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 17, 2008

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner): "The state engineer's office plans to form an advisory committee to help draft rules governing groundwater withdrawals from the San Luis Valley's shallow aquifer. Though there is no firm timeline, Deputy Engineer Mike Sullivan said he is shooting to have the committee together by January and a set of rules out by summer. Should rules go into place, it would mark the first time groundwater withdrawals from the shallow aquifer have been regulated by the engineer's office. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court signed off on rules regarding the confined aquifer, the deeper of the valley's two major groundwater formations.

"Sullivan estimated there are roughly 6,000 groundwater wells in the valley and said he pledged to make sure the committee includes all interests of the valley's water users. That will mean spots for the area's conservation districts, water user associations, federal agencies and independent water users. The committee will include water rights holders who use only groundwater, at least one spot to represent those who use only surface water and representation for those who use a combination of both. 'There's lots of things engineers don't know,' he said. 'We need the input.'"

Category: Colorado Water
7:18:47 AM    

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina): "Grand County learned in October that it can still cash in the remaining 501 acre-feet of 'free' water from the 1,500 acre feet it set aside in Lake Granby last summer after pumping cycles were completed. Last summer's deal, struck with Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District's Municipal Subdistrict, which controls the Windy Gap pumping facility, allowed Grand County to release water back in the river at anytime during 2008 at any rate of flow it deemed necessary...

"General Manager Eric Wilkinson informed the county Oct. 7 that the Municipal Subdistrict was willing to work with the county concerning water not released in 2008, granting an extension through March 31, 2009. If the water is not released by then, an additional 10 percent shrinkage will be charged to the county, Wilkinson's letter stated. In response, Grand County said it was thankful for the subdistrict's courage in allowing Grand County to bank the water."

Category: Colorado Water
7:06:45 AM    

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Here's a look at President-elect Obama's nominee for the Department of Interior, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, from Brandon Bee writing in the Craig Daily Press. From the article:

News that President-elect Barack Obama will nominate U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat, Interior secretary drew praise from both sides of the political aisle in Colorado on Tuesday...

The Associated Press reported Obama's pick of Salazar -- which had not yet been officially announced Tuesday -- citing an anonymous official familiar with Cabinet selections...

Before joining the Senate, Ken Salazar was director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, state attorney general and chief legal counsel to former Gov. Roy Romer. In the Senate, he serves on committees for finance, agriculture, energy and natural resources, as well as the Select Committee on Ethics and the Special Committee on Aging. The Interior secretary oversees federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service.

"There is no better person in the nation to step into this position," Harris Sherman, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said in a written statement. "He will bring needed balance, judgment and experience to the nation's natural resource programs during these pivotal times. This is great for the West and the entire country."[...]

State Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, also joined the chorus. He said he is pleased that the West is on track to be well represented in the Obama administration. The president-elect already has nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to become Commerce Secretary and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to become Secretary of Homeland Security. "That's really excellent for Western states," White said. "I anticipated Colorado would get a Cabinet position, and Sen. Salazar makes a lot of sense. ... I think it's a good fit. I'm sure he'll do a good job."

More coverage from the Wall Street Journal (Ian Talley):

Sen. Ken Salazar, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to run the Interior Department, is a Colorado Democrat who has opposed Bush administration efforts to open more Western land for oil-shale exploration, but worked with Republicans to broker a deal to allow more offshore oil exploration. Mr. Salazar has been an outspoken advocate of renewable-energy sources, as have Mr. Obama's pick for energy secretary, Steven Chu, and his choice to be the top White House environmental adviser, Carol Browner. But as head of the Interior Department, Mr. Salazar will be both custodian and gatekeeper for the extensive fossil-fuel resources on public lands.

Mr. Obama is expected Wednesday to announce his nomination of Mr. Salazar as interior secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary.

Among Mr. Salazar's mandates at Interior will be restoring confidence in the department's management of mineral resources following a series of scandals at Interior's Minerals Management Service. In one example, officials at the agency, which collects billions of dollars for federal coffers in royalty and lease revenue, were accused by the inspector general this year of improper conduct in relations with oil-industry executives.

