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, January 8, 2009

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From the Telluride Daily Planet: "On maps, the lands that will be available for lease to oil and gas developers patchwork over the county, laying tiny quilts over its quiet west reaches and pinpricking the tops of river canyons, seeping out. If the county has its way, perhaps all but one of the 30-plus tracts will be removed from the sale. In a meeting with United States Forest Service officials midweek, San Miguel County commissioners routinely used words like "appalling" and "ridiculous" to describe the acres that will be available for oil and gas exploration in a February sale. The board met with USFS representatives to discuss the roughly 48,400 acres of San Miguel County that will be for sale in the Bureau of Land Management lease sale, which makes subsurface rights available to oil and gas developers."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Climate Change News
6:28:47 PM    

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Here's a look back at 2008 and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District from Sheila Berger writing for the Pagosa Daily Post. From the article: "2008 was the busiest year for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) in its 38 year history in terms of planning, implementing new policies and completing capital improvements. The Board of Directors and staff of PAWSD wish to thank their customers for the input that drove several of the District's key accomplishments in 2008, and will continue to direct decisions and actions in 2009."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:04:15 PM    

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Here's an update on the Colorado snowpack, from The Mountain Mail. From the article:

Latest snow surveys, conducted by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, show state snowpack at 120 percent of average. With 2009 totals topping last year's Jan. 1 readings, the current snowpack is the highest since 1997. In addition, this year's snowpack marks the third time above average January totals were measured across the state in the 12 years since 1997, Allen Green, national resources state conservationist, said.

In the Arkansas River basin the snowpack by Tuesday was 142 percent of average. The number may be skewed because of extremely high averages in the southern part of the basin. At Fremont Pass in the northern part of the Arkansas River basin, snowpack measured 116 percent of average. Near Independence Pass it was 147 percent of average. The lowest measurement in the basin was taken at Porphyry Creek near Monarch Pass with 107 percent of average. Measurements taken at the Apishapa site in the southern Sangre de Cristo range show 227 percent of average. At Whiskey Creek, near Stonewall, it's 191 percent. At South Colony Creek on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range near Westcliffe, it's 134 percent of average...

A series of heavy storms delivered abundant snowfall to the Rio Grande, Arkansas and San Juan River basins in December...Snowpack readings in those basins range from 135 to 140 percent of average, and are nearly identical to statistics a year ago, Green said. The 140 percent of average in the Rio Grande basin is the highest January total since 1985, bringing the best news to water users in that basin in decades.

Meanwhile, snowpack totals across northern Colorado remain near average to slightly below average for this time of year. With December storm patterns favoring southern Colorado, northern basins received smaller totals, ranging from 86 to 99 percent of average in the Yampa, White, and North and South Platte basins. Although those basins remain slightly below average, only the North Platte is short of exceeding last year's totals for this date.

More snowpack news from the Aspen Daily News:

In the Roaring Fork River basin, the snowpack was 144 percent of average as of Jan. 1, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey office in Lakewood. Throughout the Colorado River basin, snowpack is 127 percent of average as of the first of the year, so both basins are doing better than the state as a whole, whose snowpack is 120 percent of average...

A measuring site at Independence Pass is measuring a snow depth of 40 inches. The snowpack in the Roaring Fork basin is actually better than last year's at this time, which was 125 percent of average. Last winter was a record snow season.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the National Resources Conservation Service's History of NRCS' Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program.

More news from the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

In the Roaring Fork River basin, which includes the Fryingpan and Crystal River valleys, the snowpack is 40 percent above average and among the highest levels recorded in the state. The Natural Resources Con servation Service has seven automated snowpack measuring stations in the basin. One east of Aspen showed the snowpack 42 percent above average Tuesday afternoon. The snowpack has exceeded 50 percent of average in parts of the Fryingpan and Crystal valleys. It is 53 percent above average at the North Lost Trail site near Marble. Elsewhere in the Crystal, it is 33 percent above average at McClure Pass and 37 percent above average at Schofield Pass. In the Fryingpan Valley above Basalt, the snowpack is 58 percent above average at the Ivanhoe site and 35 percent at the Nast site, but only 19 percent above average at the Kiln site, the conservation service's data said.

Category: Colorado Water
5:34:26 PM    

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From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams): "Bayfield water customers will be paying higher monthly rates this year, and probably higher tap fees. Town trustees reviewed options this week to eliminate an 18 percent gap between operating revenue from monthly fees, and deferred maintenance needs.


