Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

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Monday, September 17, 2007

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Water infrastructure is aging across the U.S. The midwest got a wake-up call with this summer's rains. Sewer systems need to be upgraded and replaced. Here's an article about our aging sewers from USA Today. They write:

Recent flooding in the Midwest has brought to the surface another crisis involving the nation's aging infrastructure: Heavy rains regularly overwhelm sewer systems, causing lake and river pollution. Overtaxed sewer systems send 860 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage each year into the nation's waterways, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The problem of aging sewers -- some cities have sewage pipes that are 50 to 100 years old, the EPA says -- is growing worse as federal funding for repairs has fallen, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The society gave the nation's wastewater treatment plants a grade of D-minus in its latest Report Card for American's Infrastructure. That 2005 grade was down from a D in the previous report in 2001. A draft EPA report says cities should prepare for overflows to worsen, as climate change may lead to more rain and snow in the Great Lakes area and the Northeast.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

5:55:41 PM    

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The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District is studying the availability and management of groundwater in their area, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Groundwater in the Upper Arkansas Valley is like a mysterious bank account: You can write checks, but no one is quite sure when and where the deposits will be made. The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District wants to gain a complete understanding of the system, which could spread over three counties, but it will be costly to find out. In the meantime, the district will be looking for ways to better manage the account. The district has been considering a $5 million to $7 million study of groundwater to depths of 5,000 feet that underlies the Upper Arkansas region covered by Chaffee, Custer and Fremont counties, capitalizing on a 2003 study by the U.S. Geological Survey in Chaffee County. However, there might not be enough funds to complete the massive undertaking. In the short term, the district will try to improve monitoring of weather conditions and stream flows that feed the alluvial aquifers by adding more weather stations. In addition, the big study will be scaled back to focus on finding a few advantageous sites for underground storage, said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Ark district...

The 2003 study determined there were about 3,500 wells using up to 1,240 acre-feet of water along the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida. By 2030, there could be an additional 5,000 wells. Even combined, those wells would draw less than 1 percent of the total available in the upper aquifer that runs to depths of 300 feet. Without any recharge at all, that would mean a 100-year supply, Scanga said. Water is not distributed uniformly, however, meaning that overpumping in some areas could damage neighbors' ability to pump. In addition, the network of ditches in some areas has determined where wells have been drilled. Without study, there's no way of knowing whether ditches are contributing more water to underground flows through runoff return or taking it away through evaporation and transpiration by crops. "In Chaffee County, there are a lot of old, hand-dug wells 20-30 feet deep next to a ditch, where people knew there would be water," Scanga said. "More recent wells are 100-150 feet deep and there's no way to know if a well is affecting the aquifer...But the ditches are a good way to move the water around."[...]

The Upper Ark will concentrate on looking at a few sites, rather than the large-scale scope of work proposed after the first USGS study. The USGS proposal would look at a water budget that would combine the geology of the deep aquifers, snowpack runoff and weather conditions to determine the most promising underground storage sites. The district needs the data in order to verify its augmentation plans. For now, the Upper Ark will try to find select sites where water could best be stored underground, looking at the recharge rates.

Thanks to Nonpoint Source Colorado for the link.

Category: Colorado Water

7:42:08 AM    

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Hope springs eternal with regard to cloud seeding for ranchers and now ski area managers. Here's a look at efforts in the Gunnison River Basin from The Crested Butte News. They write:

At the Tuesday, September 11 Gunnison County commissioner work session, representatives of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) and local stockgrowers came to hear a presentation from rainmaker Don Griffith, whose company, North American Weather Consultants, Inc. has been performing the area's cloud seeding program since 2003...

