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 28, 2007

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Here's an update on the $23 billion water package facing President Bush's veto, from The New York Times. From the article:

Democratic leaders in Congress have sent President Bush a veto-proof bill to authorize spending $23 billion in water projects, having waited more than a month to request his signature on a measure he has threatened to veto. Democrats have more than the two-thirds majority votes in both chambers of Congress needed to override Bush if he vetoes the bill. The Senate passed it on Sept. 24 by a vote of 81-12; the House passed it Aug. 1 by a vote of 381-40. An override would mark the first such loss for Bush and could cast him in a more politically vulnerable light.

''This congressionally approved bill authorizes more than 200 projects to protect lives and livelihoods in our communities from the devastating impacts of flooding by building and repairing floodwalls and levees, as well as by restoring wetlands that absorb floodwaters,'' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and four other top House Democrats wrote Bush in a letter Friday urging him to sign the bill they sent to him on Tuesday.

The bill funds work to restore the hurricane-ravaged Louisiana coast and Florida's Everglades, projects the Bush administration supports. But the president threatened a veto after the bill's anticipated cost ballooned by $9 billion as projects were added in negotiations between the House and Senate.

The legislation authorizes $3.6 billion for major wetlands and other coastal restoration, flood control and dredging projects for Louisiana, a state where coastal erosion and storms have resulted in the disappearance of huge areas of land.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

8:26:11 AM    

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Just when you thought that endocrine disruptors were all you needed to worry about in your water supplies perchlorate shows up in the water of 250,000 toddlers across the country, notably in water from the Colorado River, according to Associated Content. From the article:

At least a quarter-million American one-year-olds are taking in unhealthy levels of rocket fuel with the food and water they drink, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). By analyzing food testing data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the EWG found that about 1 in every 16 one-year-olds in the country is exposed to levels of perchlorate, the explosive ingredient in solid rocket fuel, higher than the government's safety limits.

How does an ingredient in rocket fuel end up in food and water? While some perchlorate can occur naturally, the rest enters food and water supplies via contaminated farm irrigation water. Much of the nation's perchlorate-tainted water comes from the Colorado River, which flows near a defense industry contractor site close to Las Vegas. However, perchlorate has also been found in tap water in 28 states, according to the latest tests reported by the Government Accountability Office in 2005.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2006 found that exposure to perchlorate in levels lower than those deemed safe by the government significantly lowered thyroid hormone levels in many women. Pregnant women exposed to perchlorate might therefore have reduce hormone levels that affect their fetus' healthy development. Furthermore, it's unknown how much direct perchlorate exposure might interfere with toddlers' health, according to the EWG.

The EWG blames defense industry pressure for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) failure so far to establish safety standards for perchlorate in tap water. While the EPA sets a general safe exposure limit of 0.7 micrograms of perchlorate per kilogram of body weight per day, the agency this April decided to indefinitely put off development of safe limits for tap water...

Two states -- California and Massachusetts -- have already established their own standards for safe levels of perchlorate in tap water. And a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote shortly on a bill that would require the EPA to set a similar federal standard.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

7:54:47 AM    

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In-stream residents of the San Juan River are doing backflips after last week's State Supreme Court ruling that sends the decree for the Dry Gulch Reservoir back to water court. Here's an article about the ruling from The Denver Post. They write:

Trout Unlimited recently won a major victory in the broad realm of in-stream flow protection when the Colorado Supreme Court clamped legal limitations on the ability of water providers to divert water toward future population growth. The suit concerned a 2004 application filed jointly by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and the San Juan Water Conservancy District for conditional water rights for Dry Gulch Reservoir and pump station. The reservoir would store 35,000 acre feet of water obtained by pumping 200 cubic feet per second from the San Juan River to serve population growth in Archuleta County through the year 2100. TU challenged the application, claiming the diversion would significantly impact the river's flow. As often is the case, the water court ruled for the developer. TU appealed on grounds that the water was being claimed for speculative purposes. The Supreme Court reversed the decision and remanded the case, instructing the water court to reevaluate the districts' future water needs.

Drew Peternell, TU's attorney, hailed the ruling for its broader implication. "It establishes a precedent throughout Colorado that municipal water providers cannot claim water rights for which they do not have a demonstrable need," Peternell said. "This decision is especially significant in the fact that the Supreme Court recognized the potential of water conservation as a means of limiting water demand." Several of the state's largest municipal providers filed briefs in support of the Pagosa bid, arguing that cities should be afforded broad deference in appropriating water rights. The court rejected that argument.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

7:41:01 AM    

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From The Boulder Daily Camera, "The Keep It Clean partnership, a regional stormwater quality management and water conservation program, received the first Colorado Facilitator Leadership Award for its involvement in Project WILD, Project Water Education for Teachers and Project Learning Tree. These environmental education projects are funded by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Colorado State Forest Service and the Colorado Watershed Network. Keep It Clean earned the award for its involvement in the annual Get to Know Your H2O teacher workshop, where about 20 teachers attended a two-day workshop to learn about local water resources and tools for teaching about the importance of water conservation."

