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, December 14, 2008

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Pueblo County is focusing on the effects on Fountain Creek through the county is Colorado Springs builds their proposed Southern Delivery System. Here' a report from Chris Woodka writing in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Environmental groups, landowners and Pueblo's district attorney all concur with a county staff report that concrete, enforceable requirements are needed to prevent further degradation of Fountain Creek and to protect the Arkansas River if the Southern Delivery System goes through Pueblo County...

[Pueblo County] Commission Chairman Anthony Nunez instructed staff last week to begin negotiating specific mitigation measures with Colorado Springs. Those measures likely won't be determined by the next commission meeting on SDS, set for 6 p.m. Dec. 29 at the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center, when commissioners will hear Colorado Springs' rebuttal to staff and public comments. Any specifics are not anticipated to be considered until mid-January, and additional meetings of the Colorado Springs City Council and the commissioners would be needed before final approval, said Kim Headley, county planning director. In addition, commissioners were asked last week to provide a public comment period so county residents could see what Colorado Springs agreed provide to Pueblo County if the pipeline route is approved...

Last week, commissioners heard from landowners who would be affected, labor groups, environmental groups as well as the proponents of the project. They received a presentation of recommended mitigation from county staff, presented by Paul Banks and Alex Schatz of Banks & Gesso. They were even serenaded by Carol McDaniel, who performed a children's song she wrote about saving the environment to enter into the record. Throughout about eight hours of testimony, however, commissioners did not ask a single question of any of the speakers or provide any indication of what actually might be required.

Commissioners this week will consider an intergovernmental agreement with El Paso County that could lead to a special district on Fountain Creek, an area mentioned in many of the comments the county has received so far on Fountain Creek...

The Banks & Gesso report makes numerous recommendations that would tie improvements for Fountain Creek to SDS, and environmental groups and the district attorney agree. The staff report clearly ties erosion, sedimentation and flooding conditions on Fountain Creek to growth in Colorado Springs that would occur if SDS is built. Base flows could increase by more than 47 percent, and impervious surfaces like streets, rooftops and parking lots would make floods worse. The planners suggest requiring millions of dollars in mitigation toward unfunded projects identified by the Army Corps of Engineers, Corridor Master Plan and Vision Task Force. Banks & Gesso also recommended measurement of base load sedimentation and the cost of dredging it to preserve the effectiveness of levees through Pueblo, a project recommended by the Corps, but not funded, and which is not regulated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The consultants also ask the county to require limits on the releases from a proposed exchange reservoir that would be built on Williams Creek, also not restricted by other agencies. The Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition has asked the county to defer approval of a 1041 permit for SDS until the Corps issues a permit under the Clean Water Act. The coalition also repeats its contention that Reclamation's review of water quality impacts was insufficient, saying the potential release of mercury, the impact of flows or reservoir levels on fish, the infestation of noxious weeds, the sufficiency of wastewater treatment plants and cumulative impacts on water supply are not accounted for. The coalition also wants more assurances of Colorado Springs' reuse and recycling efforts...

Ross Vincent, representing the Sangre de Cristo group of the Sierra Club, said the only three ways to enforce Colorado Springs compliance in the future would be with court orders, federal contracts and the county's 1041 regulations. The Sierra Club is suing Colorado Springs in federal court over past sewage spills into Fountain Creek and has also criticized Reclamation's EIS as being too narrow in scope to identify real environmental impacts. Colorado Springs also is still appealing a Pueblo judge's decision that Fountain Creek is part of the 1041 process. The Sierra Club recommended incorporating future court requirements, compliance with state regulations and to provide avenues for remedy of future violations...

District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, who also filed a federal lawsuit over Colorado Springs sewer spills in 2005, recommended conditions that require the city to prevent, account for, contain and pay for monitoring compliance. Thiebaut said adding 78 million gallons of water daily to Colorado Springs and its SDS partners could make problems on Fountain Creek worse.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
8:23:51 AM    

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From the Vail Daily (Dustin Racioppi): "The water treatment plant in Minturn has seen few upgrades in the last 40 years, which could be a testament to the durability and effectiveness of its sand filtration system. But it's also behind the technology curve -- most communites in the county use a state-of-the-art micro filtration system. The town is now taking a serious look at either a major overhaul or complete replacement of not only the plant, but the entire water system."

More from the article:

The system, according to a memo from Public Works Director Rod Cordova, requires more manual labor from his crew than most other plants in the area. Plus, new standards and regulations have increasingly made it more difficult to keep the plant in compliance, the memo added. [Town Manager Gary Suiter] said the entire system is in need of repair or, in some cases, replacement. Pipes and valves leak with regularity. The system isn't looped, which makes isolation difficult when a repair is needed. Last year, the entire town's water supply was cut off for about half a day while public works made repairs, Suiter said. Now Suiter will initiate discussions with engineers and nearby towns to figure out the best option for Minturn, which will most likely involve a capital improvement plan. That in turn will all but guarantee a spike in water rates and fees...