According to Griffith, the local cloud seeding program uses 28 cloud seeding generators spread throughout Gunnison County, with a few in Montrose, Hinsdale and Ouray counties as well. The generators are propane-fired burners that disperse the silver iodide into clouds as weather fronts move through the area, from November 15 to April 15. "The target area is all of Gunnison County above 9,000 feet," said Griffith. According to Griffith, cloud seeding increases precipitation, on average, by about 15 percent, which translated into approximately 88,000 acre-feet of additional water for the Gunnison County watershed in 2006-07. Area partners in the program include CBMR, Gunnison County, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association. Since the partners paid about $95,000 for the program, the additional water worked out to about $1.05 an acre-foot, said Griffith. "You can talk to farmers and ranchers in the area and you'll find out that's pretty cheap water," he said...

The commissioners thanked Griffith for his presentation, but took no action since it occurred during a work session. According to county finance staff accountant Jane Lee, who manages cloud seeding for Gunnison County, the new contract will be ready for the commissioner's perusal sometime in November. If they wish to participate, the county's share of the expenses will be determined by the other partners' contributions. Lee said that the county allocated just under $16,000 to last season's cloud seeding program.

Thanks to Nonpoint Source Colorado for the link. More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

7:25:30 AM    

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At last week's Rio Grande Basin roundtable meeting attendees got a look at the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project from The Valley Courier. From the article:

The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project is keeping a watchful eye on the river. Mike Gibson who oversees the restoration project as part of his duties with the SLV Water Conservancy District explained its history and importance during a Rio Grande Roundtable meeting this week. "We have a real responsibility here in the headwaters to manage our river, to be good guardians of the river," he said. The restoration project has taken a holistic approach to the river, Gibson explained. Its objectives include improving the efficiency of irrigation diversions, improving riparian habitat, maintaining the ability to meet the Rio Grande Compact, improving stream bank stability, maintaining channel capacity and protecting floodplain areas.

A 91-mile study of the river from South Fork to the Alamosa County line included thorough examinations of such issues as erosion, debris and the general health of the river. Gibson explained that the consulting firm conducting the study gave the restoration project a "tool box" of ideas that could assist in improving channel and stream bank stability, and the project has been using these tools to make physical improvements along the river. With assistance from funding sources such as an Environmental Protection Agency grant, the restoration project has begun to work with private landowners along the river to stabilize banks and protect areas from potential flooding. New employee Jeremy Yoh, an environmental scientist with eight years experience, is overseeing these projects, Gibson said.

More coverage of the meeting from The Valley Courier. They write:

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division III Division Engineer Michael Sullivan is hoping for rains this fall similar to last year. "I am looking for that good rainstorm," he said. He explained to the Rio Grande Roundtable members this week how important autumn rains are to the Rio Grande Compact because they allow him to send additional moisture downstream during a time when local irrigators do not need it to water their crops. "If I take 100 percent of that we don't have to curtail as much," he said. "Because I am taking water when no one needs it I am trying to minimize the impact during the irrigation season." Sullivan said rains late in the year last year helped bolster the entire system. "We had to pay a portion of it as it went through," he said, "but we got water on the ground that saturated the whole system." He added, "It benefited us in the long run." The more water that runs through the system in the winter the less water has to be curtailed from water users during irrigation season, Sullivan explained...

This year the Rio Grande will register an annual (January-December) index flow of 700,000-710,000 acre feet at the Del Norte gauge according to Sullivan who calculates, analyzes and updates the data every 10 days. Of that, Colorado owes 209,000 acre feet to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact. The river has supplied 146,200 acre feet of that so far, Sullivan said. To meet the 209,000-acre-foot obligation Sullivan must estimate the flows for the remainder of the year, calculate in the forecast from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and figure in contributions from such sources as the Closed Basin Project and Colorado's carry over credit, if any, that is stored in Elephant Butte Reservoir. He then decides what curtailment to place on irrigators so he can send the right amount of water down the river to meet Colorado's compact obligation. Currently the curtailment on the Rio Grande is 33 percent and on the Conejos River is 16 percent.

The Conejos River system is expected to produce an annual index flow of 208,000 acre feet this year, and Colorado owes 94,400 of that to downstream states. The system has already "paid" 70,000 of the approximate 95,000 acre-foot bill, Sullivan said. To get the rest of the obligation downstream will require a 16-percent curtailment on water users through the remainder of the irrigation season...

