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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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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Vallecito Reservoir is showing signs of mercury pollution, according to The Durango Herald. From the article:

Vallecito Reservoir, the focal point of a year-round community and recreation area 20 miles northeast of Durango, is in failing health. "The health of the reservoir has been in decline for decades," Win Wright, a consulting hydrologist who has monitored water quality there for years, said Wednesday. "We're trying to figure out why salmon and trout are in decline." Now, an automatic precipitation sampler paid for by La Plata County and installed near the reservoir dam has found a high level of mercury in rain. "In July there was reading of 72 parts per trillion," Wright said. "By comparison, a precipitation sampler at Mesa Verde (National Park) in 2002 found 129 parts per trillion of mercury, the highest such reading ever in the United States." Wright attributes the presence of mercury in the water and in fish to fallout from regional coal-fired power plants. Long-term effects of the power plants are now appearing, he said...

"We'll look for a suite of elements," Wright said of his current work at Vallecito, naming mercury, manganese, organic carbon, arsenic and selenium as elements of interest. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment posted an advisory at Vallecito in 2006 concerning high concentrations of mercury in predatory fish - a potential hazard for pregnant women and children. Levels of natural background mercury at Vallecito aren't out of the ordinary, he said. Continued monitoring and analysis of toxic elements at Vallecito are needed to fill data gaps, Wright said. Analysis of toxic metals in water, rainfall and runoff from areas burned in the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire should continue, he said. Since 2004, the Pine River Watershed Group has received financial support from the Colorado Watershed Protection Fund, the Pine River Irrigation District, La Plata County, the Vallecito community and, for the second consecutive year, the Southwestern Water Conservation District. "When we look at the long-term impact of toxic elements, it's important that the Southwestern Water Conservation District be involved," Wright said. "The district is the institutional memory and knowledge of the region. Its support lends credibility to the project."

Category: Colorado Water

9:51:28 PM    

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Fort Collins is gearing up for upgrades and repairs to their Mulberry wastewater treatment plant, according to The Greeley Tribune (free registration required). From the article:

The updates are largely due to age, said Steve Comstock, water reclamation manager. The water treatment plant is the city's original plant, built in 1948. But [an] illegal dump caused lasting harm to the plant and moved up the city's plans for renovation by several years. It will take 18 months to replace the system. In the past 60 years, virtually everything at the plant has been renovated or rebuilt, except for the trickling filter. It is the second part in a several-step process, and it's the part that was damaged by the illegal dump almost two years ago. It has since been partially fixed, but it hasn't reached the level of performance it had before the dump...

Renovations to the Mulberry Wastewater Treatment Plant will likely start in 2009-2010. If the planned $31 million renovation is approved in the 2008-2009 budget, city officials will start planning and design. Wastewater rates are scheduled to go up by 12 percent in 2008 and 11 percent in 2009 to pay for the construction.

Category: Colorado Water

9:36:05 PM    

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Here's a recap of the recent meeting on water quality in Pueblo from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The way we design our communities, what we throw into the streets, what we illegally dump and even what we put into our bodies can ruin the water we all depend on to drink, speakers explained at the presentation, "The Morality of the Water Debate: Whose Responsibility is Water Quality?" The talk was one of more than 30 library events during the month. "Communities through land-use planning and development can prevent pollution at the source," said Cynthia Peterson, of AWARE Colorado, effort of the Colorado League of Woman Voters. Development increases impervious surfaces, turning a "green sponge into a gray funnel," Peterson said. She showed ways that urban planners and developers can create home sites or commercial centers. Cluster development that builds in greenways, parking lots that drain into grassy areas or narrower streets were suggested as ways to cut down on runoff and increase infiltration of water into the ground.

Scott Cowan, of Pueblo City-County Health Department, explained that while the nation has generally done a good job of cleaning up known pollution sources, the major threat now comes from litter, discarded items, fertilizers, animals and other activities in a watershed, collectively called "nonpoint source pollution." Fountain Creek is a 930-square-mile watershed that empties into the Arkansas River at Pueblo, collecting trash from three counties. Cowan showed slides of how trash in the streets winds up in rivers, explaining that a discarded plastic bottle winds up in the river miles away. Oil or paint dumped in storm basins, detergent from driveway car washes and runoff from construction sites all wind up in the river...

