Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

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According to The Houston Chronical the debate over overhauling the General Mining Act of 1872 will heat up on Thursday. From the article:

A small plane dodging wildfire smoke over Idaho's Rocky Mountains affords a view of an unnatural wonder few hikers ever see: Huge open pit mines. Jim Kuipers, a former mining engineer-turned-industry critic, and Montana environmentalist Bonnie Gestring, offered a sky tour a week before a U.S. House subcommittee tackles a long-standing beef of American environmentalists. On Thursday, lawmakers will discuss a bill to dismantle the General Mining Act of 1872, signed by President Ulysses Grant to help develop the West's mineral deposits in the 19th century, but unchanged since. Under the law, private companies haven't paid royalties to taxpayers for an estimated $245 billion worth of minerals extracted from public lands in the last 135 years. It also allows companies to buy public land for as little as $5 an acre. The act elevates mining's importance above other uses of public land, making it difficult for agencies like the U.S. Forest Service to deny any mine applications, environmentalists say. Mining companies argue they comply with the existing federal law, as well as state regulations, and say many existing mines have set aside adequate bonds worth millions to cover responsible cleanup and reclamation once their operations are shuttered. Industry problems, including abandoned mines that leak cyanide and heavy metals, make the timing right for change, critics say...

Reform efforts have gained momentum since Democrats won control of Congress last November. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is its sponsor and aims for a vote by December. The wild card, however, is U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader from Nevada. A gold miner's son, Reid waxes sentimental about his hardrock roots _ and has stifled efforts to revamp the 1872 law before. Mining is worth $5 billion yearly to Nevada and industry is wary. Reid got more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from mining interests between 2001 and 2006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics...

Rahall's changes would impose environmental requirements, give more rejection power to federal land managers and assess an 8 percent royalty to pay for cleaning up abandoned mines. Mining companies are leery of Rahall's plan, dubbing it unofficially "The No-More Mining Act of 2007." Some changes in the 1872 law are needed, they say, but an 8 percent royalty would drive the U.S. industry to financial ruin. "We have to be cost competitive," said Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association in Washington, D.C. "We want to pay more to the government. But sooner or later, you have to ask, 'Have we come to a tipping point when it's no longer feasible to mine in this country?'"

Hecla Mining's Chief Executive Officer Phillips Baker said many mining companies have acted responsibly under the existing law. "We've spent about $40 million in closure costs and reclamation (at Grouse Creek)," Baker said. "Within Idaho, since 1969, there has not been a company that has started a mine and closed it where taxpayer money has been required. I would say we've had an extremely effective system of monitoring and regulating the opening and closing of mines in the state of Idaho." Environmentalists counter that money paid by companies to remediate mining pollution on public land won't be enough to cover future catastrophes, in Idaho or elsewhere. They point to cleanups in states including Montana, where estimated remediation costs at an open-pit complex near Ft. Belknap exceed the company's bonds by $33 million. The West has changed, they say; so should the 1872 mining law. "The 1872 mining law was written to help promote the development of the West," said John Robison, of the Idaho Conservation League that's fighting the Atlanta mine. "As you can see, the West has already been developed."

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

9:42:45 AM    

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West slope water watchers are lining up against Aaron Million's plan to ship most of the undeveloped water left in the Colorado River over to the Front Range. Here's an article about the rainy side view from The Vail Daily News (free registration required). They write:

A western Colorado water agency wants federal officials to hold off on reviewing a proposal to funnel water from a southwest Wyoming reservoir to Colorado's populous Front Range. The Colorado River Water Conservation District said Friday that Colorado officials need time to study a plan by Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million to divert up to 250,000 acre-feet of water a year from Flaming Gorge Reservoir...

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said Million's plan could leave less water available to western Colorado. Water sent through Million's pipeline would count against Colorado's share of Colorado River water under interstate agreements, Kuhn said. Flaming Gorge is on the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado, which supplies much of western Colorado's water. "We really do not know at the moment how much water is needed internally in western Colorado," Kuhn said. Million said his project would not take water away from western Colorado but would develop water the state is entitled to but is not using...