One of the hottest issues Mr. Salazar would face would be a decision on where and when the government should allow oil and gas exploration, particularly on the Outer Continental Shelf where experts say billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie untapped. Despite falling oil prices, the Obama administration will have to readdress the drilling issue in the new year. Under pressure from voters whose budgets were hit hard by $4-a-gallon gasoline, Congress allowed a federal moratorium on offshore drilling to expire, paving the way for a new lease schedule unless lawmakers and the administration reinstate the ban.

Mr. Salazar has opposed expanded oil-shale leases, arguing that such activity could threaten the region's scarce water supplies, and has voted for a federal renewable-energy mandate that would require utilities to provide a growing percentage of the power from sources such as wind and solar. Besides large natural-gas resources, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain states are home to what many scientists believe is some of the best wind-energy potential in the nation.

But he was also one of a group of 16 lawmakers who earlier this year tried to broker an agreement on offshore drilling in exchange for billions of dollars in new spending on low-carbon technologies. Mr. Salazar also made a deal with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.), who publicly credited him with helping to win Gulf of Mexico drilling access in exchange for opposition of oil-shale development...

The Colorado senator has also been in favor of trying to force oil companies such as Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell PLC to renegotiate Gulf of Mexico leases signed in 1998-99 that omitted royalty-price thresholds that government auditors say have cost the U.S. billions in uncollected revenue.

More coverage from (Jeffrey Wolf):

"The federal government owns outright roughly half of the land in the American West," said Federico Cheever, a professor at the University of Denver. "The Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior is one of the most powerful and most influential positions in the federal government." Salazar is a fifth-generation Colorado farmer and practiced water and environmental law in the private sector for 11 years before going into politics. "Historically Colorado has had a very close relationship with the Department of the Interior through every administration," said Cheever. Cheever says this relationship will come at a critical time for a state trying to find its way in what figures to be a new energy economy. "We [the West] are traditionally energy producing states. We want to stay energy producing states and the way to do that is to diversify," said Cheever...

Cheever says Salazar will not be a pushover in the position. "I think some environmental groups, specifically issue-specific groups, will be a little disappointed in this decision," he said. "This is a key moment in the relationship between the Department of the Interior, the West and the new energy economy," Cheever said.

More coverage from Dean Toda writing for the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Salazar's influence could be felt on a number of local issues. The Interior secretary oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, which recently issued a crucial environmental impact statement supporting Colorado Springs Utilities' bid to build a water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. The Southern Delivery System project has pitted Colorado Springs against Pueblo, which has raised concerns about the pipeline's impact on water quality in the Fountain Creek watershed, which includes all of Colorado Springs and drains via Fountain Creek into downtown Pueblo. In a visit to The Gazette on Dec. 3, Salazar said the technical issues were essentially resolved and all that stood in the way of the SDS project was a political accord between the two cities. Salazar said he would use his office to help forge a consensus. His influence would presumably be greater if his office were in the Interior Department...

...Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, praised Salazar, saying, "we are confident that he views natural gas development in the Intermountain West as an important long-term element in national and regional energy supply."

The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement strongly critical of Salazar, saying the Interior Department was riven by "corrupt bureaucrats overturning and squelching agency scientists as they attempted to protect endangered species and natural resources from exploitation by developers, loggers, and oil and gas development." "The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward-looking, reform-minded secretary," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the private environmental group. "Unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man. He endorsed George Bush's selection of Gale Norton as secretary of Interior, the very woman who initiated and encouraged the scandals that have rocked the Department of Interior."

More coverage from the New York Times:

Ken Salazar worked his way from a remote family ranch to become the state's first Hispanic U.S. senator -- and along the way he's amassed an intimate knowledge of Western political issues...

Salazar has a reputation among Democrats as a maverick, once joining 13 moderate senators to block his party from a filibuster of appellate nominees by President Bush. He joined another bipartisan group to prevent renewal of parts of the Patriot Act because of concerns about civil liberties, and he upset Democrats when he backed Alberto Gonzales, Bush's nominee for attorney general.

Western Democrats, he has said, made their gains by focusing on issues dear to a cross-section of voters -- energy, the environment, water, agriculture, veterans' affairs -- and not on special interest groups. Of the party's national leaders, he once said: "I hope they heed the fact that we in the West have been able to get the Democratic Party back in the saddle, and that's by being moderate pragmatists that don't see Republicans as devils."

