Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Friday, June 8, 2007

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Coyote Gulch is heading down the two-lane blacktop to spend the weekend near the headwaters of the Colorado River. We may get the opportunity to use the rod, reel, fryingpan and cornmeal method of non-native trout species control.

We'll be back Sunday night unless we take the opportunity and jump into early retirement.

12:54:01 PM    

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According to Water Technology Online the EPA has awarded, "...the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council in Alamosa, CO, a $100,000 grant for its project designed to limit residential exposure to contaminants such as metals and fertilizers from household wells...The Colorado project plan will educate residents to take personal steps, such as installing and cleaning water filters, to avoid exposure to well water contaminants. It will also promote and implement new cost-effective technologies, which will allow low-income residents to afford water treatment systems or to drill new wells."

Category: Colorado Water

7:06:50 AM    

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Here's an update on Boulder's water budgets from the Boulder County Business Journal. From the article:

Any changes to city's new water budget system may not come before council until late fall or winter, a new city memo states. The timing could set up the new water rates as an issue for the upcoming November city council elections. Ned Williams, director of Boulder's Public Works for Utilities, said he will meet with City Manager Frank Bruno to discuss possible changes, following a list of recommended changes to revamp the system from the city of Boulder's Water Resources Advisory Board... owners, including landlords represented by the Boulder Area Rental Housing Association, have argued that the new budget system has serious problems and flaws in how user's water budgets were determined. "Boulder is (so far) refusing to create custom budgets for CII (commercial industrial) properties, and refusing to spend any money to proactively correct problems," said Laurence Budd, owner of Fort Collins-based Allison Irrigation and a certified landscape irrigation auditor, who frequently consults with city and local governments on water use issues.

Category: Colorado Water

6:58:19 AM    

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Here's a report about last week's congressional hearing of the water and power subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, from the Colorado Springs Business Journal. From the article:

It doesn't seem like a subject that would fill a room, does it? Normally, you'd expect a couple dozen folks representing the regional water providers as well as a handful of journalists entranced by the novelty of actual, live congresspeople. But these aren't normal times. It was standing room only in the Fortino Ballroom at Pueblo Community College, where at least 250 attendees heard testimony from a dozen grandees of Colorado's water world...

Ostensibly, it was all about the Fry-Ark project, and how to craft policies that both honor the project's genesis and reflect the changing realities of Colorado's Front Range. In reality, it was about Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Aurora and the Arkansas Valley. It was about water rights on the Arkansas that are owned by Colorado Springs and Aurora, and whether those cities will be able to use those rights. It was about the war between the cities, whose outcome might well determine the future of this community.

A little history: The Fry-Ark was a good old-fashioned 1962 water grab, largely federally financed, which moved water from the Colorado River basin to the Arkansas. The purpose of the project was to support agricultural, municipal and industrial uses in the Arkansas basin, which includes Pueblo and Colorado Springs but not Aurora. Pueblo Reservoir, Turquoise Reservoir and Twin Lakes are part of the Fry-Ark, which is administered by the Bureau of Reclamation. Although Colorado Springs is within the Arkansas basin, relatively little of the city's water has come from native sources. Since the 1950s, the city has supported its growth through transmountain diversions from the Colorado River basin. One such diversion, the Homestake Project, was developed in partnership with Aurora.

But by the mid-1980s, it was clear that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to develop any more such projects because of environmental and political constraints. So, the cities developed an alternative. Colorado Springs and Aurora acquired Arkansas River rights from farmers in the lower Arkansas Valley, willing sellers all. But they didn't have any intention of building a pipeline from the lower valley to the cities. Instead, they'd take the water upstream, at one of the Fry-Ark reservoirs, and transport it to the cities. They'd get clean mountain water, not the muddy, toxic brew, contaminated by urban runoff, treated wastewater and agricultural pollutants that farmers use.