And if there is a new plant in Minturn's future, it's possible it would take up less space and it would reduce labor costs because new systems, like micro-filtration, are mostly automated. Diane Johnson, community relations manager for Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said the district has been pleased with its micro-filtering systems.

Category: Colorado Water
8:06:01 AM    

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Since oil shale has been the "Next Big Thing" around Colorado for over a hundred years conservation groups are hoping that the Obama administration will slow things down a bit on the development side particularly since there is no commercial scale technology available for environmentally safe production yet. Here's a report from Philip Yates writing in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. He writes:

Twenty-one conservation and environmental groups have requested that the incoming Obama administration withdraw recently released commercial oil shale regulations. The groups asked Carol Browner, who heads President-elect Barack Obama's Energy and Environment Policy Working Group and who has been picked to coordinate energy policy from the White House, to withdraw the regulations and review current oil shale policy largely because the research and development program for oil shale extraction "remains in its infancy."

Shell Exploration and Production, Chevron and American Shale Oil collectively hold five 160-acre research and development leases in northwest Colorado. No company has yet submitted any formal proposal to the BLM to begin developing its experimental lease, according to the agency. "A commercial leasing program cannot be properly developed until the results of (the research and development program) are known and analyzed, and this is expected to take more than one decade," the groups' letter said. "As the Department of the Interior readily acknowledges, oil shale development will compromise the region's scarce water supplies, degrade sensitive wildlife habitats, and further impact local communities already suffering degraded air quality because of unprecedented oil and gas drilling."

The Western Colorado Congress, the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the Wilderness Society and Aspen-based EcoFlight were some of the groups that signed the letter, which was sent to Browner earlier this month...

The groups' request to the Obama administration comes as several environmental groups consider launching a possible lawsuit against the federal government for allegedly violating federal law by not allowing the public to protect land use changes that opened 2 million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to potential oil shale development. That decision, along with the release of the regulations, largely clears the way for eventual oil shale leasing. However, that won't come for several years because of additional environmental analysis that must occur, the BLM has said. The regulations, required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, will become effective on Jan. 17, according to the Federal Register.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Climate Change News
7:58:21 AM    

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Here's Part 1 of Bob Berwyn's look at some of the items on conservationists' list of changes they'd like to see in an Obama administration, from the Summit Daily News. From the article:

Conservationists hope that the incoming Obama administration will boost protection for national forest roadless areas and make other changes aimed at conserving natural resources. Some shifts in policy will take time to implement, but in some key areas, the changes could be immediate and dramatic, and will be felt on national forest lands in Summit County, according to Andy Stahl, director of a watchdog group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. The Portland-based organization is comprised of current and former agency employees, and offers cover for whistle-blowers along with closely tracking and analyzing Forest Service policies. Stahl said standard moves during a transition include the immediate suspension of any rule-making processes and the withdrawal of non-finalized rules.

The most sudden changes could affect a contested set of rules for managing inventoried roadless areas, including about 60,000 acres of White River National Forest land in Summit County. A national rule adopted at the end of the Clinton era, as well as a different rule developed by Bush appointees, have both been the subject of back-and-forth battles in federal court. The Clinton rule gives the most stringent protection for roadless areas, based on their importance as watersheds, wildlife habitat and buffers against invasive weeds. "The Obama administration is much more apt to defend the (Clinton) roadless rule," said former Deputy Forest Service Chief Jim Furnish, who helped push the rule during the waning days of the Clinton administration. The Bush rule involved a state-by-state petitioning process. In Colorado, that created allowances for oil and gas extraction, ski-area development and logging...

Stahl said he expects the U.S. Department of Justice to drop support for the Bush rule and vigorously defend the Clinton rule. The change could take effect as soon as Obama's incoming justice department officials sit down at their desks in January, Stahl said, adding that conservation groups already have started lobbying the transition team on key issues...

Under the Bush administration, the Forest Service also adopted regulations that drastically cut public involvement and environmental studies associated with developing national forest plans. Agency officials said the goal was to speed planning and implementation, cut red tape and reduce planning costs, but the change widely was seen as a serious blow to resource protection and public involvement. The planning rule has also been tangled up in court, and was rejected by a federal judge in California last year. Stahl said he can't see the Obama administration defending the Bush rule in court, especially given the unfavorable decision by the federal court in California. Stahl and Furnish said they expect the new administration to reverse course and go back to an earlier version that requires a high level of environmental scrutiny and public participation...

A critical part of the planning rule that was eliminated by the Bush administration involves a requirement that the Forest Service maintain viable populations of species across forests. Stahl said that part of the rule is the linchpin for making sure that the agency develops ecologically sound plans. Several forest plans in Colorado have been caught in the gap between rules. Most recently, the agency issued a draft plan for the Comanche National Grassland in southeastern Colorado that carves out large areas for oil and gas drilling without offering substantial protection for a slew of rare species that live in the remote prairie and canyons...