"On Jan. 6 trustees discussed three options for rate increases: 18 percent across the board for option 1; 16 percent on the base and 20 and 25 percent increases on higher use for option 2; or 15 percent on the base and 18, 21, and 25 percent on the upper tiers for option 3. Trustees preferred option 3. Town staff will refine that into a draft ordinance and publicize it for a public hearing in February."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
5:25:00 PM    

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From the Wyoming Business Report (MJ Clark): "The Interior Department will publish a rule this week that would lift a 79-year old executive order prohibiting oil shale development in Wyoming and Utah. The order was lifted from Colorado in 2001...

The rule, opening 6 million acres in Wyoming and 1.7 million acres in Utah to oil shale development, was approved late last year, giving a coalition of twelve environmental groups time to send letters of protest to the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management. Yesterday the coalition formally notified the Bush administration of their intent to file federal lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act over the rush to create a commercial oil shale industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming...

"In Wyoming, the oil-shale leasing decision threatens Adobe Town, the state's most spectacular wilderness. In fact, the state of Wyoming designated this area as 'Very Rare or Uncommon' to shield it from oil-shale extraction and other types of mining," said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. "Pair this with the potential destruction of key sage grouse strongholds and it becomes clear that oil-shale development would be a disaster for Wyoming."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Climate Change News
5:19:15 PM    

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From the Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn): "The town of Telluride has been working for years toward a plan to secure ample and pure water for its denizens by tapping Blue Lake, piping the water down Bridal Veil basin to a plant at the end of the box canyon, and dispersing it to the town and its fringes. The town says this plant is vital to the future of its water supply and storage capacity, and it has completed much of the work; the engineering is done, the site for the plant is secured, the town even has bonds approved for construction. At one point, the town planned to have it finished by Dec. 31, 2008. But in drafting it, the town ran into problems with the Idarado Mining Company, which owns much of the land and senior water rights involved in the plan. And quarrels over water and infrastructure rights, contractual language and water quality that arose during negotiations resulted in the town suing Idarado, and the mining company replying with a countersuit."

More from the article:

The issue is rooted in the complicated layers and intricate statutes of water law, and much of the trial will involve the tedious and technical talk surrounding maps, historic documents and legal codes. At its essence, it comes down to the town accusing Idarado of a breach of contract that delayed its plans and cost it money, and Idarado answering that it just wants to ensure that its water rights -- as well as remediation obligations -- are properly protected...

Telluride currently taps Mill Creek for the main source of its municipal water, and it siphons this water to the town as well as Lawson Hill and complexes on the north edge of the Valley Floor. But with a growing population in Telluride and the Mill Creek plant running at the upper levels of its capacity, the town needs another water source, town staff says. Seven years ago, the town conducted a water study, which concluded that the town would need to have a plant in place by 2008 to meet its water needs. (With its Pandora water plant on hold, the town made improvements to Mill Creek and its Stillwater water source in 2008 that upped its capacity and storage.)

Much of what landed the issue in court stems from a settlement agreement penned in 1992 between the town and Idarado. The agreement mapped out Idarado's senior water rights and gave consent for the town to build a water supply system in Bridal Veil Basin. In August of 2005, Idarado gifted the town roughly two acres of land above the old Pandora mill for a plant. Three months later, voters approved a $10 million bond to construct the pipe and plant. But as the town was obtaining an array of deeds and easements necessary for construction, access and water rights, it tripped over language in the 1992 agreement that would give the mining company the right to recall not only its water right, but any proportionate ownership in water storage and conveyance structures. In a complaint, the town said this right to recall taxpayer-funded structures was "unacceptable" and that the assertion will cause "irreparable injury to the town." But Idarado refused to omit it, calling the town's conduct "fraudulent and inequitable" in its reply, and claiming that its right of re-conveyance is and has been unambiguous.

And then another issue surfaced. During court-ordered mediation sessions in the fall of 2007, Idarado brought a new charge: if the town operates its plant at full capacity, Idarado is in jeopardy of not meeting water standards mandated by the state. Since the 1980s, Idarado, which mined Telluride's high country, has been under state mandate to do remediation work; part of which includes keeping water in the San Miguel River clear of heavy metals. The town's plan to divert water from the river could negatively impact these levels, Idarado says...

