Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Monday, July 9, 2007

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Here's an update on Alamosa's shiny new treatment plant in the works, from The Valley Courier. From the article:

Alamosa's water continues to violate arsenic standards, but the treatment plant under construction to correct that problem is ahead of schedule...

In its recently released annual water quality report, the City of Alamosa reported arsenic levels in Alamosa water exceeding the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards of 10 parts per billion. The levels stated in the annual report ranged 23-25 parts per billion for the collection date. The city report compared parts per billion to one minute in 2,000 years or one penny in $10 million. The city water violated the maximum contaminant level for arsenic and secondary fluoride throughout 2006. A secondary standard is recommended but not required by the EPA. The city report stated that some people who drink water containing fluoride in excess of the maximum contaminant level over many years could contract bone disease, and children under age 9 could develop staining or pitting of their teeth if they are drinking water with fluoride at half the maximum contaminant level or more. The long-term effects of drinking water with arsenic levels exceeding the maximum contaminant level could include skin damage, circulatory system problems and increased risks of cancer. The city's report stated that all water, even bottled water, likely contains at least small amounts of contaminants which may not pose a health risk to otherwise healthy individuals. People with compromised immune systems may be more in danger of getting sick from such contaminants.

The city's water comes from six confined aquifer (deep) wells located at 12th and 21st Streets, Cole Park, Murphy, Ross and Weber Drive. Alamosa is constructing its water treatment plant to meet the 10-parts-per-billion EPA arsenic standard already in place.

Thanks to SLV Dweller for the link.

Category: Colorado Water

7:03:10 PM    

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Residents on the rainy side of Colorado have learned past lessons well. So when it comes to looking east (towards Denver or Washington D.C.), they're happy to join in any discussions where they can get an invitation. According to The Cortez Journal:

A week after a law reforming the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission took effect, the identity of the new commissioners remains unknown. The law was one of the biggest wins for Gov. Bill Ritter in his first year in office. It expanded the commission by two members, to nine, and added people with experience in agriculture, public health, wildlife, soil conservation, local government and royalty owner issues. Previously, five of the seven commissioners had to have experience in the energy industry. It's up to Ritter to appoint seven of the commissioners. His spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said the governor is working on the appointments, but he didn't say when they would be announced. The next commission meeting is in two weeks...

Several people from Southwest Colorado are in the running, including rancher Tom Compton and Oil and Gas Accountability Project attorney Bruce Baizel. Kimberlee Gerhardt, a Durango geologist, is already a member of the commission. Compton, former president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, said he threw his hat into the ring after talking with ranching families. "If possible, they'd sure like to have someone on that commission that represents their interests," he said. Compton applied for a seat reserved for a farmer or rancher who owns mineral royalties. At least one other person, Roy Savage, is seeking the same seat. Savage leads the Colorado chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners. He has a ranch west of Rifle. Compton said his personal experience with gas companies, specifically BP, has been positive. "From a personal point of view, we've had very few problems with oil and gas development," he said, though he knows of instances where gas companies weren't as "congenial" in their dealings with landowners. Baizel, an attorney for Durango-based OGAP, helped write the law that increases the legal rights of surface owners. Ritter signed that law the same day he signed the commission reform bill...

Only two names are certain [~] Harris Sherman, director of the department of Natural Resources, and Jim Martin, director of the Department of Public Health and Environment. The directors of both of those departments were added to the commission by the new law.

Critics of the energy industry had long dreamed of revamping the COGCC. But gas companies are concerned the new commissioners will lack the expertise to regulate their industry, said Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Category: Colorado Water

6:46:23 PM    

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Blue Mesa reservoir won't fill this year but it's close. Here's an article about management of the reservoir this season from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. They write:

As expected, a thin snowpack and a less-than-rousing runoff in the Gunnison Basin means Blue Mesa Reservoir won't fill this summer, but the reservoir will be higher than expected thanks to some recent better-than-expected inflows. The Bureau of Reclamation last week said the reservoir 10 miles west of Gunnison will peak out around 7,515 feet elevation, which is about 4.5 feet below full pool...

More water in the reservoir late in the summer means more water available for in-stream flows through the Black Canyon and the Gunnison Gorge. Since June 4, the reservoir has risen more than 10 feet, according to the Bureau's Web site. [Dan Crabtree] said releases from Crystal Dam will increase by 100 cubic feet per second to 1,600 cfs. Irrigators in the Uncompahgre Valley are diverting about 1,000 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel, which will leave about 600 cfs going downstream through the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge. As of Thursday morning, flows in the Gunnison were at 605 cfs, according to, the state's Division of Water Resources streamflow Web site...

The Bureau has an informal parameter to keep the level of Blue Mesa at or below 7,490 feet elevation by Dec. 31 in an attempt to prevent icing problems upstream on the Gunnison River. It's debatable whether Blue Mesa actually plays a role in the formation of immense ice dams on the Gunnison River. In years past, those dams backed up the Gunnison and flooded the Neversink area as well as subdivisions west of Gunnison. Nevertheless, the Bureau is playing the prudent card and each winter releases enough water from the reservoir to meet that pre-set Dec. 31 water-level mark.

