trying to build trust and support, the newspapers need to be fair and balanced, and not so one-sided," Rivera said. Rawlings said the Colorado Springs Gazette, which publishes editorials critical of Pueblo officials and The Chieftain, also offers a skewed view. "The Chieftain advocates for the people in the valley. Our belief at The Chieftain is that in the past water issues were solved behind closed doors. The Chieftain feels strongly that the little guys need to have advocates," Rawlings said.

[Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman who now works for Sen. Salazar], who helped Salazar form a plan to turn Fountain Creek into a "Crown Jewel" last fall, still was optimistic Fountain Creek can be improved. "Close your eyes and imagine," Skorman said, going on to describe a series of trails, camping areas and lakes along Fountain Creek. "We have an opportunity to put a 'greenprint' on the land ... It's going to take a will of the people to get this done."

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Indenpendent. They write:

Colorado Springs has lost its soul. At least that's what Pueblo leaders contended at a forum Tuesday evening at Colorado College. The meeting, sponsored by the Pueblo Chieftain, aimed to posit Pueblo's point of view on a litany of water-related issues. But it ended with representatives from both communities clashing over the angry thread that connects them: Fountain Creek...

Pueblo's contingent, on the other hand, made it clear that it's simply not backing down -- not on the sewage spills that have sullied Fountain Creek for years, and not on their opposition to Colorado Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System, the plan to pump water from Pueblo Reservoir north to Colorado Springs to fuel the city's growth for years to come...

"Because Colorado Springs is importing so much water," [Water attorney Ray Petros] said, "our belief is that it should be the absolute leader in conservation in the state." Petros authored a proposal to create a Fountain Creek reservoir that would enable flood control and water reuse for Colorado Springs. The dam would serve as an alternative to SDS. Colorado Springs Utilities says the plan was already thrown out by the federal government's Bureau of Reclamation, which is reviewing SDS and six alternatives.

Meanwhile, there is a movement towards establishing a Fountain Creek Authority to manage the stream, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner wants a public meeting of El Paso and Pueblo County officials to form a water authority for Fountain Creek. Chostner is proposing a July 20 meeting of both county boards, the Colorado Springs and Pueblo city councils and the Pueblo Board of Water Works to discuss whether a mission statement and goals of the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force are acceptable. Chostner made the announcement at a forum Tuesday sponsored by The Pueblo Chieftain to present Pueblo viewpoints on Fountain Creek to Colorado Springs. The forum also provided Colorado Springs area residents the opportunity to raise questions...

Chostner was firm in saying the ongoing conversation about Fountain Creek must lead to a constructive solution by both communities, although the details of the solution have to be worked out. "We have to get past the bomb-throwing and down to talking about this," Chostner said. "If we don't have a consensus, quite frankly, we pull the plug." There are no preconceived notions about how the authority would work, Chostner added. "We need to discuss, 'do we need a water authority or not?' and what form should it take," Chostner said...

While Colorado Springs officials were cool to many statements made at Tuesday's meetings, they supported a call for a unified approach to solving Fountain Creek problems. "We need to talk about what is possible if we link arms together and move ahead," said Jerry Forte, head of Colorado Springs Utilities. Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera said solutions must be found to improve Fountain Creek in order to preserve communities and agriculture downstream, but he said no answers could be found until a $3 million Army Corps of Engineers study of Fountain Creek is complete.

Category: Colorado Water

6:46:27 AM    

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The Environmental Protection Agency relaxed their rules governing mine cleanups this week in an effort to promote Good Samaritan efforts, according to the Rocky Mountain News. From the article:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday moved to make it easier for good Samaritans to clean up abandoned hard-rock mine sites, an action Gov. Bill Ritter lauded as "a big step forward." The EPA estimates there are 500,000 such sites, including 23,000 in Colorado, and that polluted drainage and runoff from the old mines impacts thousands of watersheds and stream miles. The new rules will reduce the threat of litigation by allowing third parties to enter "Good Samaritan Settlement Agreements" to provide legal protections and liability waivers...

The new policy does not cover possible lawsuits under the Clean Water Act because the agency does not have the authority to provide that liability, agency officials said. "To get the rest of the way, Congress needs to enact a targeted law that protects people and groups doing voluntary cleanups under the Clean Water Act," [Colorado Governor Bill Ritter] said...

Approximately 400 of Colorado's abandoned mines are affecting or have the potential to adversely affect water quality. There are at least a dozen local watershed groups in Colorado interested in pursuing abandoned mine remediation if liability concerns can be resolved.