The town, meanwhile, claims further delays caused by Idarado will cost it more money, both in increased construction costs (as much as $3.5 million) when it does start work, and in money spent toward improvements on Stillwater and Mill Creek for short-term relief.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:34:07 AM    

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The stimulus bill to be introduced soon at in Washington D.C. has government officials on all levels scrambling for "shovel ready" projects for funding. Here's a look at possible funding for the Mancos Project from a report written by Joe Hanel running in the Cortez Journal. From the article:

Sen. Ken Salazar expects to get federal aid for Jackson Gulch Reservoir near Mancos within the next few weeks, he said Sunday...

The Jackson Gulch bill would provide up to $8.25 million from the federal government to rehabilitate an aging canal that carries water from reservoir. The six-decade-old canal supplies irrigation water for area farmers and city water to Mancos and Mesa Verde National Park. The Mancos Water Conservancy District operates the canal, and its members have been pushing for federal funding for the rehabilitation for five years. The Jackson Gulch bill passed the House last year, but it stalled in the Senate after being passed by a committee.

Salazar has a number of other natural resources bills on his agenda, including the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area Act, and water bills for the Upper Colorado River and Arkansas River. Several natural resources bills were grouped into one last year. It was set for a vote four or five times last year, but something always intruded and the bill never came up for a vote, Salazar said...

But Salazar isn't worried about his bills if they don't pass by the time he leaves the Senate. "I have no doubt whatsoever that we'll get them through with Sen.-elect Udall," Salazar said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:24:32 AM    

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From the Greeley Tribune (Bill Jackson): "Weld County commissioners have sent a letter to Washington opposing language in federal wilderness legislation that could have an adverse effect on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Commissioner Sean Conway said he learned late Tuesday night that U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., intends to include the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Act in the government's stimulus package with amended water language that could affect not only the Colorado-Big Thompson but the Grand Ditch of the Water Supply and Storage Co. of Fort Collins."

More from the article:

The bill is one that Salazar wants to pass before he becomes Secretary of the Interior, said his spokesman, Matt Lee-Ashley. There has been no change in water language that was contained in the act last year, Lee-Ashley said. The act failed to pass Congress last year. Conway, at Wednesday's regular commissioner meeting, said he has been told that amended water language is drastically different than that developed during a 10-year period. That language, he said, was agreed upon by Salazar, Wayne Allard before he retired, former U.S.-Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., and Udall, when he was a House member, in June of last year. "Water language was carefully crafted in the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Bill in 2007 that was 10 years in the making. That original language was passed with bipartisan support to protect the Colorado-Big Thompson," Conway said. Commission Chairman Bill Garcia noted that the commissioners, at that time, passed a resolution in support of that legislation. Conway said he has learned the new language is being pushed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and that the newly elected Markey may introduce the amendment in the House. He said has been in contact with Markey's office and has talked with Udall. Conway said Udall is willing to work with commissioners and that he prefers the act's original language that he helped develop.

Update: More coverage from the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Although undeveloped portions of the park have been managed as wilderness for many years, past efforts to obtain the formal designation have stumbled over several issues, including water and how it is moved from the Western Slope through the park to the Front Range.

The proposed legislation would not affect water rights for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project or the Grand River Ditch, which is owned by the Water Supply and Storage Co. of Fort Collins, officials say.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:15:55 AM    

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Here's another look at Shell's application for a conditional water right for a 375cfs diversion from the Yampa River, from Tom Ross writing for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. From the article:

Shell Oil's filing Dec. 30 for significant water rights in the Yampa River raises the possibility that a man-made lake larger than Stagecoach Reservoir someday could be built in the sagebrush and juniper country of Moffat County...

The withdrawal from the Yampa would take place far downstream from Steamboat Springs, but the 375 cubic feet per second being sought is comparable to a typical flow one might expect to find passing beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in early to mid-July. Water would be taken out of the river at one or two pumping stations about 75 miles west of Steamboat Spr ings. It would be stored in a reservoir capable of holding 45,000 acre-feet of water in Cedar Springs Draw, off the main stem of the Yampa. That reservoir's potential size compares to the 33,275 acre-feet of storage in Stagecoach Reservoir near Oak Creek and 25,450 acre-feet in the newly expanded Elkhead Reservoir near Craig.

