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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Thursday, December 11, 2008

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Here's a gushing recommendation for President-elect Obama to choose Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) to lead the Department of Interior, from Roberto Lovato writing in the Huffington Post. From the article:

Of all the candidates being vetted by the Obama transition team for this complex and challenging responsibility, none can match the unique qualifications of Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Grijalva, who was the leading voice denouncing this week's most recent giveaway to mining companies by the Bush Administration, will bring urgently needed balance and poise to a federal land management bureaucracy that has pushed we the people into dangerous disequilibrium with the land we live on- and love. Appointing Grijalva, who was elected Co-Chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will also bring more and much-needed political balance to the Obama cabinet than some of the Republican-lite Democrats also being considered for the DOI post like California Blue Dog Democrat, Mike Thompson.

Like almost all of the previous Secretaries of the Interior, Grijalva hails from the West, more specifically Arizona, where his 7th Congressional district seat has provided him with the kind of experience and leadership we will need in a DOI Secretary.

Grijalva's willingness to reverse the values and practices instituted by the Bush Administration's Department of the Interior are well-illustrated by his leadership of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the 110th Congress. Most recently, he spearheaded efforts to stop the planned re-mining of the Black Mesa, located in northern Arizona. In a recent letter to current DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Grijalva called on the Bush Administration to restore some semblance of the natural balance between the diverse interests DOI must manage: "Mining at Black Mesa has caused springs on Hopi lands to dry up and jeopardized the sole source of drinking water for many Hopis and Navajos."

This same will to balance informs the National Landscape Conservation System, and the Environment Congressional Task Force Co-Chair Grijalva's efforts to craft urgently needed legislation to reform the very outdated General Mining Law of 1872. Environmentalists, scientists and other advocates believe this law must be changed if the wilderness of the west and of our national parks, forests and public lands systems are to return to sustainability. Such actions have secured very strong support for Grijalva's DOI bid from environmental, scientific and other groups, including the National Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees and the U.S. Humane Society, to name a few. A letter to President-elect Obama in support of Grijalva was signed by more than 50 prominent scholars specializing in biology, conservation and other disciplines. In the letter, the scholars called him a "broad thinker" and praised the Congressman's "Report on the Bush Administration Assault on Our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands" as the work of "someone who understands and values science."

No less effusive are the statements of support Grijalva is receiving from Native American leaders like Ned Norris, who as tribal Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation-one of 7 tribes in Grijalva's district- says he has "enjoyed an extensive and extremely positive relationship with the Congressman for many years." Asked what appeals most to tribes like his about a possibility of a Grijalva-led DOI, Norris answered "He has a deep understanding of and respect for relationship between tribes and U.S. government." Norris also pointed to the Congressman's sophistication and success in settling a 30 year-old water and resource dispute between the Tahono O'odham tribe and the federal government.

New West:.

According to the Associated Press, the short list for Interior includes: Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. and John Berry, National Zoo director, former executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
7:00:39 PM    

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The town of Grand Lake is opposed to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District's proposed Windy Gap firming project, according to Tonya Bina writing in the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

The health of Grand Lake and possible financial setbacks that could result from deterioration of the lake's water quality were listed among main reasons why the Northern Colorado Conservancy District municipal subdistrict should think thrice about diverting more river water out of Grand County, according to the Town of Grand Lake. Taking a stand on the draft environmental impact statement of the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project in a three-page letter to Will Tully of the Bureau of Reclamation, Grand Lake officials pointed out that no consideration was given in the draft EIS to tourist spending and impacts on the tourism industry from increased water diversions through Grand Lake. Grand Lake also touched on the degradation of Colorado's largest natural lake since the start of Colorado Big-Thompson Project pumping, listing decreased clarity, blue-green algae and microcystin toxin scares, and the latest this last summer, the invasion of zebra and quagga mussels.

With an overhaul of the town's storm sewer filtration system, a new town street sweeper for decreased sediment runoff and beach drainage improvements, the town estimates its 469 residents are bearing the burden of $625 each in taxes "towards Grand Lake quality in a matter of two years."

Grand Lake's letter to the Bureau submits that if the Bureau, thereby Northern Water, were to consider an alternative to pumping through Grand Lake by bypassing the lake altogether with a new piping system at a 2006 engineering cost-estimate of $14 million to $60 million (bypassing either Grand Lake only or Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake), Colorado Big-Thompson water users might incur a per capita cost of $19 to $80 each, "compared to the $625 that each Grand Lake resident will pay in the years of 2008-2009." "It seems like a very fair compromise to make since it would address both past transgressions and the proposal at hand," Grand Lake's letter states. The letter is signed by Mayor Judy Burke.