Category: Colorado Water

7:32:16 AM    

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Last year at this time we water nuts were learning about Aaron Million's plans for a proposed pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Front Range. The project was on track, we thought, and just a few billion away from turning over dirt. What a difference a year makes. Million's plans have stirred up opposition, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Major water interests in Colorado are trying to put the brakes on a plan to bring a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir across Wyoming to Colorado's Front Range. Aaron Million, who developed a theory to use the water for Colorado as a graduate student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is applying for a 165,000-acre-foot allocation from Flaming Gorge through the Bureau of Reclamation. He wants to move the water to thirsty Front Range communities through a 400-mile pipeline along the Interstate 80 utilities corridor to serve communities in Colorado. Million said the water could help fulfill development of Colorado's entitlement under the Colorado River Compact. The claim is based on the Green River, which flows below Flaming Gorge through Utah, but briefly enters and leaves Colorado near Dinosaur National Monument...

Million is displeased by the reaction of state water users to his project, saying they are protecting territorial interests, rather than looking for statewide solutions. "These guys need to stand up like men and stop going around behind the scenes trying to stop this project," Million said. They need to look beyond their salaries and do what's best for the state."[...]

However, with uncertainty about how much water is available in the system, other water users in the state have taken measures to oppose, or at least stall, Million's project. The first protest came in July from the Colorado River Conservation District, an association of Western Slope counties formed in 1937. The district wrote the Bureau of Reclamation in opposition of Million's contract, pending the completion of several studies, including: a study of water availability by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, authorized under this year's water projects bill and expected to be done in 2009; the needs assessment by four basin roundtables on the Western Slope; completion of the CWCB Statewide Water Supply Initiative analysis of energy needs on the Western Slope; agreement of priority and curtailment criteria; and federal evaluation of water availability at Flaming Gorge. The Colorado District's letter, signed by General Manager Eric Kuhn, also stated, however: "In considering the project proposed by Mr. Million, the board (specifically) recognized and acknowledged that it minimized adverse impacts to stream flows in the headwaters of the Colorado River basin."

A second letter followed in August from Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is investigating a transbasin pipeline from the Yampa River. The letter was written in conjunction with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Denver Water, Aurora, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works...

The group, a roster of the state's largest municipal water interests, has common interests in the diversion of water from the Colorado River basin to the Front Range.

The letter raised three concerns about Million's contract:

- The contract should not diminish flows available to the Upper Basin states to meet compact obligations.
- The states affected by the contract need to agree on how the contract would be administered in a shortage.
- The project is speculative because it does not identify who would put the water to beneficial use.

Flaming Gorge is subject to the effects of drought, like other reservoirs, but has generally remained above 3 million acre-feet since it filled in the early 1970s. It dropped to about 2 million acre-feet in 1977, taking several years to recover, and to about 2.5 million acre-feet in 2002. Despite below-average inflows the past few years, it is slightly above 3 million acre-feet this year...

"What we're talking about is the last increment, whether it's Aaron Million's project or the Yampa pump-back," said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River district. "No one can say what [how much water is left in the system] that last increment is." The Colorado River District earlier this month cautioned the state against developing curtailment rules on the Colorado River until the Western Slope water availability study is complete...

Million's request for a contract protects the Green River and has been scaled back to accommodate the Northern district's Yampa project. "There's zero risk to the hydrology," Million said. Million said his project and the state's study of water availability can move ahead at the same time. "That's great, but the state needs to continue to move forward at the same time," Million said. "The work has been done before. What they want us to do is wait. But if we don't move forward, there will be increasing imports, increasing costs and agriculture will continue being eliminated. Our construction can be two to two-and-a-half years away." Besides making new storage available to Colorado, the Flaming Gorge plan would take advantage of a different watershed with different weather patterns - the same theory argued when water users began transmountain projects, Million said. "Putting these kinds of restraints on water resources is only going to exacerbate pressures on Colorado water," Million said. "The best thing the state can do right now is to become proponents of bringing new water into the state."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Speaking of the Green River, Colorado River and dams and pipelines, here's a long essay about the conflicts over damming the Green River and the subsequent loss of Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, from Out of Bounds. Read the whole thing, here's a short excerpt:

These days the Bureau of Reclamation is a broken and dysfunctional agency, a mere outlier in the vast labyrinth of the Department of the Interior. But back in its heyday of the 1940s and 1950s, the Bureau was a titanic force, perhaps the most powerful government agency in the Western States. It was the epicenter of the dam-industrial complex: promising cheap hydropower, irrigation, drinking water for expanding cities, water playgrounds, and industrial jobs. Exploiting Cold War anxieties, the Bureau presented itself as internal bulwark against the Communist Peril-even though most American Communists, such as Woody Guthrie, applauded its plan to dam nearly every Western river. In fact, the Bureau of Reclamation is the most Stalinist of federal agencies, cleaving closely to the masterplan of Old Joe who dictated to Soviet dam-builders: "No river should ever reach the sea."