Jim Pokrandt, of the Colo rado River Water Conservation District, said his agency likely would register its opposition to the application -- not necessarily to block it but for an opportunity to influence the terms of an approval. A decision about building the reservoir probably would not come for another 10 years, Boyd said, with permitting and development of the reservoir adding more years to the timetable for completion. "The decision to build the reservoir and take the water would be contingent on the ability to begin commercial production" of petroleum products from oil shale, Boyd said. "That would probably not come until the middle of the next decade or a little later."


Erin Light, Division 6 water engineer for the Colorado Dep artment of Natural Resources, said Shell's application for surface water and water storage rights, if granted, would represent a conditional right or placeholder. Its new water rights would ensure the company a rank in the state's water priority system, pending the day when it might actually put the water to use.

More coverage from Jerd Smith writing for the Rocky Mountain News:

Shell Oil Co. has staked a new claim on the scenic waterway, seeking millions of gallons of H20 to support future plans for oil shale, said spokesman Tracy Boyd. "This would be one of the more substantial water rights we're accumulating," Boyd said. The company has a wide array of water rights in the Colorado Basin, which includes the Yampa and White rivers.

The Yampa has come under close scrutiny in recent years not only because it lies close to West Slope oil shale deposits but also because it's viewed as an important source of new water for Colorado's Front Range...

Though people are scarce in the Yampa Valley, water isn't. The Yampa generates about as much water as the South Platte River, which supplies millions of people who live in metro Denver and the northern Front Range.[ed. With a boost from several existing transmountain diversions.][...]

Tucked into the wild, northwestern corner of the state, the Yampa has long been isolated from the growth and development pressures that dog other parts of the state. Two years ago, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District suggested building a $4 billion pipeline to deliver water from a point near Maybell hundreds of miles east to the Front Range. But Northern didn't stake a claim to the river, saying it would wait to see if others in the state were interested in pursuing the project. Northern spokesman Brian Werner said Shell's stake in the river would not preclude Front Range entities from tapping its resources as well...

Tom Sharp, longtime water attorney who represents the Upper Yampa River Water Conservation District, wants to make sure the river's supplies are protected for the people of the valley. "One single 45,000 acre-foot reservoir we can probably work with," Sharp said. "But if there was also a Front Range diversion, it magnifies the pressure, and it will make it riskier for us."

Update: Here's an editorial from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Shell Oil's unexpected announcement this week that it has filed for an industrial water right on the Yampa River is not evidence that a commercial oil-shale industry is nearly ready for takeoff in Western Colorado. Shell officials still say their decision on whether to proceed with a commercial operation may be as much as a decade away. But the announcement is an indication that Shell is proceeding cautiously and meticulously in its efforts to reach that decision. Shell is to be applauded for seeking to protect other water rights -- especially agricultural ones -- and for working with other Western Slope water groups as it tries to secure water to meet its potential oil-shale needs.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
5:56:00 AM    

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Colorado congressional representatives Betsy Markey and John Salazar introduced legislation this week designed to get the Arkansas Valley Conduit rolling, according to a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Reps. John Salazar and Betsy Markey, both Democrats, introduced legislation to move the Arkansas Valley Conduit forward and to remove the so-called death tax for working farms on the first day of the 111th Congress Tuesday. "I believe it's high time to get clean water out to Lower Arkansas Valley residents," said Salazar, who has been appointed to the House Appropriations Committee as he begins his third term in the House. "I'm confident the conduit will begin to be built during the next two years."

"It's been a long time coming," Markey said of the conduit bill. She is in her first term after unseating Marilyn Musgrave in the 4th District in November. "I plan to work hard to push it through." The $300 million Arkansas Valley Conduit was authorized in the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas legislation, but was never built because communities east of Pueblo could not afford to pay the entire cost of the project.

The legislation proposed by Salazar and Markey would provide a 65 percent federal share for the conduit. Federal revenues for the conduit and other parts of the Fry-Ark Project that were never fully funded or repaid would be paid back through excess-capacity contracts under a plan suggested in 2007 by Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the local agency that oversees the Fry-Ark Project. Authorization for the conduit project also is included in an omnibus funding bill still under consideration by Congress. The conduit has already received a $60.6 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to help fund the local share of the project. In addition, funds from the excess-capacity contracts could be used to make a dent in the local cost-share, Salazar said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
5:47:27 AM    

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