More coverage from the EPA. They write:

Under a set of policies and model tools announced today, EPA and volunteer parties will now be able to enter into Good Samaritan Settlement Agreements. These agreements provide key legal protections to Good Samaritans as non-liable parties including: a federal covenant not to sue under CERCLA and protection from third-party contribution suits. Other tools include a model comfort letter intended for Good Samaritan parties. The liability clarification that these tools provide will allow Good Samaritans to proceed with qualified projects -- such as efforts to remove and cap waste rock, tailings piles and soils contaminated with high levels of lead, arsenic, zinc, and other metals in areas where they threaten human health and water quality...

There are an estimated 500,000 orphan mines in the United States, most of which are former hardrock mines located in the West. Thousands of watersheds and stream miles are impacted by drainage and runoff from these mines, one of the largest sources of water pollution in the region. At many orphan mine sites and processing areas, disturbed rock and waste piles contain high levels of sulfides and heavy metals. These piles, when exposed to air and water, undergo physical and chemical reactions that create acid drainage. As this drainage runs through mineral-rich rock, it often picks up other metals --such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and zinc -- in solution or in suspension as sediment. When this runoff enters local streams and rivers, it can severely degrade water quality, damage or destroy insect, plant and animal life. In many cases, the parties responsible for the pollution from orphan mine sites no longer exist or are not financially viable. Yet, a variety of interests, including nonprofit organizations and state and local governments -- are eager to voluntarily clean up these abandoned sites even though they are not responsible for the pollution. Many potential Good Samaritans have expressed concerns that they may be held liable under the Clean Water Act and CERCLA. This obstacle has prevented many cleanup projects from moving forward. Good Samaritan Agreements are intended for use by EPA regional offices working with non-liable volunteers to clean up abandoned hard rock mines. These tools preserve CERCLA's fundamental principle that responsible parties should pay for cleanups as intended by Congress. These tools do not absolve responsible parties of their existing liability for pollution. While today's announcement is a significant step forward, the Agency cannot remove all legal risks and uncertainties associated with orphan mine sites. EPA believes that targeted legislation will allow even more Good Samaritan cleanups to happen.

Category: Colorado Water

6:29:07 AM    

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The Bureau of Reclamation is working on a final draft of their environmental impact statement for managing the Colorado River during droughts. The plan that they have right now has five options, one of which BuRec will choose as their preferred alternative later this summer. Although they usually include their preferences in a draft they deferred doing that with this plan until the 7 Colorado Compact states weighed in with their own plan, according to the Mohave Daily News. From the article:

Terry Fulp of the Bureau of Reclamation and part of the team writing the plan said Wednesday that federal officials didn't recommend anything because they wanted to give the states and others a chance to weigh in. He said the guidelines might be a blend of the various proposals...

A consortium of environmental groups submitted a separate plan that stresses compensating water users for voluntarily cutting back to spread out the impacts of shortages. The move to modify the compact follows rising tensions due to a drought gripping the region since 2000. Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton said she wanted a plan for averting shortages by the end of this year after the upper basin states - Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico - wanted to reduce water releases from Lake Powell...

Under the compact, the upper basin states must deliver 75 million acre feet every 10 years to the lower basin states. In practice, at least 8.2 million acre feet of water have been released annually from Lake Powell to Lake Mead since the late 1960s.

More coverage from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. They write:

The [Bureau of Reclamation] is in the process of setting guidelines for the operations of the reservoirs after Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2005 chose to let water out of Lake Powell to meet water needs in the lower basin. Upper-basin officials, however, wanted the water released from Lake Mead to protect their ability to deliver water from Powell and insulate them from the risk of failing to meet the requirements of agreements governing river operations. Federal officials this month expect to identify a preferred alternative for river management under shortage conditions, [Terry Fulp, Boulder Canyon Project Office area manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation] said. That alternative will be subject then to public comment, and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is to sign a record of decision in December. That decision will allow the Bureau of Reclamation to manage the river and its reservoirs under the new guidelines next spring, Fulp said. The bureau's preparations suggest it is planning to manage the river conservatively for a long-term drought, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. Conservative management of the river might not prevent the possibility of a call on the river by lower-basin states, but it could soften the effects of it, Treese said. "I see this as good news and an appropriately conservative approach," he said. One possibility the upper basin would welcome is operating Mead and Powell reservoirs jointly, so the upper basin isn't penalized when the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Powell downstream into Mead.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:22:36 AM    

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