Grand Lake also calls for more water conservation measures by Front Range communities and utilities as well as replacement of aged infrastructure that may be creating water losses. Gray water reuse, xeriscaping, regulation against Kentucky bluegrass and thirsty non-native vegetation and encouragement of citizen conservation also did not go without mention.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:46:57 PM    

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Here's an update on the Brush source water protection plan, from Jesse Chaney writing in the Fort Morgan Times. From the article:

As a newly formed steering committee looked over the final action plan to protect the source water area in Brush, members agreed that public education should be a key component of their strategy. The protection area south of Brush is the sole source of water for the city, said Brush Assistant Administrator Karen Schminke during the final planning team meeting Monday...

Brush-area landowner Curt Weitzel said many property owners in the protection area are already good stewards of the land, but unfortunately some are not...

Brush Water Foreman Don Marymee said the committee can protect the city's source water only through helping landowners understand the importance of protecting their property in the protection area. The committee members agreed that imposing regulations on the area landowners would not be the best tactic for protecting the area. As the committee begins working with area landowners, Schminke said, members should be sure to recognize the importance of the local agricultural industries.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:31:17 PM    

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Here's a recap of this week's meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable from Chris Woodka writing in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Arkansas River basin water users should develop a common vision to present to the rest of the state, even as the state works on its own vision of the future, members of the basin roundtable agreed on Wednesday. Meeting in a workshop attended by about 30 of the 50 members of the roundtable, the group talked about the ongoing process started by Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Harris Sherman last year. Sherman wants the Interbasin Compact Committee - the umbrella group for nine basin roundtables - to develop a 50-year vision, goals and strategies. The IBCC meetings on the topics have ranged from polite sharing of opinion to virtual free-for-alls, and the Arkansas Basin members of the group think it's time for constructive action. They'll take that message to the next IBCC meeting Friday in Lakewood.

"I think some people want to jump ahead to projects without strategies," said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and an IBCC member. Winner said the strategies have to come from the roundtables, as intended in the 2005 legislation. He presented his concept of how strategies might be developed. "You have to have measurable results," Winner said...

Wayne Vanderschuere, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive serving as a governor's appointee on the IBCC, said the IBCC is struggling with the question of how to manage a finite resource and is looking at providing the roundtables scenarios to discuss. Winner said the roundtables need to bring their ideas to the state, however. "This is supposed to be grass-roots, from the bottom up, not the top down," Winner said...

Water imports: The roundtable heard presentations from Dave Miller on his plan for a Gunnison basin reservoir that would serve the state's major river basins and on a plan called the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, which being formed by Denver suburbs to investigate a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to the Front Range - first suggested by Aaron Million. The roundtable asked the IBCC members to set up a presentation by Western Slope IBCC members for February if possible.

Transfers report: The roundtable discussed how its transfers report - a matrix of conditions to be considered in water deals - should be shared. Attitudes on the roundtable range from making the document voluntary to attaching it to either state legislation or county regulations. "The ways to implement it are most important, but we also need feedback," said Lawrence Sena, Las Animas mayor and chairman of the committee that prepared the report.

Agricultural impacts: Tom Brubaker advocated viewing water rights as a property right and said it's not the place for any outside group to impose conditions. Danielson said growing more valuable crops on smaller acreages could be the key to freeing up water that will be needed for growth. Brown said farmland should be preserved for future generations. Tom Young, a Fremont County rancher, said Western Slope agriculture uses two to three times as much water on crops compared to the Arkansas Valley.

Urban water use: Gary Barber, of the El Paso County Water Authority and roundtable chairman, said he wants to know how much conservation is expected of cities, saying some areas on the Front Range are supporting three or four households on an acre-foot of water. Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, said the state needs to be pushed to complete studies on water availability in light of the Colorado River Compact and how the state would manage a call from downstream states. Tom Piltingsrud, Florence city manager, said water quality issues for both water supply and wastewater could affect future water availability.

Category: Colorado Water
6:44:58 AM    

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Yesterday the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was unanimous in approving revamped regulations for oil and gas exploration and production. The new rules give the state more leeway with respect to environmental and wildlife impacts. Proponents are crediting Governor Ritter for pushing the regs. Here's a report from the Rocky Mountain News. From the article:

State regulators on Wednesday approved a mammoth overhaul of rules guiding oil and gas extraction, the culmination of a 16-month effort designed to protect Colorado's prized environment from what has been a booming industry. The eight-member Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission unanimously voted to accept the new rules over objections from energy companies and some lawmakers who fear tougher oversight will drive away jobs and harm an industry already scaling back its activities amid the recession and a plunge in fossil fuels prices...

The rules "give Colorado a modern, 21st century framework to better protect Colorado's residents, water and wildlife...while also allowing one of our most important industries to thrive," said Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer. "The commission should be congratulated for successfully completing such an important task." The regulations cover a vast array of activities. They include guidelines on how the industry reports its toxic chemicals, on how far wells can be drilled from drinking water supplies and homes, on pollution linked to pits containing drilling wastes and on steps to reduce impacts on wildlife.