Sullivan added that even though a really high river year does not benefit the San Luis Valley in terms of being able to keep water here rather than send it downriver it does benefit the Valley in terms of filling the system up and providing better return flows the following year. Excess water downstream is stored in the 2-million-acre-foot Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico, Sullivan said. He added that he tries not to accumulate too much credit downstream, however, because of the amount of evaporation at Elephant Butte Reservoir. "The idea is make that go to zero if I can," he said. This year he stored 6,600 acre feet of water for compact purposes in the Rio Grande Reservoir, a high altitude reservoir at the west end of the Valley where evaporation is minimal. Colorado is currently in a credit status with downstream states, Sullivan said...

Sullivan also shared the long-term aquifer study results collected by Allen Davey of Davis Engineering. The study, which incorporates a series of monitoring wells generally located in the closed basin area of the Valley, shows the state of the aquifer since 1976 including the wetter years in the 1980's and 1990's, the 2002 drought and a slight rebound this year. Altogether the aquifer is down one million acre feet from where it started 30 years ago, Sullivan said, largely because of over pumping. Sullivan said the aquifer could be recharged in three years "if I turn off every well. I would probably need 100,000 acre feet every year ... to bring it to even." He added, "To try and catch up you've got to get more water in or take less water out."

Thanks to Nonpoint Source Colorado for the links.

Category: Colorado Water

6:59:57 AM    

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Here's a look at the health of the Animas River from The Durango Telegraph. From the article:

Continued clean-up of mine waste around Silverton has enhanced water quality on local rivers, and the population of trout between 32nd Street and the Rivera Crossing Bridge is booming. However, Trout Unlimited, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and others are also keeping a close eye on the future and new threats to the health of local rivers and fish. The Division of Wildlife has been monitoring stream health on locations all over the Animas River for nearly two decades. Over time, the state agency has seen dramatic improvements in water quality, thanks largely to the Animas River Stakeholders Group and its efforts to clean up the polluting mines and adits in the Silverton area...

Each fall, the DOW conducts a fish count on the Animas, charging the waters with electricity and then tabulating the poundage of fish per acre of water. Of particular concern is the stretch of Gold Medal Waters between U.S. Hwy. 160 and Rivera Crossing, south of town. In order to qualify as a Gold Medal Water, a stream must boast 60 pounds of trout per acre. Last year, that stretch posted 93 pounds/acre. Interestingly, the stretch of the Animas between 32nd St. and U.S. Hwy. 160 is not classed as a Gold Medal fishery, but a staggering 115 pounds of trout per acre was found on the stretch last year, outstripping the lower section. "If you're looking at trout as an indicator of river health, I would say we're doing pretty well on the Animas River," explained Jim White, DOW aquatic biologist. "We've been lucky on the Animas, and whirling disease has only had a small impact. The work of the abandoned mines group has also been a big help." Natural reproduction is still lagging on the Animas, however. Each year, the DOW introduces 40,000 fingerling trout into the river to compensate for difficulty with natural spawning because of residual metal load. However, the DOW expects that picture to improve as well...

"The Animas has a very unique watershed," Churchwell said. "The entire length from the headwaters to where it meets the San Juan is 100 miles, but it's still an under-appropriated river. Because of that, we're in a unique position to save the river." Churchwell referenced the City of Durango's recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) application, an ongoing effort to keep water in the Animas and "save the river." The City has applied for up to 1,400 cubic feet per second of water to remain in the river for kayaking and rafting. However, traditional water users are not smiling on the city's application. Nearly 50 objectors, fronted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, have challenged the application, and a January 2008 court date is looming...

Churchwell, Skillen and White all agreed that a major threat to has already won out. The $500-million Animas-La Plata project has steadily been taking shape just southwest of downtown Durango. When complete, the water complex will siphon up to 280 cubic feet of water per second from the Animas to fill "Lake Nighthorse," a 39-billion-gallon reservoir in Ridges Basin. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the pumping station to go active and begin sucking river water in 2009.