Led by the publisher of the Pueblo Chieftain, Bob Rawlings, some Puebloans and valley leaders have apparently devised a strategy to reclaim the lower valley's water rights. Arguing that Aurora is using Fry-Ark facilities that were intended to bring water to the valley to, in effect, dewater the valley, they want Congress to nix the BuRec deal. They're also creating as many obstacles as possible to Colorado Springs' Southern Delivery System. Claiming that the city has turned Fountain Creek into a foul sewer with greatly increased urban runoff and treated wastewater releases, they've repeatedly railed against the Springs' plan to take "pure mountain water" from Pueblo Reservoir, use it and send it back to Pueblo as "sewer water." Their proposed remedies -- a dam on the Fountain and recycling wastewater for use as drinking water -- are characterized by Springs officials as either impractical or ruinously expensive. If they're successful, the Springs and Aurora will have to go elsewhere, maybe even signing on to Aaron Million's scheme to bring water from Wyoming's Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The cities' rights on the Arkansas would suddenly be useless to them -- but not perhaps to Pueblo or to irrigators on the Arkansas.

Category: Colorado Water

6:50:32 AM    

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Here's a report about a water quality study in the Piceance Basin from the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (free registration required). They write:

A study that sampled 70 domestic water wells north of the Colorado River between New Castle and Rifle found water quality to be comparatively good relative to ground water south of the river. However, many of the wells studied do have measurable contamination. The water and environmental consulting firm of S.S. Papadopulos of Boulder conducted the study for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last year and issued a report in February. The baseline study analyzed water quality in an area that has had little oil and gas activity but is expected to be developed in the future. "This is the fourth baseline study in the Piceance Basin," said COGCC director Brian Macke. "We do a lot of baseline water quality work all across the state."

Water wells were tested for salts and metals as well as methane, the primary constituent produced by oil and gas operations in the region, said Papadopulos hydrogeologist Bryan Grigsby. Grigsby presented the findings of the study to the Northwest Oil and Gas Forum in Rifle Thursday. While no methane was found in the samples, other chemicals were found, some of them at levels exceeding health standards. "In general what people have out here and why most of them don't drink the water they have ... is really hard water," Grigsby said. It contains salts, including nitrates, metals such as iron and selenium, and in two well samples, arsenic. "We found very few people in the area were actually drinking their water."

The highest water quality was found in wells closest to New Castle and the Grand Hogback. Runoff from this prominent geographic feature, which marks the eastern boundary of the gas-rich Piceance Basin, percolates into the ground. The farther the water migrates underground, the more dissolved metals, salts and other compounds it picks up, Grigsby said. Five wells were found to have nitrate levels exceeding health standards of 10 parts per million. Nitrates typically derive from agricultural fertilizers or leach out of septic systems, Grigsby said. Selenium, which occurs naturally and is not harmful in small amounts, was found in elevated levels, over .05 parts per million, in eight well samples. Arsenic, which gets into the water table from pesticides, such as those used in orchards, were found in two samples.

Category: Colorado Water

6:35:47 AM    

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A committee looking at Fountain Creek's problems is suggesting a low tech approach to flood control -- planting trees, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

"Large trees intercept rain; it runs down the leaves and infiltrates into the soil," Jim McGannon, a Colorado Springs forester, told the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force stormwater strategy group Thursday...

McGannon pointed to a treeload of studies that show the economic benefit of trees in reducing runoff from storms. Trees also could reduce urban "heat islands" in areas like parking lots and improve drainage from streets. "The reason we manage watersheds is to promote greater infiltration and to help maintain a healthy forest," McGannon said. Trees are used to help watersheds recover from forest fires, which are often followed by erosion when rains return. Studies in cities like Boulder and Salt Lake City have quantified both the savings in water and the economic benefit of maintaining tree cover. Reports aimed at improving water quality detail the types of trees to plant with specific climate and soil conditions, he said.

While the trees would help in storm conditions, they would also need water to start growth and to maintain trees during dry times. Ross Vincent, Sierra Club senior policy adviser, asked if the need for more irrigation water would negate the reduction of stormwater from trees. McGannon said it would depend on the types of trees and their ability to withstand drought...

