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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Saturday, September 29, 2007

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The EPA plans to spend $3 million next year improving water treatment at the Summitville Super Fund site, according to The Valley Courier. From the article:

Authorities in charge of the water treatment plant at Summitville are set to spend $3 million next summer to improve the area's water control system. The former gold mine is an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup site. Water flowing away from Summitville is known to contain copper, aluminum and other heavy metal pollutants. According to Austin Buckingham of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment the project is aimed at improving the flow capacity of Summitville's Wightman Fork Diversion channel. The goal, said Buckingham, is to create a channel able to handle 100 and 500-year flood cycles. Wightman Fork Creek used to flow down the bottom of the valley just below the mining operation. That is now the location of the Summitville dam Impoundment; a lake of collected, untreated water to be pumped into the site's water treatment plant. The creek was rerouted into its current diversion channel.

Contractors interested in the project must attend a mandatory pre-qualification tour at Summitville set for Oct. 9. Buckingham said bid packages will be available Nov. 1. However, by that date the cleanup site will likely be covered with early season snowfall, which would make visual inspection difficult, if not impossible. Buckingham said the project would involve four phases. One would be to increase the size of the channel's outlet culverts. Four 60-inch culverts feed the channel, while its outlet is fitted with four 36-inch culverts. A second phase of the project is to enhance the channel's capacity by widening it and stabilizing the channel with the addition of sheet pilings driven into its banks. A pump-back system below the impoundment lake is another phase of next summer's planned construction. Water naturally seeps through the dam. This water contains the most metal pollutants and a new system would pump the seepage back into the impoundment lake, making it available for treatment. A fourth phase is to build a water turnout in the Chandler Groin area at Summitville. The site's turnout system directs water to the treatment plant, if necessary, or diverts it directly into the Wightman Diversion channel. Summitville contains some 14,000 feet of channels and underground pipes to manage the area's water.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

11:16:42 AM    

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Best line of the week, so far, "We have heard you. We know we made a mistake and we will fix it for next year." -- Ed Tauer, Mayor of Aurora, promising lower water bills to home owners.

Category: Colorado Water

11:07:09 AM    

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Congratulations to Trees, Water & People for winning a $762,340 Environmental Protection Agency grant to dole out to local watershed groups like the Colorado Watershed Assembly and to the basin roundtables. From The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The EPA grant is the largest of six national grants awarded by the EPA's Targeted Watershed Capacity Building Program. Located in Fort Collins, TWP has worked with small groups internationally to help conserve and manage natural resources since 1998. "There are roundtables around the state that are dealing with water issues," said Jim Webster, director of Watershed Protection at TWP. "They are an important mechanism to the state." Webster said watershed organizations are usually grassroots organizations of local community members helping to clean and conserve water bodies that have few financial resources. "We're really assistance to the service arm," Webster said. The grant also will help TWP provide education on water quality issues and water monitoring techniques. Colorado Watershed Assembly, a coalition of more than 55 watershed groups in Colorado, will also work in collaboration with TWP.

Because the EPA is mostly concerned with water quality, the grant will be applied to helping grassroots organizations clean up rivers and other bodies of water, Webster said. While Webster knows the grant will go toward helping groups in Montana, Utah, South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, which collectively are known as the Headwaters Region, TWP has not selected the particular watershed organizations.

Category: Colorado Water

11:02:39 AM    

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Here's a report from the National Summit of Mining Communities up in Leadville on Tuesday, from The Summit Daily News (free registration required). From the article:

Communities like Summit County which have been hard-hit by environmental degradation from abandoned mines advocated for reform of the Clean Water Act during the National Summit of Mining Communities Tuesday in Leadville. The bedrock federal law makes it tough for volunteers to tackle remediation at many polluted mine sites without taking on crippling liability, said Bill Simon, coordinator for the Animas River Stakeholder Group. Stringent provisions in the Clean Water Act can pin perpetual liability on any group that fiddles with tainted water seeping from old mine workings, Simon explained.

Along with the strict water quality provisions, the Clean Water Act also opens the door for "third party" lawsuits against dischargers, a provision that had the unintended consequence of blocking community-based organizations who would have to assume responsibility for the site the minute they start working. In the early 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the water quality and permitting provisions of the Clean Water Act in a case involving pollution from an abandoned mine in California. "The result was a cessation of (volunteer) cleanups," Simon said. Since then, various proposals for amending the Clean Water Act have bubbled up in Congress nearly every year, but so far, none have passed. According to Simon, opposition from the environmental community, including national groups like the Sierra Club, has been a major stumbling block. Those groups don't want to tinker with the Clean Water Act at all...

