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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Sunday, October 21, 2007

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We're heading over the Great Divide to the Colorado Software Summit. We should be back online tonight as the broadband at Keystone Resort is usually excellent.

2:30:40 PM    

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Water quality trumps energy production says District Judge Blair Jones, of Montana's Twenty-Second Judicial District. From a press release from the The Northern Plains Resource Council:

A state district court judge handed Montana's farmers and ranchers a major legal victory today in a case that pitted the coal bed methane industry against the state and conservation groups concerned about water quality.

In his Thursday ruling, District Judge Blair Jones, of Montana's Twenty-Second Judicial District, sided with state regulators and conservation groups in upholding numeric water quality standards for electrical conductivity (EC) and sodium adsorption ratio (SAR).

"There was never any doubt in our minds that the state acted properly when it set water quality rules to protect Montana ranching and farming families like mine," said Mark Fix, a Tongue River Rancher and Chair of Northern Plains Resource Council. "We're comforted that the judge found so strongly in our favor."

The state adopted the standards following requests by the Northern Plains Resource Council and the Tongue River Water Users Association to protect agriculture from pollution and crop losses caused by coal bed methane development.

A number of out-of-state energy companies, led by Fidelity Exploration and Production, Marathon Oil Co., Marathon subsidiary Pennaco Energy Inc., Nance Petroleum Corp. and Yates Petroleum Corp, appealed the rules, arguing that the Montana Board of Environmental Review acted improperly in establishing the water quality protections, which they alleged were without a sound scientific basis.

Jones rejected each of the five claims industry lawyers offered in attempting to overturn the numeric water quality standards. He found that the BER acted properly when it determined enforceable numeric standards were needed to regulate methane development and that the state was warranted in taking proactive measures to protect water quality.

"When water quality is at stake, the BER and DEQ are mandated to afford protection," Jones wrote. "There is nothing in the record to suggest that the BER's decision was based on anything but a careful consideration of relevant factors."

Industry lawyers argued there was no evidence of damage to agriculture and that the state should have waited for damage to occur prior to acting.

The BER initiated its rulemaking in 2006 after Northern Plains petitioned the state to institute a non-degradation policy, which protects the existing quality of Montana surface waters that irrigators depend on for their livelihood, and support Montana fisheries and aquatic life.

"We worked really hard on these standards. Since 1999, Northern Plains has advocated for responsible coal bed methane development that was done right. The BER agreed with us on this point in 2003 and 2006. Thankfully, Judge Jones saw fit to uphold the quality of Montana's pristine rivers. This decision helps to protect my family operation for future generations," said Fix.

Judge Jones' decision upholds Montana's water quality standards that have been federally approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Jones' ruling also blunted industry's effort to undermine the state's non-degradation standard, which is designed to protect against the incremental decline of water quality over time. The judge wrote that adopting industry's rationale would mean drillers could dump polluted water in rivers and streams right up to the very threshold of a water quality violation.

"We are extremely pleased with today's decision," said Beth Kaeding, Vice-Chair of Northern Plains. "The decision is a victory for Montana's irrigators and aquatic resources. It allows Northern Plains' Coal Bed Methane Task Force the opportunity to continue advocating for maintaining high quality state waters long after the methane industry is gone."

Northern Plains, a conservation and family agriculture group, organizes Montana Citizens to protect water quality, family farms and ranches, and our unique quality of life.

For more information or a copy of the decision, contact Dan Feinberg at 406.248.1154.

Thanks to Theo for the link. More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

9:24:21 AM    

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Now this is a big deal. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has rejected applications for two coal-fired electric plants in western Kansas near Holcomb due to CO2 emmissions. Here's the press release from Western Resource Advocates:

Working with advocates across Colorado and Kansas, Western Resource Advocates and Environment Colorado have helped secure a major victory in our campaign to prevent Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission from building two new 700-megawatt coal-fired plants near Holcomb, Kansas.

Yesterday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) rejected the proposal to build the new coal plants. Their decision will protect the climate, benefit efforts to boost local clean energy resources and, in the long run, save ratepayers significant money.

In denying the air permit, KDHE director Rod Bremby said in a written statement that it was his "responsibility to protect the public health and environment from actual, threatened or potential harm from air pollution."

Bremby also said "it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing."

For people living in the West, the threats of global warming are particularly alarming, from decreased snowpack and more severe droughts, to more intense wildfires and the many public health problems associated with extreme summer heat.

Tri-State's long-term commitment to new coal-fired power also poses financial risks for its ratepayers, for reasons ranging from rapidly escalating construction costs to the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional operating costs each year that would have been necessary to control global warming pollution from the plant.