[Rich Muzzy, Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments environmental coordinator] also presented a proposal for a workshop and study on stormwater policies throughout the basin. The cost of the effort would be $33,000, Muzzy said. The Fountain Creek Watershed Plan Technical Advisory Committee has been trying to find funding for the report in the last few years.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:20:35 AM    

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Here's an article about the impact of oil shale development on Colorado's water supply, from the Rocky Mountain News. They write:

Environmental groups Thursday demanded that companies hoping to develop Colorado's oil shale deposits explain how much water the process could consume and how it would affect water quality and supplies. Six green groups, citing a 2006 analysis by a Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher, said the yearly water requirements to produce oil from shale could equal the amount consumed annually by two Denver-sized cities. They also worry that using water in the mining process will leave it highly contaminated with salts...

Jill Davis, a spokeswoman for Shell, said activists raise a good question, and emphasized that Shell is dedicated to "managing precious resources efficiently." But, she said, not nearly enough is known about what she called "an immature industry" to quantify the impact on water supplies. The company needs to answer myriad questions about equipment and processes before it could begin to provide specifics on water, she said.

Green activists aren't the only ones wary of oil shale impacts. Other water users, including some on the Front Range, could see their access to Western Slope water slip if oil companies move ahead with development. That's because, in some cases, the companies could use water rights that predate those owned by cities. The older rights, under Colorado water law, get priority. A draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Bureau of Land Management and released to some government officials, but not yet to the public, apparently makes little reference to water impacts, said Cathy Kay, of Western Colorado Congress. "In 2,000 pages, there's only five paragraphs on water," she said. "For what's most important to this state, and this whole operation, you've got so little information."

More coverage from the Denver Post. They write:

"It all comes down to water," said Cathy Kay of the Western Colorado Congress. "They would need so much water for something that is going to give you a piddling amount of oil." The coalition wants more water-usage information now because the state of Colorado next week is expected to submit comments on a preliminary draft environmental impact statement that could determine the future of oil shale. Officials with Shell Exploration and Production, which is testing an in-the-ground method of oil-shale extraction in the Piceance Basin, have said their method will require two barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. But Shell recently revealed in a research permit application that its underground production areas will have to be rinsed more than 20 times, requiring up to 4 acre-feet of water a day for more than two years. Shell is researching an extraction method, which melts the oil-containing kerogen in the rock underground and prevents groundwater from seeping into the heated area by using an underground wall of frozen water...

Two other companies with federal permission to conduct oil-shale research and development projects in Colorado - Chevron and EGL Resources - propose to use less water for their in-the-ground extraction but haven't specified how much. The coalition points to a 2005 analysis by the Rand Corp. that concluded the Colorado River and several of its tributaries would be "highly impacted" regardless of which oil-shale- extraction technologies are used. In addition to water needed for production, water will also be needed to run new power plants that will be necessary for commercial production of shale.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here. We recommend a moratorium until the kerogen becomes crude oil in a few million years.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

6:07:01 AM    

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Here's a call to action from the Fort Collins Coloradoan. The author, Jackie Adolph, is trying to rally the troops to prevent uranium mining in Weld County. She writes:

Uranium mining in Northern Colorado? What are we thinking? With so many problems on our minds, it is easy to push away issues and pretend that threats are not real. This issue of uranium in-situ mining is not going away. It is a mess that won't really ever be cleaned up if it starts...

Technology has not changed since water contamination in Goliad, Texas, prompted changes to stop uranium mining. Many areas already ban this (the entire Navajo Nation tribal lands in Arizona and Utah), but in most cases, the damage is already done (

Water is at a premium in Colorado; those of us who have domestic wells feel fortunate. If all the ranches in the proposed area need to abandon their properties and wells, and the county wells are also affected, where will we be then? Real estate will plummet. Health will nose-dive as well. Not the best place to live in the United States anymore? The little group of needs help and participation to stop this from all of us. We need a resolution to stop uranium mining in Colorado. Get informed and be ready to vote or sign petitions when they emerge.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

5:56:42 AM    

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