Additionally, the national groups haven't heard from the grassroots people involved in cleanups, Simon said, encouraging community groups to lobby for Clean Water Act reform with elected officials and with environmental groups. From their standpoint, groups like the Sierra Club are concerned that any relaxation of the law will make it even harder to improve water quality and enforce existing standards. The environmental community also does not support mining companies taking part in the clean-up provision, Simon said. Finally, Simon explained that the lack of a Good Samaritan law doesn't preclude cleanups altogether. Solid mine waste issues can be addressed, and even water quality concerns can be partially tackled, perhaps by preventing water from infiltrating old mine workings, he suggested. The key is staying away from the discharge end of the abandoned mines, he said.

The EPA is trying to manage a Good Samaritan program for mine cleanup within it's current rules in absence of new legislation from the U.S. Congress, according to The Summit Daily News. From the article:

In lieu of fundamental reform, the Environmental Protection Agency has tried to open the door at least for partial cleanups with its own Good Samaritan initiative. "We're trying to leverage the authority we already have", said Colleen Gillespie, with the agency's water quality program. The idea is to facilitate cleanups by non-liable volunteer parties, while preserving the "polluter pays" principle, Gillespie said. Even if a community volunteer group can't directly tackle discharge from an abandoned mine, the EPA program can help accelerate partial cleanups, Gillespie said. The process involves working with the agency to develop a clear-cut work plan, including financial bonding for the work.

Once the framework is in place, the EPA issues a "comfort letter" that includes a "permit shield," Gillespie said. That includes exemptions from certain types of required permits, like storm water runoff permits, she added. By pulling the Department of Justice into the process, the EPA can offer some protection from third party lawsuits. And the cleanup agreement can, in some circumstances, include an EPA determination that the attainment of water quality standards may not be practical, Gillespie explained.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

10:33:18 AM    

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Congratulations to the Holy Cross Ranger District and the Eagle River Watershed Council for winning the partnership award from the Chief of the Forest Service. According to The Summit Daily News (free registration required) the two groups will be honored next Wednesday in Washington D.C. From the article:

Mix a team of jargon-tongued U.S. Forest Service biologists with a feisty river watchdog group, and you have a much healthier Eagle River. That's why the long-lasting and effective partnership between the Holy Cross Ranger District and the Eagle River Watershed Council is being honored in Washington D.C. Wednesday. Traction sand and mine pollution are just a couple of the major problems facing rivers and streams in Eagle County, and all those problems are being kept in check thanks to years of cooperation between the Forest Service and the Watershed Council. The relationship has brought about big changes for the Eagle River and its surrounding streams and creeks. There have been major efforts to clean up traction sand in Black Gore Creek, mine pollution cleanups and tightened water quality standards. Brian Healy, a biologist with the Forest Service, and Caroline Bradford, a longtime water advocate and former director of the Watershed Council, will accept the partnership award being presented by the chief of the Forest Service.

Category: Colorado Water

10:24:44 AM    

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Here's a report on several groundwater recharge projects that are working well, from The Pueblo Chieftain. These projects were highlighted at this week's Colorado Groundwater Policy Forum down in Colorado Springs. From the article:

Stories of successful programs on Fountain Creek, the Rio Grande, the South Platte River and Denver Basin Aquifer were shared at the Colorado Groundwater Management Policy Forum at the Doubletree Hotel...

The Widefield Aquifer, which runs along Fountain Creek, serves 40,000 people in communities south of Colorado Springs. The aquifer also is used as a standby supply for Colorado Springs and to maintain wetlands. "After years of conflict over this resource, the water users agreed on a management program to pave the way for optimal use of the aquifer, including large-scale aquifer recharge," consultant Gary Thompson said. Widefield, Stratmoor Hills and Security share the well field, taking advantage of inflows of 12,000 acre-feet and storage capacity of 18,000 acre-feet, or about 5.86 billion gallons. Without recharge, the aquifer participants have limited depletions up to 10,000 acre-feet per year...