Taking water out of Flaming Gorge would require a contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The Colorado River conservation district board voted this month to ask the bureau to halt any work on processing the proposed contract, including an environmental study. Wyoming water officials have also expressed reservations about whether the plan is feasible. Mike Besson, director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission, has questioned whether Colorado has legal rights to the amount of water envisioned in the plan.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

9:30:09 AM    

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Here's a background piece about Phelps-Dodge mixing it up in court with Denver Water, from The Rocky Mountain News. They write:

Mining giant Phelps Dodge is going head-to-head with Colorado's largest water users to shore up water supplies for the Climax molybdenum mine it hopes to reopen high above Dillon Reservoir. At stake is a watershed whose streams are critical to the Front Range, the Western Slope and a superheated international molybdenum market. Phelps Dodge has asked, in a case pending in federal district court, to affirm its right to divert water sooner than it has been allowed to in the past, a move that would make it harder for Denver to fill Lake Dillon during times of drought...

The dispute doesn't involve large amounts of water. Climax uses about 5,000 acre feet a year when it's open, enough for about 10,000 homes. But the water in question sits at the top of headwaters to the Colorado River. Anytime there are changes in the water delivery system here, it affects everyone downstream. "This is a potentially big dispute because of where this water is located. It's vital and that means it's controversial," said Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, a party in the case.

Climax Mine's water rights date back to the 1930s, well ahead of Denver's 1940s-era rights. This fight has been brewing for years, in part because of a 52-year-old legal settlement between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state of Colorado, as well as several other entities, including Denver Water. But Phelps Dodge wasn't included in the arrangement. Most of the entities involved were cities and water districts. The settlement, known collectively as the Blue River Decrees, was crafted after the federally owned Green Mountain Reservoir was completed in 1943. The decrees give Denver, and Green Mountain, the ability to divert water ahead of the mining company. At the time it was seen as a way to incorporate the new federal water project into the state's water rights system. Now, Phelps Dodge wants its water rights reaffirmed, something the state has refused to do because of its agreement with the U.S. government. Until now, taking the matter to court has not been worth the tens of thousands of dollars it's likely to cost to resolve the question...

Chips Barry, manager of Denver Water, said the problem won't affect the utility's overall water supplies, but it could make it harder to fill Lake Dillon, particularly in dry years. The utility wants the court to affirm its historic spot on the river. The case is being closely watched because anytime the Blue River Decrees are reopened, other arrangements it governs also can be re-examined, something everyone dreads.

Category: Colorado Water

9:15:28 AM    

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It looks like the Corps of Engineers watched the South Platte roil through Denver this spring and have chickened on using Chatfield Reservoir's excess capacity for additional storage in the basin. Not really. From The Rocky Mountain News:

A plan to store more water at Chatfield Reservoir has been delayed at least four years, bogged down by federal budget cuts and Hurricane Katrina-related dam concerns, Colorado water officials say. The delay means that fast- growing communities such as Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock and Aurora, as well as water-strapped plains farmers, will have to wait longer to receive much-needed space to store water. Officials had hoped that a critical federal decision on feasibility - Chatfield was built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers - would come this year, allowing them to begin storing water at the recreation area as early as next year. Now it is likely to be 2012 or 2013 before the 20,600 acre feet of new storage is available, said Tom Browning, who is overseeing the project for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Conceived in 1999, the idea was to make the flood-control reservoir work a bit harder, shrinking slightly the amount of space needed to capture floodwaters and using it instead to store urban and agricultural water. It was seen as a low-cost way to create storage without the environmental damage that new reservoirs can cause. After the drought began in 2002 and water shortages began appearing along the Front Range, the project shifted into high-gear. To date, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Corps of Engineers have spent $3.4 million to study the potential effects on the environment and recreation. Originally, $2 million was expected to be spent on the studies, Browning said. Now the tab is likely to push past the $4 million mark. Last year, the federal money that had been earmarked to help fund the studies was cut in half...

Browning said that after Hurricane Katrina, competition for federal dollars to conduct studies increased sharply, as did the Corps' concerns that any unexplored flood dangers be closely examined. "I've been concerned that the process is taking so long," said Tom Cech, who represents some of the water-strapped farmers who hope to store water in the reservoir. "But the Corps has to be very diligent. "They've never done this with a flood-control reservoir in a major metropolitan area. "This is an innovative process, and that's been part of the problem."