Category: Colorado Water

6:33:54 AM    

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Here's Part II of The Denver Post's series on the South Platte River. From the article:

Pinpointing the one true origin of a stream - its source - never can be achieved with absolute certainty, given the variables of elevation, aspect, precipitation and evaporation. They are called headwaters for a reason. Still, if a person were inclined toward such pursuits, he or she might easily pick a high point on the map and walk to a place where it's possible to feel a river falling from the sky, the monsoonal moisture gathering first as thunderheads above towering mountain peaks, then again as a collection of earthbound ions charged with the task of invigorating the valley floor. The Wheeler Trail above Montgomery Reservoir on the south side of Hoosier Pass easily satisfies such inclinations, winding its way past the rustic remains of Magnolia Mine over 3 1/2 rocky miles to Wheeler Lake. Tailwater seeps from the high alpine pond quickly unite with the infinite braids of snowmelt dripping into nearby Platte Gulch, typically topped off with an afternoon cloudburst before ultimately merging into one cascading stream flowing east, then north under the surname of South Platte River.

Meanwhile here's a look at irrigation and farming along with the shutdown of wells in the alluvial aquifer along the South Platte River from The Rocky Mountain News. They write:

Nearly half the powerful irrigation wells that watered farmlands in the South Platte River Basin are now idle, silenced by drought, strict new water laws and a fierce battle for water now entering its fifth year. Since the drought struck in 2002, 4,000 of 9,000 wells have stopped pumping on this stretch of the eastern plains, leaving barren thousands of acres of corn and sugar beet fields. Morgan County assessor Bob Wooldridge estimates his corner of farm country has lost about $32 million in annual cash flow. Property values - on land that can no longer be irrigated - have dropped 12.5 percent and are likely to go much lower as more land loses its irrigated classification...

Last month, Gov. Bill Ritter formed a broad-based task force to examine whether the river can be managed more efficiently to benefit well users, surface users and cities. Among the ideas being considered: Dredging century-old farm reservoirs to create more storage space to capture more water in wet years; Forgiving a small amount of old water debt that well users owe the river. Some of the debts are decades old; Giving state water regulators more flexibility to manage the river during the winter, when irrigators and cities need it less. Whether Ritter's task force can resolve so far intractable issues along the river remains to be seen. Alan Frank said he and other farmers worry that, in the end, the task force will prove little more than political window dressing...

Yahn, like others, would like to see if more storage could be created by dredging the old irrigation reservoirs that sit along the river from Kersey to Julesberg. He estimates that up to 3,000 acre-feet of new storage could be had in the North Sterling Reservoir alone. That's enough space to store water for dozens of wells to begin pumping or for cities to use. If the state could find money to do the work, Yahn said he would not oppose such an effort. In the past, warring water-users have protested mightily if the state tried to step in and help one side and not the other. "What I'm hoping for is a conversation," said John Stulp, Colorado's new commissioner of agriculture. "We're dealing with a river that, in the past, has had abundant amounts of water. We're seeing a change now brought on by the drought, but also by development. I think there's room for some discussion. But we have to get beyond the rhetoric and the courtroom antics."

The Rocky Mountain News editorial staff weighs in on Governor Ritter's South Platte River Basin Task Force. They write:

We don't envy members of Gov. Bill Ritter's South Platte River Task Force, which held its first meeting not long ago. When he announced their names June 15, the governor said, "Specifically, the task force is to consider whether there are any changes to current water law or policy that will provide relief to junior water users without injuring senior water right holders." What if the answer is "no," as it very well may prove to be? Oh, there is one way to provide relief for farmers whose wells for irrigation have been shut down by the state (they are the "junior water users" mentioned above). It's to provide more water storage. But that solution is both expensive and politically unpopular these days, so we'd be surprised if the task force recommends it...

Harris Sherman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, has already said that the task force would not try to undo either the court decisions or the law that protects the river. That's the right attitude: It would be incredibly destructive to undermine the state's time-honored doctrine of prior appropriation in the use of water. But then just what are the "fresh ideas" that the task force is supposed to discover? An official with the Colorado Division of Water Resources recently noted,"The old gentlemen's agreements that we used to rely on have now gone away." He's right. But without them, the odds are stacked heavily against the governor's task force.

More South Platte River Basin news from The Longmont Daily Times-Call. They write:

By most accounts, it's a good water year for South Platte farmers holding senior surface water rights allowing them to take water directly out of the South Platte. They've seen good snow runoff and a wet spring. Fifteen irrigation ditches branch off the South Platte River between Denver and Kersey to service 50 different senior water rights. Farmers established those rights between 1860 and the early 1900s. Farmers irrigate approximately 1 million acres of land in the region, and 55 percent of it depends entirely on surface water rights, said Dick Wolfe, assistant state engineer at the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Another 27 percent of the land has a mix of well water and surface rights, while 18 percent is well only, he said...

To put the wet conditions another way, approximately 56,000 acre-feet of runoff water on the South Platte River flowed out of Colorado this spring. It could have been captured for agricultural or municipal use if water storage had been available, said Andy Jones, an attorney for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District. That's more water than what left the state in the last five years combined, according to state water figures. But despite the wet outlook for most irrigators this summer, water problems along the South Platte will persist.

Category: Colorado Water

6:08:37 AM    

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