Obama is on record as supporting domestic energy development; that could leave some of western Colorado's wild areas in the crosshairs. "He's made some statements about aggressively pursuing natural gas development," said local wilderness advocate Currie Craven. "It raises the question of how much understanding there is of western land-use issues in the Obama camp. How much of a change (from Bush) is there really going to be, with regard to extracting fossil fuels?" Much could depend on who runs the agencies at a political level. An undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture is generally responsible for implementing policy, and Stahl said that numerous groups are already lobbying to get certain people appointed to key slots.

Category: Colorado Water
7:45:12 AM    

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Here's a recap of Monday's meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration in Lamar, from Chris Woodka writing in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A wide range of topics that could affect the Arkansas River - power plants, invasive plants and ponds built by farmers or beavers - occupied the attention of the Arkansas River Compact Administration on Monday. The group's engineering committee heard a series of reports detailing issues that have popped up recently along the river or that continue to be of concern to both states. Of top concern were proposed rules by Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe aimed at containing consumptive use to historic levels, as required by the compact, as more farmers improve irrigation systems.

Of particular concern are sprinkler systems fed by ponds, but other efficiency measures such as drip irrigation or canal lining also have the potential to reduce return flows by increasing consumptive use, Wolfe said. "These rules don't change water rights," Wolfe stressed. Kansas and Colorado, the two states in the compact, have agreed to irrigation consumptive use with all systems put in as of 1999. The H-I (Hydrologic-Institutional) model covers the major farming area in the valley along the mainstem of the Arkansas River and well users are already regulated. The growing use of surface systems like sprinklers could alter the balance of that model, however. The state rules, which are expected to hit water court as soon as January 2010 if an advisory committee finishes its work next year, would apply engineering from the model to the major farming area. There are also provisions for individual engineering plans, umbrella plans and general permits outside the area covered by the model...

The state also is working on a basinwide hydrologic model, called a decision support system, Wolfe said. Kansas has promised to comment quickly on the proposed rules, so the Colorado committee can have that input when it meets again in February or March. The state officially received the draft rules about a week ago. "I appreciate the work," said Kansas Engineer David Barfield. "It provides a useful framework and we'll get our comments back to you soon."

An update of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association proposal to change water rights on the Amity Canal to build a power plant was discussed by Eve McDonald, assistant attorney general for Colorado. Tri-State has filed an application to change the use of 20,000 acre-feet of water to build a power plant near Holly and has reached agreement with most objectors in the case, including the state...

A trial is set for Jan. 27 in Division 2 Water Court at Pueblo. Among objectors still in the case, Environment Colorado is disputing use of water from John Martin Reservoir for anything other than agriculture - a position opposed by the state - and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is questioning the adequacy of revegetation plans.

A proposed resolution to combine Kansas and Colorado efforts on fighting tamarisk - an invasive plant that chokes out beneficial species and consumes excessive amounts of water - was presented to the committee by Jean Van Pelt, conservation outreach coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. About 67,000 acres along the Arkansas River and tributaries in Colorado and another 11,000 acres in Kansas are infested by tamarisk, Van Pelt said. She presented the resolution to lend support for a federal grant already being sought jointly by the two states.

More coverage of last week's meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration, from Chris Woodka writing in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Arkansas River Compact Administration reviewed a 23-year U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit that could wind down in about six weeks with a decree. Attorneys General Steve Six of Kansas and John Suthers of Colorado gave oral arguments on the last remaining issue, payment for Kansas expert witnesses last week. John Draper, a Santa Fe, N.M., attorney representing Kansas, said there are two issues still of concern to Kansas:

- Completion of the evaluation of the sufficiency of use rules adopted by Colorado.

- Concern over a decree for the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, which provides replacement flows for wells below John Martin Dam.

The Supreme Court is retaining jurisdiction over aspects of the case where Kansas may dispute how a water model is applied in Colorado. "What we're looking at is to avoid the expansion of use, in other words to see that use is limited to historic use," Draper said. "We're making efforts to resolve these issues." The states are talking among themselves to avoid future litigation, a gradual thaw in relations from once-contentious meetings to productive discussions...

There were several indications at this year's meeting that the two states are working more closely together. The commission adopted a resolution supporting joint efforts to control tamarisk, worked together in drafting Colorado's stipulation in the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association change of use application on the Amity Canal and looked at irrigation consumptive use rules now being proposed in Colorado at this year's meeting. "The rules you're considering adopting are a real concern to Kansas," said David Barfield, Kansas engineer. "But we'd like to not get in the way of improvements that could be valuable in improving water use and water quality."

Kansas was also receptive to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey on water quality in the Arkansas River basin, which were outlined by Pat Edelmann, of the Pueblo USGS office. The USGS, along with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and major water users and conservancy districts in the valley, is doing several studies related to water quality. The CWCB also is developing a decision support system that could help resolve future water conflicts.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
7:28:28 AM    

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