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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Project Healing Waters

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Reilly Capps): "Telluride's famous waterfall opens to ice climbers Friday, now that a deal has been completed between the county, a private land trust and the mining company that owns the land around the waterfall.

"Ice climbers will be able to access Bridal Veil Falls, a 365 foot column of water that gushes in the summer and, in winter, makes avid ice climbers gush."

Category: Colorado Water
8:34:32 PM    

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Here's a look at Windsor's deliberations over Powertech's proposed uranium mining project -- Centennial Project -- up in Weld County, from Ashley Keesis-Wood writing for the Windsor Beacon. From the article:

They listened and asked questions, but Windsor Town Board members made no decisions Monday about their stance on the proposed uranium mine near Nunn. A presentation was held at the Windsor Community Recreation Center Monday evening with presenters from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, PowerTech Uranium Corp., the company who is planning the mine, and Citizens Against Resource Destruction, an opposition group...

The board has been asked repeatedly by residents over the last two years to take up this issue and pass a resolution supporting or objecting to the mine. They decided to take up the issue in August...

PowerTech estimates there are 9.7 million pounds of uranium deposits on the site. If extracted, the State of Colorado could rake in between $2 million and $3 million per year in local and state severance taxes. In addition, PowerTech estimates 100 jobs directly associated with the mining will be created, and between 300-500 secondary jobs. The uranium is shipped in 800-pound drums in a form known as yellow cake, which is about 90 percent powder and 10 percent liquid. "We ship it like that because that lessens the amount of uranium released into the air," Clement said.

Board member Jon Slater was curious about contamination. "How much of a problem is there?" he asked. Clement said the laws enacted in the U.S. mean contamination risks are very low.

Once the uranium has been extracted and to clean up the site, PowerTech will reverse its uranium extraction process and pump water back into the ground. The Centennial Project is located in the Fox Hills water aquifer, which is part of the larger Denver Basin aquifer. Denver Basin is a nonrenewable source of groundwater for municipal, agricultural, industrial and domestic use along the Front Range. The potential for contamination of the aquifer was one major concern for CARD Monday night. "At other sites, there has been a significant increase in radioactivity in the wells even after the site has been reclaimed," said CARD representative Jay Davis. "The wells have been impossible to use, and some scientists believe the water sources are impossible to restore."

Board member Michael Kelly was curious about the current state of the water in the wells. "How drinkable and usable is it now?" he asked. Davis said the wells in the area are being used for residential, livestock and agricultural purposes. In addition, CARD expressed concern that uranium, which begins emitting radiation once it is exposed to oxygen (which is present in water as well as air) and decays into radium, will become dangerous to residents of the area.

"Uranium is not dangerous unless ingested in large amounts, because it can't penetrate skin," said CARD member Dr. Ami Wangeline, "but it decays to radium, which can penetrate skin, and then decays further to radon gas." Radium causes damage at the cellular level and is of particular concern to those with weak immune systems, including children, the elderly and those with chronic health problems. Once inside the cells, radium causes mutations. Those mutations become cancerous tumors unless they are caught by the body's immune system. Any exposure to radiation can cause a cancerous mutation. "That's why there is no safe amount of exposure," Wangeline said. Wangeline, whose Ph.D. is in biology, is also very concerned about the other heavy metals that could be released along with uranium during the mining process. "Other heavy metals, including selenium, arsenic, molybdenum, lead and cadmium are found along with uranium," she said. Selenium, which exists in all humans in a small amount to help prevent deterioration of the heart muscle, is highly toxic in larger doses to humans and livestock. And some plants can absorb large amounts of selenium, creating a potentially life-threatening scenario. Wangeline said the process used to remove the uranium would undo what took hundreds of thousands of years to do: embed the uranium in the rock, and once it's done, it can't be undone.

CARD also listed several agencies that have set themselves in opposition to the proposed uranium mine, including the cities of Fort Collins and Greeley, the towns of Timnath and Ault and the Colorado Medical Society. Clement assured the town board that uranium mines are closely overseen by the state's DRMS. "We must be closely attuned to what is happening on each of our uranium sites," Clement said. "We exercise great care."

The board gave no indication of when and if they would pick up the topic again.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Climate Change News
7:33:45 PM    

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From the editorial staff of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Back in 2005 when, as part of the Energy Policy Act, Congress decided that hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas deposits should be exempt from the provisions of the Safe Water Drinking Act, the legislation won bipartisan support, though far more Republicans voted for the measure than Democrats. Now, with Democrats firmly in control of both houses of Congress, as well as the White House, congressional leaders are rethinking that exemption. We believe that's entirely appropriate.