The Bureau's leaders, men like Mike Strauss and the infamous Floyd Dominy, were as arrogant as defense contractors in the early days of the Iraq war. Everything was going their way. They steamrolled internal opposition, like that offered by Park Service chief Newton Drury, vilified conservationists as starry-eyed patsies and intimidated members of Congress who had the temerity to question any of the outrageously priced line items in their budget requests.

The Bureau drilled a tunnel through Rocky Mountain National Park for the Big Thompson water diversion. They built a dam across the Snake River in Jackson Hole National Monument at Grand Teton. They had no qualms about proposing dams in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. They didn't have the slightest clue that they were about to be coldcocked over their plans for two dams in a remote national monument that almost no one, including the leadership of the Sierra Club, had ever heard of, never mind visited.

The year 1946 was a fateful one for the rivers and canyons of the Colorado Plateau. FDR was dead. His Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, who wanted to designate most of the canyon country of Utah as a huge national park larger than Yellowstone, had been rudely dismissed from office by Harry Truman. The world war was over, the Cold War heating up.

Enter Mike Strauss, the new head of the Bureau of Reclamation. Unlike the previous commissioners, Strauss was a deal-making politician, not an engineer. Under Strauss's direction, the Bureau published its document of doom, a study titled The Colorado River: A Natural Menace Becomes a Natural Resource. The book was nothing less than a death warrant for the Green, Colorado and San Juan rivers. It targeted 136 potential dam sites and envisioned a dam project or water diversion scheme in nearly every canyon and tributary on the Colorado Plateau. Central to the plan were four big main-stem dams: Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, Bridge Canyon on the western flank of Grand Canyon National Park and at Echo Park, where the Yampa River meets the Green in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument.

Category: Colorado Water

7:22:50 AM    

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Many are looking to push geothermal energy for its extremely low carbon footprint and abundance. Here's a look at the potential from The Denver Post. From the article:

Proponents see it as a near-perfect source of clean energy with virtually no carbon emissions. The resource is abundant, renewable and gentler on the environment than fossil fuels. Still, geothermal energy has its own unknowns and limitations. Colorado is reported to have one of the nation's larger geothermal resources, thanks to geologic formations that allow Earth's molten core to work its way closer to the surface. The state's abundance of hot springs is the most visible evidence of the phenomenon. Experts say that within the next decade, Colorado is likely to become the site of electric power plants that use geothermal steam, effectively harnessing the energy of underground Old Faithfuls.

Yet even today, homeowners and businesses are taking advantage of "geoexchange" systems that use the soil's constant year-round temperature to cool buildings in the summer and heat them in the winter. Geoexchange employs a loop of pipes buried a few feet underground, filled with a solution of water and antifreeze. After circulating below the surface, the fluid is sent through a heat exchanger to deliver either warm or cool air. The residential systems carry typical costs of $10,000 to $20,000, making them relatively expensive when compared with conventional heating and cooling using natural gas and electricity. But if fossil-fuel prices rise - considered likely by many analysts - geoexchange becomes cost-effective. The Delta-Montrose Electric Association has been a particularly big proponent of geoexchange, helping customers install about 600 mostly residential systems...

But like other renewable-energy sources such as wind and solar, geothermal has limitations and unknowns that leave it short of becoming a clean-energy panacea. Preliminary studies of Colorado's geothermal resources by state and federal agencies have provided only a partial picture - not enough solid data for power-plant developers. Mapping the resource more completely will require expensive drilling tests and time-consuming analysis. In addition, developers would need to link prospective plants with high- voltage transmission lines - at a cost of $1 million or more per mile. Experts peg the average cost of building geothermal power plants at about $4 million per megawatt. That's more than twice the cost of the estimated $1.7 million per megawatt that Xcel is spending to build its 750-megawatt Comanche coal-fired plant near Pueblo. One megawatt supplies about 1,000 homes. Supporters note, however, that coal-fired power faces future costs if carbon emissions are taxed or regulated. The U.S. Department of Energy has calculated that geothermal power emits less than one-tenth the carbon dioxide of coal-fired electricity. Until power plants take off, Colorado's chief use of geothermal will be hot springs and the heat that can be captured from them, and small-scale geoexchange systems.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

7:00:15 AM    

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