Pueblo Stormwater Manager Dennis Maroney said more people are learning that stormwater is returned to the river untreated and does not go through the city's sewage treatment plant. The city has 120 miles of storm lines and 20 miles of channels to maintain. Boy scouts have helped the city mark storm drains with images of fish to remind people that they empty directly into the river...

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, took the discussion to a more personal level. He said the increased use of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, antibiotics and other substances are contributing measurable levels of new contaminants to the water.

Category: Colorado Water

9:21:26 PM    

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Here's a look at the pros and cons of eastern Fremont County joining the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

PRO: UAWCD would bring extensive water, engineering and legal resources to eastern Fremont County. The district has accumulated significant water rights, storage rights and facilities. Easter Fremont County needs storage and the UAWCD can help build this storage for the benefit of the citizens of Eastern Fremont County.

UAWCD historically has spearheaded the stabilization of water and provides storage for towns and cities in the Upper Arkansas Basin. UAWCD provides replacement water for private citizens' wells in the unincorporated areas of the Upper Arkansas Basin and would extend these plans to eastern Fremont as well.

With climate change, the development of storage will be crucial. UAWCD can help provide for the construction of storage for eastern Fremont County's water.

UAWCD has a policy of first protecting private water rights. UAWCD is the first line of defense to protect against transfers of water to the large Front Range municipalities. UAWCD prevented Colorado Springs from using unlimited exchanges to take water from Chaffee and Fremont counties. UAWCD continues to be the strongest entity that fights for our water in the Upper Arkansas Basin.

Fremont will hold the majority of seats (six) on the Upper Arkansas Water District board. Eastern Fremont's School District RE-1 receives two seats. Fremont School District RE-2, which includes a small sparsely populated area of southwestern El Paso County, receives two seats on the UAWCD board. They will be appointed by the District Court of Fremont County. They will join the present two western Fremont representatives. A total of six seats will be occupied by the Fremont divisions.

CON: Voting for this inclusion is voting for a tax increase and amounts to taxation without representation.

Your taxes will go up and you do not get to elect the UAWCD directors who will spend your tax dollars. They are not accountable to the voters for their actions or how they spend our money...

Directors are appointed by a panel of chief judges of the three judicial districts that will cover the expanded UAWCD [37-45-114(l)(c) CRS]. Those judges sit in Salida, Colorado Springs and Alamosa.

With the 4th Judicial District chief judge on the director appointment panel, it gives El Paso County and Colorado Springs a potential director and a voice in spending your tax dollars. A director from El Paso County may favor Colorado Springs over Fremont County...

Unelected, appointed UAWCD directors have no accountability to the voters. You can elect directors only if 10 percent of registered voters file a petition for election, and you must do a separate petition for each director each time his or her term expires [37-45-114(2) CRS]. This is a difficult and expensive process. If you don't like how they spend your taxes or disagree with their water policies, there is no legal procedure to recall appointed directors. All current UAWCD directors are appointed and all serve without term limits. The voters do not have the power to make the directors accountable. They are accountable only to themselves and to the chief judges when they are reappointed. The district can use taxpayer dollars to buy up local water rights and dry up agricultural land. These water rights are then used to subsidize private developers. By voting against the inclusion you can prevent this from happening in Fremont County.

Your taxes would finance an organization with the legal power of condemnation through eminent domain. Private property can be condemned for public use: for pipeline and canal rights-of-way and for reservoirs. Water rights also can be condemned [37-45-118(l)(c) CRS]. The history of the UAWCD shows those officials don't work well with local county and city governments. They sometimes compete with them for water, storage and customers. Rather than protect your water from Front Range interests, you need to be protected from UAWCD buying your water and using it in ways to hurt Fremont County and subsidize land developers. We must not allow this Salida-based water agency to tax us and have access to our water and control of our most important resource.

Category: Colorado Water

7:25:12 PM    

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The Denver Metro, Arkansas Basin and South Platte basin roundtables are holding a joint meeting at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable will hold a joint meeting with the South Platte and Metro basin roundtables in November, to look at common concerns of the three areas. The meeting will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock. It will look at ongoing studies of rotational fallowing and leasing, lessons of past ag-urban partnerships, Colorado River issues and proposed cooperative projects between basins...In the past few months, some of the state's nine basin roundtables have had similar meetings to discuss common concerns or proposed projects.