"I'm very impatient with how long this is taking," said Rick McLoud, water resources manager for Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch. "It's extremely important to the South Metro area because we're overly dependent on (non-renewable) groundwater. "This is one project that we need to develop renewable surface water supplies. It's extremely valuable to us." Others who have been working on the effort said that the delays are tolerable, given the benefits that the project will bring to metro Denver. Those include updated recreation facilities at Chatfield and higher flows in the South Platte as it passes through Denver.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:59:53 AM    

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Here's a recap of yesterday's meeting of the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Elected officials are trying to strike a balance between study and action on Fountain Creek, but remain committed to finding a solution to flooding, water quality and erosion problems. Officials from Pueblo and El Paso counties spent the morning determining if the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force is on the right track and the afternoon beginning to work out details of management and funding of the group. "We're overcome by practical questions and need to discuss the process of going ahead to look at other ways to address the issues," Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner told the group...

...the task force consensus committee has met monthly, with 24 subcommittee meetings on water quantity, quality and land use, as well as other issues that have arisen. "Land use planning has become more important, and I think that is the direction our discussion is going," Chostner said.

[El Paso County Commission Chairwoman Sallie Clark] reviewed the goals each committee has identified, while noting that specific projects to address those goals have not yet been identified. She said an Army Corps of Engineers study, expected to be complete in 2008, would evaluate projects that could benefit Fountain Creek. Pueblo City Council members voiced concern about the pace of studies and the need for action...

Councilman Larry Atencio said flood issues have to be a higher priority. "In Pueblo, there is an urgency. We need to manage Fountain Creek," added councilwoman Vera Ortegon. "We need to focus on management of Fountain Creek, and we need to do it now, not in two years." That sentiment echoed among some from El Paso County as well. Palmer Lake Trustee Bob Miner said other flood control projects in Colorado have been built following catastrophic events. "I don't want to see a loss of life or a catastrophic loss of property because we couldn't get it together," Miner said...

Meanwhile, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District General Manager Jay Winner and Colorado Springs Utilities Chief Water Services Officer Bruce McCormick outlined the progress of hiring a technical coordinator for Fountain Creek. The two groups are jointly sponsoring a two-year, $600,000 contract to hire a firm or individual to coordinate efforts on Fountain Creek, including ideas generated by the Task Force. The coordinator is expected to be on board by next month.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:33:14 AM    

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From Oilweek Magazine, "A chlorine explosion at a water treatment plant injured four people Friday and heavily damaged the facility, authorities said. No water-quality problems were expected because other plants in the system were still operating, said Judy Dahl, business manager for the Little Thompson Water District...A truck was unloading chemicals at the Carter Lake Filtration Plant, about 65 kilometres north of Denver, when the explosion happened, Dahl said. Chlorine is used to disinfect water but is toxic as a gas and poses a risk of fire and explosion."

More coverage from The Rocky Mountain News:

When a delivery truck unloaded the wrong chemicals into the near-new plant, the mixture caused an explosion at about 7:15 a.m., authorities said. The explosion was powerful enough to damage the plant interior and blow out doors and windows, said Eloise Campanella, spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. A small gas cloud surrounded the building for a while, but air-quality monitors showed no hazard...

Rescuers, a bomb squad and HAZMAT teams arrived from agencies as far away as Longmont. Four plant workers were exposed to gas from the explosion. They and three fire rescuers had to be decontaminated afterwards, Pringle said. Two of the plant workers were treated for inhalation at McKee Medical Center in Loveland and released, said Deb Graves, a spokeswoman for Berthoud Fire and Rescue...

Residents in about 500 nearby homes were warned after the explosion to remain in their homes, shut their doors and windows and turn off their air conditioning. At 2:30 p.m. Friday a reverse 911 call gave them new options: They could remain in their homes; they could return, grab some items and leave; or they could return to stay. But they would not be allowed to travel back and forth through the area, Graves said, because some roads remain blocked. The plant at 7200 County Road 8E serves about 7,400 water customers in Larimer, Weld and Boulder counties, said Judy Dahl, business manager for the Little Thompson Water District, which operates the plant.

Here's another article from The Greeley Tribune (free registration required). They write, "Carter Lake's south shore campground is closed and boats are allowed access on the north end only. Access is closed to both Carter Knolls and Saddle Bay. For travelers coming from the north, there is no access past the swim beach. Weld County Road 8E and Schofield Road are closed. Weld County Road 27E is closed at Road 8E."

Category: Colorado Water

8:08:54 AM    

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