It isn't just the political arithmetic that's changed, however. For one thing, the success of hydraulic fracturing -- often called "fraccing" -- has opened up new areas of the country to drilling.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

7:16:49 PM    

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Here's a update on Fremont County's permitting process with respect to Colorado Springs proposed Southern Delivery System, from Chris Woodka writing in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Fremont County planners want to take a little more time to contemplate the good and bad things that could happen if a pipeline proposed by Colorado Springs goes through their jurisdiction rather than Pueblo County. The planning commission, which will make a recommendation to Fremont County commissioners on whether to issue a special use permit to the Southern Delivery System, met with Colorado Springs Utilities officials for the first time Tuesday, but tabled its decision for at least 40 days on a 6-1 vote. The proposition put to them by Bruce McCormick, chief water services officer for Colorado Springs, was simple: "If we are unable to get a permit with acceptable conditions in Pueblo County, we have the Highway 115 route as our next best alternative."

But after wrestling with uncertainty of their own authority, hearing comments from members of the public urging caution, and approaching complicated issues like water rights or mitigation, the planning commission decided it needs more time to come up with a recommendation. There were keen observers from Pueblo County looking on, and even offering some advice to Fremont County. "Think of only one thing: how the land-use rights and property rights of Fremont County will be affected," Dan Kogovsek, Pueblo County attorney, told the planning commission. "If they take 78 million gallons a day of water from the Arkansas River, that is going to affect the property rights of people in Fremont County."[...]

While Fremont County staff put 17 conditions and four contingencies on the project, commission members weren't sure the county would fully benefit. "Is this going to be a project that roars through Fremont County with no benefits?" asked Mike Schnobrich. He said the county should look at things like water lines to the airport or improving Penrose-area ditches. McCormick said Colorado Springs would welcome partners, but was not prepared to offer specifics. Dennis Jones, a former Fremont County commissioner who has been critical of SDS, suggested Fremont County make a permit contingent on the inability to get a Pueblo County permit. At the very least, Fremont County should insist Colorado Springs pay for a U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge at the point of diversion.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:44:36 AM    

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Here's a report on the snowpack down in the Rio Grande Watershed, from Ruth Heide writing in the Valley Courier. From the article:

San Luis Valley water experts are dreaming of a white Christmas ... and New Year's and Valentine's Day and Easter and ... They are hoping that today will be a rerun of last December 3 when the snow started falling and did not quit until spring. However, the weather predictions are not very certain as to whether this winter will be dry or moist, and only time will truly tell. "Snowpack is lagging pretty badly," Patrick McDermott of the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division III office said on Tuesday. "We saw unbelievable snowfall in December, January and February last winter."[...]

McDermott said the Valley really needs snowfall through the entire winter to provide a good runoff. In fact, he said late snow might be more important to the Rio Grande Basin than early snow, as the 2007 water year could attest. That year the basin experienced a better runoff than 2008 because of the late snowfalls. "Right now we have a similar situation as last year. We don't have much snow up there," McDermott said. The snowpack on the Upper Rio Grande is currently 39 percent of normal while the snowpack on the Sangre de Cristo side is 51 percent of normal...

He said the good news is that the Rio Grande Compact is right on target on the Conejos system and will likely over deliver somewhat on the Rio Grande. The goal is to deliver exactly what is required to meet the compact obligation but not a great deal more, McDermott explained, because it is more beneficial to the basin to keep the water here than to send it into Elephant Butte storage in New Mexico where as much as 15 percent can be lost to evaporation. "Many of our ditches continued to run this fall for recharge purposes," McDermott said. He said about 12,000 acre feet has already been diverted through these ditches for recharge.

6:38:45 AM    

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From The Hub: "The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership begins a series of forums, Thursday, Dec. 6, on water quality in the Uncompahgre Basin by examining metal contaminants in the upper watershed. The topic of "Land Uses in the Watershed: Mining and Reclamation" is scheduled from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Ridgway Community Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. for refreshments and informal discussion. Camille Price, forum organizer from the state's Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety, said the session will give participants a look at the natural geology of the area, a brief history of mining, the status of mine reclamation in the area, and a snapshot of the current status of water quality in the Uncompahgre's Upper Basin."

Category: Colorado Water
6:31:01 AM    

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