In the Rio Grande basin, agreements that were reached more than 35 years ago proved inadequate to deal with a drought that exposed the weakness of the system, said Steve Vandiver, general manager of the Rio Grande Conservation District. There are 600,000 acres of irrigated farmland growing potatoes, grain and hay in the basin, mostly irrigated by sprinklers from wells that were drilled starting in the 1940s. As the sprinkler systems replace canal water, a large portion of the surface water was used to recharge the unconfined aquifer, a shallow system connected to the river, and careful records were kept...

In the lower South Platte, the northeastern corner of the state, farmers are using groundwater recharge to allow pumping to continue later in the season while still keep water in the river to meet interstate compact obligations to Nebraska, said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Conservancy District. Farmers have been using recharge ponds since 1972, as well as simply storing the water in ponds during winter months, when compact rules don't apply, and pumping it back into the river later in the season...

Finally, Highlands Ranch, a booming suburb southwest of Denver, is recharging the Denver Basin Aquifer, said John Hendrick, manager of Centennial Water District. Centennial feeds its customers directly from its rights in the Denver Basin, a series of four aquifers that is operated under special rules since it does not connect to any of the state's river systems. The district also has two reservoirs to store surface water, which is injected into the Denver Basin essentially by running pumps in reverse.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

10:06:58 AM    

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The Pueblo Chieftain editorial staff weighs in in opposition to streamlining water courts. They write:

A suggestion by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis to streamline the state's water courts could open up a can of worms. A key point of her suggestion was formation of a panel to report on how courts could be made more efficient. Part of that regime would be to allow the courts' water referees to act like special masters who could move water around as needed.

There are dangers here. The underlying concept was formulated from recommendations by two groups, a Denver University Water Futures Panel and the South Platte Task Force. Both groups seem to be eyeing the Arkansas River as a source of augmentation of the South Platte basin's desire for more water as populations grow along the Northern Front Range.

The notion that water court referees be given the powers of river masters is rife with danger. The last time it was bandied about came from the Clinton administration, which sought to "manage" the nation's rivers. That was just another way of describing what the Interior Department calls water wheeling -- moving water around with no regard to the needs of the basin from which it would be taken. Allowing water referees such power within the state also is a dangerous and outrageous proposition. These cases are always presented by phalanxes of water lawyers, and it is those cities with the deepest pockets who prevail. During a forum where these ideas were advanced this week, Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, hit the nail on the head when he said, "Developers can spend $100,000 in water court, but our little district with a budget of $6,000 has a hard time competing with that."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

9:56:56 AM    

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Here's an opinion piece looking at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

In years to come, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will be at a crossroads, deciding its very future. Jim Broderick, the district's executive director, last week gave the district's board of directors a glimpse of what he'd like to see...

...will the district be reduced to a mere caretaker of such Fry-Ark facilities as Lake Pueblo, Turquoise Reservoir and pipelines that carry transmountain water from the Fryingpan River on the Western Slope into the Arkansas River? Or, as Broderick suggests, will it take on a new role?

First of all, the Arkansas River Conduit has never been built despite authorized by Fry-Ark four decades ago. After 45 years, some 42 communities east of Pueblo are still waiting for that pipeline to deliver good water to the Lower Arkansas Valley. Bill Long, president of the Southeast District board from Bent County, believes the Fry-Ark Project ultimately will be judged a failure if the conduit does not become a reality...

Broderick suggests that the Southeast District take on the 20-25 percent local share of the proposed $300 million Arkansas Valley Conduit. But he also suggests assuming the Fountain Valley Pipeline debt as well. Why? Perhaps to ingratiate the prosperous Colorado Springs area, which already is paying off its debt. By contrast, the smaller rural communities east of Pueblo cannot afford a clean-water pipeline without help. So where would the Southeast District get the money to take on these millions upon millions of dollars of debt? It could ask the Bureau of Reclamation to turn over project revenue from excess-capacity storage leases, principally in Lake Pueblo, to the district. Why Reclamation would do that, I don't know. In the end, the Southeast District staff is looking for a place in the sun - protecting its turf, so to speak - when it otherwise faces having a greatly diminished role in the future...

Whether it's Reclamation or the Southeast District, the project managers should not become so reliant on long-term storage lease revenues. This easily could transform Fry-Ark's original purpose of delivering water to the Arkansas Valley into something repugnant - long-term storage that allows Colorado Springs and other municipal utilities (even far-off Aurora for Pete's sake!) to use contract exchanges and take the water away forever.

Category: Colorado Water

9:46:32 AM    

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