Category: Colorado Water

6:35:26 PM    

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Congratulations to Roger and Pat Schalla and their Blue Hills Ranch for winning the Upper Huerfano Conservation District Conservationists of the Year award. From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Schallas' ranch is located 25 miles east of Walsenburg and they began improving their conservation measures in 2001. The conservation practices applied to Blue Hills Ranch include: prescribed grazing, wells and pipelines, fencing and livestock watering facilities. A Grassland Reserve Program contract was signed in 2005 which will keep more than 1,500 acres of highly erodible land in grass for the next 30 years. The Schallas have made a commitment to controlling soil erosion, improving plant and animal health, improving rangeland productivity and plant diversity, water quality and wildlife habitat. The Schallas will receive their award during the Conservation District's annual meeting in November.

Category: Colorado Water

6:16:59 PM    

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Here's a article about rising levels of water in the Leadville area, from The Leadville Herald Democrat. They write:

The water level in the mining district, below ground, is rising to historic heights behind a possible blockage in the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. Bob Elder voiced these concerns to the board of county commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 2. Historically, the highest water elevation recorded in the mining district was 10,163 feet. Between January and September 2007, the elevation of the pool of water in the mining district has gone from 10,139 feet to 10,151 feet, according to the information Elder presented to the commissioners. The current elevation translates into approximately 130 feet of water from the bottom of the pool to the top. The Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel, run by the Bureau of Reclamation, is supposed to be pumping water out of the mine pool under the surface on the east side of Leadville. The water then goes through a water treatment plant located next to the Village at East Fork just off Colo. 91...

A couple of incidents this summer, according to Brad Littlepage, who works at the LMDT, indicated a collapse in the tunnel. According to Elder, the metal loading of the water treated at the LMDT has gone down. This could mean that contaminated water isn't making it through the LMDT, and the BOR is treating clean water from other sources. This could be another indication that the tunnel is plugged somewhere. A concern brought forth by Elder is that the rising water levels will eventually come out of the ground somewhere. He said that water flowing near the landfill road, or CR 6, is showing signs of releasing some of this water built up behind the blockage.

Christensen and Doug Jamison, with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said that this is not necessarily the case. There are many water sources, not just from the mine pool. Both did say that rising water on the east side is a concern. This water, according to Elder, comes out of the Gaw shaft, which is part of the complicated east-side water system. The Gaw shaft releases water just below the Yak Water Treatment plant run by Resurrection Mining Company. Colorado Mountain College monitors the water levels and the quality of water that comes from the Gaw shaft. Another concern is flooding at the Village at East Fork if the water were to suddenly come through the LMDT. Commission Chair Ken Olsen, at the meeting with Elder, suggested getting the BOR, EPA, CDPHE and CMC together in a meeting to discuss a solution. At this point, there is no one agency that has responsibility for the situation.

Category: Colorado Water

6:09:09 PM    

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Cortez area students are getting schooled on groundwater pollution from landfills, according to The Cortez Journal. From the article:

How does a landfill manager know when polluted water filtering out from a landfill is polluting local water supplies? Cortez Middle School student Emily Crouch can answer that question. Last Friday, Crouch, along with a group of other seventh grade students from the middle school, learned how the Montezuma County landfill tests water samples from groundwater wells around the site, to ensure that polluted water, or leachate, isn't leaking through the landfill's liner and contaminating groundwater...

Smith hopes that by incorporating all subject areas when learning about environmental science, students will learn that "you can't have science without reading, writing, and math." Students typically love the field trips associated with the unit, and the labs, where they get to create miniature ecosystems, build model hydroelectric dams, and experiment with solar fuel cells, said Smith. By pulling all that learning together in other classes and showing students how it applies in daily living, Smith believes that students can learn that science is connected with every aspect of life. When asked what they learned from the field trip, students Jacob Carver, McCoy Nguyen, and Crouch all mentioned how important it was to reduce waste and recycle. Carver composts organic wastes in his back yard, keeping it out of the waste stream. "It makes really good mulch," he said. Of course, the seventh graders also reacted to the most visceral part of their field trip. When asked what his main impression of the landfill was, 7th grader McCoy Nguyen said "Stinky. That's the first thing that comes to mind."