"Kansas' denial of Tri-State's plant is emblematic of growing disillusionment with conventional coal power plants as an energy source," said John Nielsen, energy policy director at Western Resource Advocates. "It's going to save Tri-State's ratepayers from having to shoulder the burden for dramatic rate increases that would have been necessary to pay for the Kansas plant. And hopefully it encourages Tri-State to focus on the huge opportunities for energy efficiency and for developing renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, especially in rural parts of its service area."

We are heartened by this progress, and invite you to check Western Resource Advocates' website for an in-depth look at issues associated with coal-fired power.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

9:11:51 AM    

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From The Mile High News, "Amidst citizen outcry, the Northwest Lakewood Sanitation District has suspended a new $100 annual fee for the replacement of aging sewer pipes in parts of Wheat Ridge, Lakewood and Golden. The fee, which was issued Sept. 1, was due to be paid by the first of November, but sanitation representatives are withholding the first bill until March. The project to replace 310,000 feet of underground pipe over the next 20 years will have a $35.5 million price tag and will affect 4,000 homes and 500 commercial and multi-family dwellings."

Category: Colorado Water

8:57:26 AM    

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It's full steam ahead for a new pipeline from Bellvue to Greeley, according to The Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

Greeley will forge ahead with plans to build a 60-inch pipeline through LaPorte despite the concerns of local residents and county officials. The Larimer County Planning Commission gave reluctant approval for the proposed route of the pipeline early Thursday morning, but included conditions calling for Greeley to minimize the project's impacts on the Poudre River. However, the city does not have to follow the planning commission's recommendations, according to Rob Helmick, principal planner for the county. "This is not just some gully we're running a pipeline down," said commission member Roger Morgan. "This is a very special corridor." Another condition calls for Greeley to pay for an engineering study of "best practices" for building a pipeline through wetland areas. The proposed route would run from the Greeley water treatment plant at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon to Shields Street, where it would tie into the path of the existing waterline. The route would cut across farmland near the Poudre River. Local property owners say building the line would impact historic sites along its route and disrupt the flow of groundwater.

Category: Colorado Water

8:53:01 AM    

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The Pueblo Chieftain asks Alan Hamel why Pueblo is pursuing the purchase of a controlling interest in the Bessemer Ditch. From the article:

"We used to believe our water rights would yield three-and-a-half times our total supply. That's no longer true," said Alan Hamel, executive director of the water board. "With climate change, a call on the Colorado River and population growth, there's the potential that we won't have enough water to meet our needs 20 to 25 years out." Because other water users have designs on the Bessemer Ditch - the South Metro Water Supply Authority has spelled out its intentions to hunt for Arkansas Valley water in the next five years - the water board is compelled to act now, Hamel said. "If we're successful, we'll have what we need to meet our needs in a 100-year plan," Hamel said. "With the competition out there, we need to start securing those needs today. We can't wait 20 to 25 years."

Two years ago, the water board set its plan in motion to increase its water supply, using some of the money from a lease to Aurora and a hefty up-front payment from Xcel Energy for its Comanche Power Plant expansion to beef up its water development fund. The water board increased water rates last year by 2 percent in order to further increase it over time. The fund has grown to $12 million from $2 million in that short time, and it is projected to triple in the next 10 years...

The water board's plan envisions future per-capita water use similar to levels following the drought, about 240 gallons per day. Pueblo's per-capita use is higher than other Front Range cities because of large industrial customers, such as Rocky Mountain Steel Mills, and a generally warmer climate. About half of Pueblo's potable water is used for lawn irrigation, Hamel said. Population growth in Pueblo County's long-range plan is about 1.2 percent, and the figure was plugged into the water board plan. At that rate, Pueblo's population would grow to 350,000 in 2105, up from 105,500 in 2005. From 1950-99, the city growth was only about 1 percent annually, particularly slumping in the years following cutbacks at the steel mill. That could change. Other Front Range cities have grown at a rate of 2.5 percent, the plan stated...