But passage of the rules came under immediate fire from some statehouse Republicans in drilling-heavy regions who warned they would get extensive legislative scrutiny in the upcoming session. "We need to make sure the rules have the full and fair hearing they deserve," Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said in a statement. "These rules have to be a part of the lawmaking process and should be subject to the approval of the elected representatives of the people."

Industry critics, led by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, have hinted that they may mount a legal challenge to the new rules. "These rules just make Colorado more difficult to do business in, and it will cost more jobs," said COGA counsel Ken Wonstolen. "They are subject to appeal, and the whole package is unprecedented." Wonstolen noted that Colorado lost eight drilling rigs this month, while New Mexico picked up two and Wyoming picked up three. [ed. critics have forgotten that New Mexico and Wyoming both charge higher severance taxes than Colorado.] But others in industry say drilling slowdowns in Colorado and elsewhere are much more closely tied to a sinking economy and a collapse of natural gas and oil prices.

By mid-2007, the new commission began drafting new rules that took into account drilling's myriad environmental impacts. Since then, industry has criticized the process, saying energy companies didn't have enough input. But regulators have countered that they incorporated ideas and criticism from interests across the spectrum. And on Wednesday, even commissioners more supportive of industry views voted to pass the rules. "It was a difficult choice," said Mark Cutright, who voted for the package even though he opposed many of the rules. He did it, he said, "to move these rules to the next step for legislative review and perhaps a review in the courts if parties choose to litigate."

"We have labored mightily," said Jim Martin, head of the state health department and a member of the commission. The rules "provide the kind of balance between oil and gas production and the environment and public health that the legislature told us to do." he said.

Here's a short article about the newly revamped rules for development and production of oil and gas approved this week by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. From the article:

* Wildlife restrictions

Initial draft version: Restrict drilling during certain times of the year to protect wildlife habitats, but operators can bypass by consulting with the state Division of Wildlife, coming up with comprehensive drilling plans or restricting development.

Final version: No timing restrictions. Companies instead should pursue consultation with state wildlife officials or a comprehensive drilling plan in wildlife-sensitive areas.

Reaction: The oil and gas industry says the Division of Wildlife still could recommend timing restrictions on drilling. Also, in case a landowner does not consent to the proposed wildlife conditions, a permit could be withheld by the director of the Oil and Gas Commission - an authority that, the industry says, the director doesn't have under current laws.

* Drilling pit restrictions

Initial draft version: Requires permits for drilling pits that hold water produced from gas wells. The pits should be constructed in a way to prevent adverse environmental effects to air, water, soil or biological resources.

Final version: Requires a variance for pits that contain water produced from gas wells. To get a variance, an operator must prove the pits won't have any adverse effect to air, water, soil or biological resources.

Reaction: The final version is a step backward from the draft version, said industry counsel Ken Wonstolen.

It's kind of hard to tell where where Jim Spehar stands on the issue. Here's the link to his opinion piece in the Grand Junction Free Press titled, "Let the whining begin."

Update From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

A spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said rules adopted Dec. 10 will make Colorado "the most challenging state in the nation for the natural gas and oil industry to conduct business."

John Swartout said the new drilling regulations adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will hurt the oil and gas industry and threaten the state's shaky economy.

"Not only is today a disappointing day for Colorado's No. 1 economic contributor, it is a sad day for Colorado's economic well-being," Swartout said in a Dec. 10 statement. "The COGCC commissioners approved rules that create the most expensive, time-consuming and burdensome regulatory environment in the nation at a time when Colorado should be fighting to keep jobs."

Swartout said the new rules will make drilling for natural gas and oil tougher. "Particularly during these uncertain economic times, Colorado's oil and gas industry needs a stable regulatory environment to thrive and today what the COGCC commissioners approved were rules that create uncertainty and instability."

Category: Climate Change News
6:24:45 AM    

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We spotted a mention of one of the candidates on the short list to lead Interior under President Obama -- U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona -- in this short article from the News (Dennis Myers):

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management released a hastily drafted regulation that seeks to end the authority of two congressional committees under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to block future uranium mining and exploration on sensitive public lands.

FLPMA was last used in June to prohibit new mining claims on more than a million acres in the Grand Canyon region for up to three years. There is a legitimate case to be made against the congressional authority, over whether Congress is exercising executive power, but instead of challenging it in court, the Bush administration is simply disobeying the law.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona said, "This last-minute change puts at risk the health of millions of citizens of the West who rely on the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon for their drinking water supply, as well as visitors to the Park and tribal communities within and around the Grand Canyon."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:16:22 AM    

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