Category: Colorado Water

7:18:55 AM    

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Cañon City councillors were talking water revenue this week, according to The Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

As the Cañon City Council continued to look at its budget for 2008, City Administrator Steve Rabe discussed the enterprise funds, which are made up of the water, raw water and stormwater funds. During a public hearing in Monday night's city council meeting, Rabe told the council Cañon City had plenty of water this year, but water revenues decreased quite dramatically. "We've seen a 6 percent water decrease in overall water usage," Rabe said. "At this point of time with the revenues, we're not projecting any increase in water rates, but it may be subject to change" when council considers adjustments to water rates and storm water rates for 2008 later this month. Because of the natural growth, which may occur with the water usage in developments coming into the area, the city will be able to keep up with a small incremental increases of 1 to 2 percent, which equates to 38 cents every quarter, Rabe said. On the flip side, the city usually spends about $900,000 a year on water projects for water main replacements and about $200,000 for projects at the water treatment plant for a total of about $1.1 million. However, the city did not spend the money this year because the bids came in too high on Harding and to extend a 20-inch water lines on East Main Street. In 2008, the city plans to complete those two projects along with the first phase of the several projects at the water treatment plants, which will cost about $11 million. To pay for them, the council will decide how to split the cost between water rates or water tap fees, Rabe said. Because those are growth related, the increase will more than likely go to the tap fees...

As far as the raw water acquisition fund, a portion of the tap fund is set aside so the city can continue to secure water resources from entities to buy water shares, create storage and work on other water issues. Rabe estimated the reserve at the end of the year to be about $330,000 in the utility fund. The last part of the budget for enterprise fund covered the stormwater utility fund. "The purpose of the fund is to allow the city to adhere to its phase 2 permit, which is issued by the State of Colorado and mandated under the Clean Water Act," Rabe said. In the budget, there is $622,000, in which $422,000 of that is being spent for storm water operations, he said. "We set aside $200,000 each year" to do the projects, which council will discuss at the Oct. 23 meeting, Rabe said to the council. "There's no reason to increase the rates in 2008. If you want to do the projects, it might be advantageous to make small incremental increases each year so you can put more than $200,000 away a year to do some of these projects."

Category: Colorado Water

7:10:24 AM    

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The Pueblo Board of Water Works approved the purchase of Bessermer Ditch Shares Tuesday, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Pueblo Board of Water Works voted Tuesday to pursue the purchase of a controlling interest in the Bessemer Ditch, unanimously agreeing it will be the best course to protect Pueblo's water in the future. "Our first interest is the purchase of the Bessemer, if there are enough people interested in selling," said President Nick Gradisar. "If people are thinking of getting out of farming in the next 20 years, they'll have to decide whether this is a good price." That price still has not been revealed, as the water board is working with Bessemer Ditch directors and shareholders. The board hopes to have a meeting with shareholders soon to lay out the financial details of the offer...

The ditch, initially excavated more than 130 years ago, flows through Pueblo on its way to the St. Charles Mesa. It originally served the steel mill and South Pueblo, but was sold in the 1890s and eventually became primarily an irrigation ditch. Pueblo led the effort to line the ditch when it began leaking in the 1980s - costing farmers water and flooding basements - because of the introduction of clear water from Pueblo Dam...

The board also voted to enter an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo West to cooperate in buying and converting Bessemer shares to municipal use. The Pueblo West board is not expected to act on the new IGA until November...

Pueblo's water needs are expected to increase from current demand of about 30,000 acre-feet per year to nearly 50,000 by 2050, if population growth is modest and conservation continues to reduce per capita use. Meanwhile, the city's long-term lease commitments will remain high for at least the next 20 years. At the same time, the water board wants to shift away from its dependency on Western Slope water - potentially 60 percent of Pueblo's supply - because of predicted climate change and the possibility of a call on the Colorado River. The Bessemer Ditch has some of the most senior rights in the valley and its diversion point is Pueblo Dam, making it ideal for use in Pueblo's water system, Ward said. The plan approved Tuesday also calls for more storage, both upstream and downstream, as well as more long-term leases until Pueblo needs the water.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

7:01:37 AM    

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Here's a recap of yesterday's trial about Pueblo County's 1041 authority over Colorado Springs' proposed Southern Delivery System, from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Four hours of wrangling in court between lawyers for Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over whether the county has authority to regulate the proposed Southern Delivery System boiled down to that question Tuesday. In the end, District Judge Dennis Maes will supply the answer. "I'll get you an order as soon as I can," Maes said at the end of the motions hearing, taking arguments under advisement and asking few questions during the hearing. At the beginning of the hearing, Maes indicated he would rule by summary judgment, avoiding the need for a scheduled three-day trial. Maes said he is not sure how long it will take to write the order. Colorado Springs filed the suit, claiming that the city's plan to build a pipeline from Pueblo Dam through Pueblo County to serve water needs of cities to the north is not subject to Pueblo County land use regulations under 1974 state laws HB1041 and HB1034...