For at least the next 20 years, the water board will have to supply more than 20,000 acre-feet to meet its long-term lease commitments to Aurora, Comanche Power Plant and some smaller users. Another 3,000 acre-feet per year could be needed to fulfill 40-year obligations to operators of proposed greenhouses southeast of Pueblo in 2003. So far, the greenhouses have not materialized, however. Water board President Nick Gradisar said last week the leases are important to Pueblo because they help keep rates down. Still, the water board is investigating whether to raise its connection fees, because they are less than half of most other Front Range water providers. The report projects that even with a six-year drought more severe than any on record, the water board could meet demand through 2020 without the need for water restrictions. Beyond that, the need becomes more apparent. Current potable deman is about 30,000 acre-feet per year. By 2050, it will be closer to 50,000 acre-feet per year. In 100 years, it will increase to nearly 90,000 acre-feet per year.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:32:28 AM    

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The sources E. coli pollution in Fountain Creek are elusive, as they are in most surface streams. Here's an update on Colorado Springs' efforts to understand and mitigate the problem, from The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

The bacteria sometimes reach unsafe levels downstream, one of the few black marks on a system known for mountainfresh water and one that could affect Colorado Springs' ability to deliver more water as the city grows. Testing, including readings for nitrogen and phosphorous compounds that indicate human influence, will determine whether the Geological Survey's analytical method is sound enough to apply to lower Fountain Creek. That's where Colorado Springs Utilities discharges treated wastewater. Depending on what the study finds, the results could point to steps that could be taken to curtail contamination.

David Mau, supervisory hydrologist in the Geological Survey's Pueblo office, said hundreds of samples from a 12-mile reach above and through Manitou are under the microscope in the $450,000 study. "From Manitou down to the confluence (with Monument Creek), we're seeing generally a higher concentration than above Manitou Springs," Mau said, "and that's probably a population-based issue." Determining the source as human or animal will help officials locate and mitigate causes -- leaking septic tanks, corroded sewer lines, herds of cattle, pet waste. "If this is successful, our goal is to use this methodology throughout the Fountain Creek Watershed, and that would help us identify source areas of fecal contamination," Mau said...

Although there's been no report of anyone getting sick, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports no waterborne outbreaks in Colorado since 1996, Cowan said his department hears anecdotes occasionally. "Our data shows a pattern that E. coli levels rise in late spring, May or June, peak in August and crash back down in September and October," he said, adding spring and summer rains tend to wash contaminants into the creek. "The pattern we see in our data is the same every year." When the levels are highest, the water exceeds the state's recreation contact standard of 235 colony forming units per 100 milliliters of water, meaning it's not safe to be in the water. "At that level, eight people in 1,000 would become ill who are exposed," Cowan said. Cowan said 40 percent of streams tested in the United States show similar problems. "There has been E. coli in the creek as long as there's been animals. Most likely this pattern is a natural pattern," he said, although perhaps not at the high levels recorded in recent years...

Although E. coli is a concern, Fountain Creek's water has actually improved in some areas, said Rich Muzzy, who oversees environmental matters for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. Those include lower levels of ammonia and some metals, which he attributed to improved water treatment processes used by the 12 facilities that discharge into the creek and its tributaries. Another indicator is enforcement actions. Besides six levied against Utilities, the state has issued only two since 2005 -- both against Security Sanitation District for elevated mercury levels. However, it might be expected that Utilities would have the highest number of enforcement actions, considering it's responsible for 87 percent of the legal discharges into the creek...

Mitchell, Utilities' water treatment manager, said the city is committed to meeting every requirement because the stakes are so high. "We're all focusing on the same thing, and that's public health and safety," he said. That's why Utilities welcomes the results of the E. coli study, due in 2008 and 2009, he said. "As one responsible for wastewater facilities," Mitchell said, "yes, I am concerned with the health of our streams."

Escherichia coli, or E. coli, causes an estimated 73,480 illnesses each year in the United States, leading to about 2,168 hospitalizations and 61 deaths annually. Based on research on cases reported from 1982 to 2002, transmission routes were:

- Food-borne, 52 percent (of those, 41 percent were from ground beef and 21 percent from produce)
- Person to person, 14 percent
- Waterborne, 9 percent
- Animal contact, 3 percent c Lab-related, 1 percent
- Unknown, 21 percent.

E. coli was first recognized as a pathogen in 1982 during an outbreak investigation. It wasn't until 1993, after a large multistate outbreak linked to undercooked ground beef patties sold by a fast-food restaurant chain, that E. coli became broadly recognized as a threatening pathogen. In 1994, E. coli became a nationally notifiable infection, and by 2000, reporting was mandatory in 48 states.

Meanwhile the Fountain Creek Task Force has a couple of meetings planned, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article: "Two meetings are planned this month to bring members of the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force up-to-date about the group's efforts for the past year. The group will meet from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo, and from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Gold Hill Police Station Conference Room, 955 W. Moreno, in Colorado Springs (Exit 141 off Interstate 25). The group will review and vote on top concerns in Fountain Creek."

More Coyote gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:18:07 AM    

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