Thanks to Nonpoint Source Colorado for the link. More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:46:32 AM    

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Here's a recap of last Friday's Colorado River District seminar, "Water: Fueling the Future", from The Aspen Times (free registration required). From the article:

"Half of the world's oil shale is within 100 miles of this room," Randy Udall of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency told the audience at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction. And he thinks the oil shale should stay in the ground. "We have one energy boom in our region and that's plenty," he said. He said that oil shale has low energy content and it is not worth the environmental degradation, water use, and intense electricity use that would go along with intense oil shale production. Udall believes that pursuing energy efficiency measures makes far more sense than developing elaborate and technically complex schemes to heat the oil shale in the ground as part of the process of turning it into fuel. "I do think there are better ways to address our energy needs than oil shale," he said. "The way we are using petroleum right now in the United States today is a tragedy and it's kind of a bad joke and we will not use it this stupidly and this wastefully in the future. So oil shale will have to compete with all kinds of ways to save this precious fluid we call oil or 'black magic.'"

But Tony Dammer, the director of the Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves with U.S. Department of Energy, said the federal government is bullish on oil shale development and that the potential exists for 2 trillion barrels of oil to be extracted from the oil shale in the Green River Basin region. "It is a huge, secure source," he said...

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 calls for an acceleration of research into the potential to turn oil shale into fuel. The law calls for a reduction in regulations and the creation of incentives for the oil and gas sector to research how to produce oil from oil shale on federal lands. Dammer said the oil shale industry is growing and when the price of oil gets high enough, oil shale could become feasible. As he spoke on Friday, the price for a barrel of crude oil was at a record high of more than $80 a barrel...

Udall and Dammer do agree that the world has passed "peak oil" production and that fuels that seem far fetched today will become less so as shortages increase and prices rise. They also both agree that oil shale production would require vast amounts of water, with conservative estimates suggesting it would take three barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced. "We could be looking at putting an additional demand, in terms of extraction of water from the Colorado River, of between 180,000 acre feet per year to 418,000 acre feet per year," said Cathy Wilson, the acting deputy division leader of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division at the Los Alamos National Laboratory...Wilson said there would be enough water in the Colorado River system for regional oil shale development, but that new dams and reservoirs would be needed to keep water levels artificially high during dry years.

The federal government is also preparing rules and regulations in order to lease land for oil shale, tar sand and other forms of "unconventional" fuel sources. Jamie Connell, the field manager for the BLM's Glenwood Springs office, said that 70 percent of oil shale deposits are on federal land. The BLM is preparing a draft environmental impact statement regarding new regulations for the leasing of federal lands for oil shale and tar sands production in the U.S., including oil shale resources in western Colorado, eastern Utah and southeastern Wyoming. "It's still rather unclear what the exact development will look like, so it makes it a little bit difficult to evaluate the exact impacts," Connell said, adding that three different companies, including Shell and Chevron, are now researching oil shale production techniques. The draft EIS is expected to be out this winter.

More coverage from The Montrose Daily Press. They write:

Higher gas prices after hurricanes Rita and Katrina has driven the energy industry, prompting more resources to be tapped into, Brian Macke said. Macke is the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Steve Gunderson, who is the director of the Water Quality Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said that water near drilling sites is susceptible to containing high levels of salinity. Gunderson said high-salinity water is perfectly fine for livestock, and in fact is often sought out by ranchers. However, the same water that is good for cattle can wreak havoc on crops. So somewhere along the line, Gunderson said, a balance must be struck to ensure there is enough water for both agricultural uses...

What needs to happen in terms of energy development and water is better balance and open communication, according to Dr. John Redifer, executive director of the Natural Resource and Land Policy Institute at Mesa State College. "We need to have an honest dialogue about what those risks and problems are and find solutions," Redifer said, referring to the controversy between oil shale development and water quality. Brian Hall, a senior economics major at Colorado College and a former researcher with the State of the Rockies Project, said that through proper enforcement, energy development could pose a subtle threat to water.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

6:18:55 AM    

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