[David Eason, attorney for Colorado Springs] argued other utility easements already exist in the corridor where Colorado Springs plans to build its pipeline, and that the county has routinely approved many similar easements without special hearings. SDS already is subject to numerous permits, including an environmental impact statement by the Bureau of Reclamation, he added.

Pueblo County countered that the size of the project and ample legal precedents show there is need for county hearings on SDS. "There has been no application by Colorado Springs," countered Ray Petros, attorney for Pueblo County. "We've learned more in the last two or three weeks about the project than we have in the last four years, and this shows the 1041 regulations are serving their purpose...We're not here today to decide if SDS should be approved by the county." Petros argued the sheer size of SDS, its related effects on Fountain Creek and its impacts on property owners in Pueblo County make it a legitimate concern for county commissioners, who would act in a quasi-judicial role on SDS if it proceeds to county hearings. Petros also argued the 1974 laws were drafted to allow counties to protect land against future projects like SDS, even though SDS was not even a concept at the time. He presented seven supporting cases that were tried in Gilpin and Eagle counties.

Eason said the land a Colorado Springs pipeline would cross is zoned and the zoning permits utility easements to cross it. "Zoning by its nature is a form of control," Eason said. He also argued special use is a form of "regulatory taking" and landowners have "reasonable expectations" from zoning decisions. Zoning represents opportunity for broad uses, and government cannot restrict uses within allowable uses within a zone, Eason said.

Petros shot back that Colorado Springs does not actually own the land, and the "reasonable expectations" in this case are those of 26 homeowners whose property the pipeline would cross. Colorado Springs' argument that their pipeline would have been allowed in 1974 avoids the fact that it never was specifically allowed, Petros added, calling it a request for "double exemption." "The city argues that the (1974) zoning is applicable to them in order to get an exemption, and then, 'King's X, it doesn't apply to us,'" Petros said. "Why would they go through this if they believe they are already adequately regulated?" Petros also explained the scope of SDS, noting the size of a 14,000-square-foot pumping station below Pueblo Dam, structures that amount to "several buried houses" and crossings of 24 county roads and 50 drainages.

Eason called those concerns "irrelevant" and concentrated on the alignment of the pipeline along existing corridors. "What is the legal relevance of the size of the project?" Eason asked. Citing other projects approved by the county, Eason added: "We're not arguing double exemption or double anything, we're arguing the plain language of the case."

Petros said the size of the overall project is important, and that Colorado Springs had attempted to split the pipeline from the rest of the project. Petros said that the overall impacts of SDS on Pueblo County - pipelines, pumps and return flows - are matters that legitimately concern the county and exactly what the authors of state land use regulations had in mind more than 30 years ago.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:54:46 AM    

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Cutthroats are coming home to the Trappers Lake drainage, according to The Denver Post. From the article:

As homecomings go, the return of a particular trout to that splendid basin whose epicenter is Trappers Lake doesn't exactly rank up there with the prodigal son or even Lassie. But it does get high marks for historic and biological correctness at a time when restoration of the Colorado River cutthroat ranks high on the list of wildlife priorities...

"Trappers Lake historically had the most robust population of Colorado River cutts," said Kevin Rogers, a Colorado Division of Wildlife research biologist. "It's one of the largest natural bodies of water in the state at a perfect elevation, the perfect natural habitat." Thanks to man's infatuation, the big lake also has some huge problems: Yellowstone cutthroat were introduced during the 1940s, and the resulting hybridization clouded the gene pool. DOW no longer takes eggs from Trappers for transplant elsewhere. Brook and rainbow trout were added later, competitors for a limited food supply.

But there was another element to all this fish swapping, a twist that promises a considerable boost to the recovery effort. When Colorado made a 1931 trade with California for golden trout, the cutthroat it bartered came from a still- pure Trappers Lake. These expatriates now swim in the lower Williamson Lakes, part of a seven-lake chain in the southern Sierra Nevada Range. Rogers, who visited the site last summer, hopes to bring pure-strain progeny back to the Trappers drainage. "It's the perfect situation, using the cutthroat strain that originated here to repopulate it," Rogers said. Alas, the recovery will not include Trappers Lake, which is too large, too deep, too complicated to achieve an eradication of exotic species. Instead, DOW plans to utilize the several smaller lakes and streams squiggled across a basin spanning more than a hundred square miles.