Salazar's family settled in Colorado's San Luis Valley about 150 years ago and built a 220-acre ranch in an area called Los Rincones -- the corners -- because of the right angle formed by two snowcapped mountain ridges. "I got my political values from my mother and father. They struggled mightily in one of the most rural and poorest counties in America," Salazar said. "Their vision for their children was that they would have a better life." Salazar occasionally stayed at the ranch alone, a rifle by his side because they lived five miles from the nearest town. "It was rough. We struggled," said his mother, Emma. Her husband, Henry, valued education and made sure all eight children went to college before he died in 2001.

Salazar obtained a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1981 and joined a prominent Denver law firm. Six years later, Democratic Gov. Roy Romer made him his legal adviser, then head of the Department of Natural Resources. In 1998, Salazar was elected attorney general...

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:48:55 AM    

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Here's a recap of the a recent presentation -- "Land uses in the watershed" -- about the Uncompahre River watershed from Christopher Pike writing in The Hub. From the article:

The less-than-attractive yellow-green hue of the Uncompahgre River has long been attributed to mining waste that has seeped into the riparian system since the 1870s. But in fact, mining need take only half of the blame for the river's current condition, according to Ouray geologist Bob Larson, who spoke at an education forum dubbed "Land Uses in the Watershed" on Dec. 4. Natural mineralization and alteration generated over eons by hydrothermal activity and volcanism has created what was identified by the earliest explorers in the region as "hot and ill tasting water," particularly in the Upper Basin region.

Larson told a packed house at the Ridgway Community Center that members of the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition described it that way as they passed through Colorado during their historic exploration of the Four Corners region in 1776. Volcanic activity created natural acid rock drainage, along with seepage of heavy metals, which has been impacting the watershed for eons. "The Mt. Sneffels range is on the edge of the San Juan volcanic field. A pretty good portion of Southwest Colorado contains calderas, or volcanic depressions, with volcanoes spewing out a massive amount of pyrite and water and iron sulfate, and we get sulfuric acids and these metal islands," explained Larson. "It is about 50% natural. That is the way this area was formed."

Mining waste in its own right continues to impact the water quality of the Uncompahgre, beginning in the 1870s when silver and gold mining had their heyday. According to Don Paulson, curator of the Ouray County Historical Society, the environmental impacts include leaching, flooding, tailings piles and acid mine damage.

Category: Colorado Water
6:40:32 AM    

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The Pueblo County Commissioners have approved the intergovernmental agreement for the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District, according to Jeff Tucker writing in the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Pueblo County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the Fountain Creek intergovernmental agreement with its El Paso County colleagues. The agreement serves as the first step toward establishing a special district for the Fountain similar to the Denver Urban Drainage District.

The district, if approved by the Legislature next year, would be served by a nine-member board that would eventually include Colorado Springs, the city of Pueblo, Fountain, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District, smaller municipalities and representatives of other groups with a stake in Fountain Creek. The district would oversee funding for projects that come out of the Army Corps of Engineers' Fountain Creek Watershed study and the Corridor Master Plan developed by Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley district...

Commissioner Jeff Chostner said the IGA was the first step in creating an entity that takes ownership and control over the Fountain and allows both El Paso and Pueblo counties to remain separate but work together for the benefit of both communities. "We want that separateness for hiking trails and wetlands, but at the same time it brings both communities together," Chostner said. "This is a recognition that El Paso and Pueblo counties are a regional force and puts this contentious issue behind us."[...]

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

Pueblo County commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved an agreement with El Paso County to create a new watershed district for managing Fountain Creek. The approval came a day after El Paso County commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the district, which grew out of two years of work by the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, formed to find solutions to flooding, erosion and water-quality problems on the creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:31:33 AM    

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From the Greeley Tribune: "The Evans City Council approved a rate hike on Tuesday for developers looking to tap into the city's water system that will take effect in 2009. The tap rate hike brings prices to about the same levels as other surrounding cities, including Greeley and Milliken, according to city council documents. For a standard three-quarter inch water tap, the rate will increase from $10,400 to $11,600, with larger taps increasing in price. For sewer taps with a three-quarter inch water tap, that fee moves from $3,000 to $3,500."

Category: Colorado Water
6:25:54 AM    

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