Category: Colorado Water

6:40:24 AM    

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Here's an opinion piece in opposition to the Northern Integrated Supply Project, from The Greeley Tribune (free registration required). Gary Wockner writes:

Last Sunday's editorial in this newspaper made two points that need to be rebutted in order to provide a broader understanding of northern Colorado's water needs. The Tribune's editors incorrectly stated that the public does not need a longer comment period for the NISP draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), and that the NISP project is necessary to meet future water needs.

On the first point, the DEIS for NISP took about 3 years to complete and cost over $2 million. It only makes sense that the public -- that's you and me-- should have the longest possible time to review this extremely complex and expensive document. Recently, long public comment periods have been granted for the Nunn uranium mine, and for oil and gas drilling on Roan Plateau in western Colorado. The potential negative impacts of the NISP project are dire for the river and for the economy in northern Colorado that depends on the river, and so a longer public comment period is needed.

On the second point, the Tribune pointed out that the total demand for new water in northern Colorado would be around 400,000 acre-feet in the next 30 years. This may be true, but the NISP project would only provide 40,000 acre-feet, and is thus merely a Band-Aid approach to address our future water needs. Unfortunately, this Band-Aid will be applied by draining the Poudre River of its ecological and economic life while not looking at realistic options to conserve water and partner with farmers to obtain water.

Alternatives exist for providing water to northern Colorado that do not involve draining the Poudre River. Here's what you can do to help Save the Poudre:

1. Help stop the NISP project--this project is a Band-Aid that will not adequately address our future water needs. Participants in this project need to first conserve water, and second to get water from sources other than the Poudre River.

2. Help get an "instream flow program" set up for the Poudre River as it flows through Greeley. Talk to the Greeley Water Department about how to do this - there are legal and financial mechanisms that can keep water in the Poudre year-round.

3. Conserve water. By reducing your water use, you can help change the ethic in Colorado that leads to draining rivers first and conserving water as a last resort.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:31:56 AM    

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Carbondale has won a State Supreme Court case over the use of pesticides near their water treatment facility, according to The Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

The Colorado Supreme Court in Denver on Monday ruled 7-0 in favor of the town of Carbondale in its six-year-old case against a Nettle Creek landowner regarding the use of pesticides near the town's main water supply. The ruling by the state's high court overturned a Colorado Court of Appeals decision sending the case back to trial, and reinstated a 2003 Pitkin County District Court judgment in the town's favor. In that ruling, then-9th District Chief Judge Thomas Ossola, who has since retired, found Garry Snook and his GSS Properties LLC negligent in damaging the town's water supply. Snook's 55-acre Hanging Valley Ranch is located immediately above the town's Nettle Creek water-treatment plant on the western flank of Mount Sopris. Ossola also upheld Carbondale's watershed protection ordinance, ordering Snook not to store, mix, apply or dispose of any pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or chemical compounds on his ranch in a way that could pollute the town's water supply...

"We're delighted with the ruling," said Carbondale Town Attorney Mark Hamilton, who was assisted in arguing the case before the Supreme Court by Boulder attorney and former state Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky. "It was a good result for the water users and taxpayers of Carbondale, and it was a long time coming," Hamilton said. "Now the town can move forward and continue to protect the Nettle Creek drainage from pollution."

Snook's Colorado Springs attorney, Walter Sargent, declined to comment on the Supreme Court ruling, which essentially signals the end of the line as far as Snook's legal challenges in the case. The town's legal battle with Snook began in June 2001, when Carbondale filed the lawsuit seeking $8,389 in connection with three construction-related incidents at the ranch that clogged the water plant with mud, forcing the plant to shut down temporarily. Town officials later learned that Snook's crews were also applying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on the land in a way that could pollute the town's water supply...

Colorado's Watershed Protection Act allows cities and towns to control land use within five miles of their water source. After the town filed suit in District Court, Snook filed a counter lawsuit against the town in U.S. District Court, arguing that the town violated federal equal protection laws and that he was being singled out for enforcement. That case was later dismissed, and the Colorado case was allowed to proceed. Ossola also originally awarded the town of Carbondale $8,389 worth of compensation for the damage Snook caused to the town's water-delivery system. Hamilton said the town is also now seeking to be reimbursed by Snook for approximately $50,000 in court costs associated with the case, not including attorney's fees.

Category: Colorado Water

6:23:36 AM    

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Here's an article about the effects of dust on snowpack from The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (free registration required). They write:

When a winter storm hit Colorado on Feb. 15, 2006, it had a profound effect on the state's snowpack that year, but not how you might imagine. The storm consisted of dust, not snow. And the dust's heating effects caused snow to melt off weeks earlier than it would have otherwise, researchers say. This year, the Silverton-based Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies continued to document the phenomenon of dust storms speeding up the melting of snowpack. And now it's trying to use its findings to help the state's water agencies do a better job of anticipating when snowmelt will occur, so they can better manage water supplies. On Tuesday, Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies, updated the Colorado River District board in Glenwood about the center's efforts.

He said the center, working with other research entities such as the Boulder-based National Snow and Ice Data Center, is finding that dust storms can advance snowmelt by up to a month, producing "a flashier snowmelt, a more intense snowmelt that lasts shorter in duration." Landry said clean snow is the most reflective land surface on earth. Snow's reflective power is called albedo, and clean snow's albedo can approach 100 percent. But darker, dirtier snow may reflect only 50 to 60 percent, meaning the rest of the energy is absorbed. "That's a very dramatic effect on energy balance in the snowpack," he said. Much of the dust is believed to come from Western deserts, and there are concerns that it may be increasing due to factors such as drought and grazing. Landry said Colorado experienced nine "dust events" during the winter of 2005-06...

The same telltale layers of dust in the 2006 snowpack showed up at several Colorado sites, including near Loveland and Hagerman passes. And snowmelt accelerated in a corresponding fashion. Tracking snowmelt this year, researchers showed it increasing sharply whenever dust was on the surface. Fresh snow cover would allow snowpack to recover, but once that snow melted and a dust layer was re-exposed the snowpack again would start dissipating quickly. "It was on again, off again all spring," Landry said, displaying a graph of his findings to the river district board Tuesday. "Those spikes correspond perfectly with fresh snow cover. It's just like a switch." The center's work has been funded with the support of the Colorado River District and similar districts elsewhere in Colorado. The river district gave it $8,000 last year, and the center is asking for funding again this year.

The center has been sending supporting districts alerts when dust storms occur. It also is working on models that can be used to better predict what such storms will do to snowpack. In addition, it hopes to help develop a regional network of "dust-in-snow" observations. For water districts, such information could be crucial to timing releases of water from reservoirs. It's helpful for them to know when the snow is expected to be melting, and when a watershed will reach the point of what Landry calls "SAG" - snow all gone.

Category: Colorado Water

6:14:24 AM    

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All you water nuts know that we have an obsession with long-term forecasting. Here's a look at our old friend La Niña and the potential effects on snowpack from The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (free registration required). From the article:

A Denver-based meteorologist's winter snow forecast could come as good news for skiers in Steamboat Springs, and bad news for those in Durango. Bill Badini's prediction also offers a mixed bag for the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and deals with water supply issues throughout the river basin. "La Niña is coming up, and it's coming up very fast," Badini told the district board at its meeting Tuesday at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood...

Badini, who works for the firm HDR, said that this year, those sea-surface temperatures are lower than average. That tends to produce La Niña storms that bear down from the Northwest and result in above-average snow in northwest Colorado, and below-average amounts in the southwest part of the state. The arrival of La Niña also portends slightly below-average precipitation on the Front Range on the other side of the Continental Divide, Badini said. That, he told the river district board, could influence "how much peeking over the divide there will be at how much water you've got over there."[...]

A La Niña year should mean a boost in water supplies and storage in the Colorado River Basin above Glenwood Springs. While that makes water management easier in that part of the state, La Niña could complicate matters when it comes to Colorado River flows farther downstream. Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, pointed out that southwest Colorado is a considerable contributor of water to the river. Low snowfall there this winter could add to Colorado's challenges in meeting compact obligations with other states in the Southwest that have a legal right to some Colorado River water. However, Badini said any problems caused by La Niña should be limited if it is short-lasting. Typically, when La Niña winters are followed by El Niños over coming months, they are accompanied by a lot of moisture...

The return of El Niño also can include a "nasty monsoon" during the summer, he said. Colorado's monsoon season involves storms arising out of the southwest. The elevated precipitation resulting from the return of an El Niño also would carry into the following winter, he said. Badini said a La Niña could be a bigger problem if it persists more than a year, possibly resulting in one to three years of dry conditions in Colorado when the state is taken as a whole. La Niñas and El Niños aren't absolute guarantees of Colorado weather. Kuhn said last year was "one of those two out of 10 years" when southwest Colorado was dry during an El Niño. He compared it to rolling dice. "The chances of getting a seven are better than getting a two. But that doesn't mean you can't get a two," he said. Still, Badini said there tends to be a floor on how little precipitation northwest Colorado could get during a La Niña winter. Usually it will receive at least 90 percent of average precipitation. It's "very rare" that precipitation would drop below 80 percent, he said. "The threat of a very dry year is limited," he said.

Category: Colorado Water

6:07:16 AM    

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From The Denver Post, "Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell said efforts to tap Rocky Mountain oil deposits large enough to meet U.S. demand for a century have been stalled by subterranean rivers and greenhouse gases. Shell won't know until 2009 whether an underground wall of ice intended to shield oil- rich rocks from flowing water will work, project director Wolfgang Deeg said Tuesday at an industry conference at the Colorado School of Mines. Exxon Mobil hasn't figured out how to contain greenhouse-gas emissions from its planned development to extract oil from shale formations in the region."

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

5:57:56 AM    

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Here's an opinion piece written by Powertech's Centennial Project Manager, from The Fort Collins Coloradoan. He writes:

Powertech (USA) Inc.'s proposal to recover uranium in rural Weld County has created lots of attention - and even more misinformation. Powertech's preferred method of in-situ recovery, or ISR, is a proven and safe method of recovering underground uranium. In fact, the Grover ISR site opened and closed decades ago in Northern Colorado - with no ill effects to the environment or community. Project opponents have presented lies, mistruths and innuendo to gain momentum for their campaign, choosing to ignore facts about Powertech, ISR and uranium.

Allow me to state those facts:

> Water supplies are safe: No U.S. ISR project has ever contaminated drinking water. Groundwater in the uranium ore zone is already contaminated with uranium and other heavy metals and is not used for drinking.

> Communities are protected: Powertech will employ highly regulated and advanced technology to maintain a closed and safe recovery process.

> Operations are regulated: Local, state and federal regulatory agencies will hold Powertech to strict environmental and public safety standards and permitting requirements. We're counting on it, and so should you.

Powertech is here to stay and is committed to being a good corporate citizen and neighbor. The company will submit permit applications at the end of 2008. Seek out the truth about uranium operations. You'll find that the "fear factor" techniques promulgated by the opposition are an insult to your intelligence. Still have questions? See our Web site at www.powertech, or call our hotline at (877) 798-4240.

So what are the politicians saying/doing about Powertech's proposed uranium mining operation in Weld County? Here's an article about the subject from The Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

A proposal to mine uranium east of Wellington is facing mounting political pressure, including opposition from U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and potential legislation that would add more state regulation. State Reps. Randy Fischer and John Kefalas, both Fort Collins Democrats, are working on legislation that would require a mining company to prove its operations will not contaminate groundwater resources. The bill also would "lift the veil of secrecy" that state law allows around mineral prospecting so affected landowners can get a better sense of what's happening on neighboring properties. The intent of the bill would not be to stop the mining operation, Fischer said, but to ensure the state has adequate environmental standards to protect residents as well as air and water quality. "Let's make sure those protections are in place before we give permits to do this type mining," he said.

State Sen. Steve Johnson, a Fort Collins Republican, said he would carry the bill in the Senate. The company has a right to the minerals it owns, but nearby property owners have justifiable concerns about the impact of mining on their water, he said. More regulation will not dissuade Powertech (USA) from pursuing the permits needed to do its work, said Lane Douglas, manager for the company's Centennial Project. "Powertech is committed to meeting all state regulations in conducting a safe and environmentally conscious mining operation," he said. The company has invested millions into the project - including $2.1 million for land - and will put in millions more, Douglas said. The rising price of uranium and growing interest in nuclear energy around the world makes the project financially viable...

Musgrave, a Fort Morgan Republican whose congressional district includes Larimer and Weld counties, said Tuesday she is opposed to Powertech's proposal and will speak out against it. Company officials have not given satisfactory answers when pressed for details about the operation, such as whether a pit mine would be used, she said. "I just don't see how this will work in such a populated area," she said. "I'm a strong proponent of private property rights, but I don't have a good feeling about this and what it would do to residents and agriculture in this area." Colorado has a history of environmental disasters brought on by mining operations, Fischer said. The state needs to get ahead of advances in mining techniques to protect the environment.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

5:47:27 AM    

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