Eagle River deal secures water for growing Vail area

November 30, 2007

Settlement called ‘first step in a larger process’

Environmentalists said the settlement is an important victory for the rivers and the West Slope. Drew Peternell, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, said the agreement comes after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled this fall that cities must begin to limit how much water they can claim for future growth. http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2007/nov/30/eagle-river-deal-secures-water-for-growing-vail/  

By Jerd Smith, Rocky Mountain News Friday, November 30, 2007

Vail and other communities in the fast-growing Eagle River Basin won a key victory this week in a deal that protects streamflows and effectively guarantees that no more water from the scenic stream will be transferred to the Front Range.

The agreement was reached as a settlement in a bitter year-long court battle between the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility.

The deal allows Denver to hold onto a valued reservoir site north of Wolcott and to preserve some of its water rights for use in trades on the West Slope.

In exchange, Denver gave up the rights to thousands of acre-feet of Eagle River water it had once planned to bring across the Continental Divide. “Now we have certainty that there is no longer a threat of a large transmountain diversion yet to be developed,” said Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, a party to the case.

“With confidence, the Eagle Basin can look to the future and know that nobody with a large water right is going to come in,” Treese said.

The settlement comes as Denver and other Front Range and West Slope entities, such as Grand and Summit counties, remain deadlocked over how to protect supplies in the headwaters of the Upper Colorado River, which includes the Blue and Fraser rivers, as well as the Eagle.

All the rivers serve high-profile resort areas, such as Keystone and Winter Park, as well as Vail and Beaver Creek, and all need water for their own growth, for recreation and for the health of the rivers themselves.

Grand County Commissioner James Newberry, a critic of Denver Water in the past, said this time the giant utility deserves some credit for agreeing to give up the Eagle River water. “We’re fighting for all the water we can get up here,” Newberry said. “For Denver to do that, they’re stepping up to the plate.”

Treese and others said this week’s Eagle River Settlement may help break the stalemate in the Upper Colorado because it provides certainty about demands on the Eagle River and restores some good will between Denver and its longtime adversaries. “The most important thing about all of this is that this is a first step in a larger process,” Treese said.

Environmentalists said the settlement is an important victory for the rivers and the West Slope. Drew Peternell, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, said the agreement comes after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled this fall that cities must begin to limit how much water they can claim for future growth.

“I think, after that decision this fall, that Denver knew it would have lost either at the trial or Supreme Court level if it continued (the court battle),” Peternell said.

Tom Gougeon, president of Denver Water, disagrees with the notion that the West Slope prevailed in this dispute. “The point here isn’t about keeping score,” he said. “There are a lot of people here trying to figure things out. This settlement was the right thing to do.”

Water rights may get clearer for kayak parks

November 29, 2007

Kayak parks and other recreational water uses will be considered “more fairly” after political changes on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, state water officials said Wednesday.

The appointment this week of a new agency director and the replacement of a board member known for his antipathy toward “non-consumptive uses” marks a turning point in how those proposals will be viewed under Gov. Bill Ritter, according to water officials and advocates.

“We’re looking to dramatically change our position,” Alexandra Davis, assistant water director for the Division of Natural Resources, told the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ influential Water Quality and Quantity Committee.

The recreational water rights — first created by state water courts in 1992 and established in law a decade later — are part of the state’s seniority-based priority system and require that upstream users allow sufficient amounts of water to flow past.

Under recently retired director Rod Kuharich, the 11-member appointed board often opposed proposals for attractions such as kayak parks sought by more than a dozen towns, ranging from Steamboat Springs to Pueblo.

“Our sense is the last director burned a lot of bridges on the Western Slope, with the environmental community and with the conservation community,” Davis said.

Charged with “building those bridges back,” Davis said, is Jennifer Gimbel, a water-law expert who was named as the board’s new director Tuesday.

Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project director for the Nature Conservancy, took the seat formerly held by rancher Tom Sharp, an outspoken critic of setting aside water for recreation rather than traditional uses, such as agriculture and municipal supplies.

“I think the board lost a lot of credibility in its almost obstinate opposition to the idea that recreational use is a legitimate use of water,” said board chairman John Redifer.

Drew Peternell, director of the Colorado Water Project for Trout Unlimited, said the water-conservation board has appeared philosophically reluctant to approve recreational rights in a state where demand exceeds supply.

“The CWCB guards very jealously that authority and historically has gone to great lengths to prevent those from being recognized,” he said. “My impression is that things are going to be more friendly.”

Summit County Commissioner Tom Long, a water rights authority and fourth-generation rancher, brushed off the suggestion that recreational uses have gotten short shrift from the old guard, noting that procuring any new water right is difficult.

“It does represent a change. I won’t deny that,” Long said. “But most of the communities over here got (recreational water rights) in spite of the CWCB.”

Steve Lipsher: 970-513-9495 or slipsher@denverpost.com

Arkansas Basin Water Roundtable

November 28, 2007

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is a critical part of discussions pertaining to water issues in the Arkansas River Basin and in Colorado. Membership to the Roundtable consists of people representing diverse interests in the Basin. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable wants to include as broad array of water interests as possible. Also, the Roundtable wants to provide citizens of Colorado with accurate information about current water issues in the valley.

Thus, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and Colorado State University Extension will host a Basin-wide Water Townhall meeting. It will be held on December 11th at the Gobin Building in Rocky Ford, Colorado beginning at 9:00 am. Speakers will address such issues as: What is the Arkansas Basin Roundtable? How your community can apply for monies to fund water projects? What is the ‘Super Ditch’ project? and What is happening with ag water transfers?

Please plan to attend the Townhall meeting – and bring your friends and colleagues. The attached flyer provides greater details about the Arkansas Basin Townhall meeting.

Since there will be a sponsored lunch, we would like to get a reasonable head count of Townhall participants. Please RSVP to me (or my administrative assistant Kristy) by telephoning 719-549-2049 or emailing jtranel@colostate.edu.

Although tiny, these midge patterns will catch fish

November 28, 2007

Griffith’s Gnat — Tied like a miniature Woolly Bugger to resemble midges, midge emergers and midge clusters. First tied by George Griffith, one of the founders of Trout Unlimited.http://www.gjsentinel.com/hp/content/sports/stories/2007/11/28/112807_OUT_patterns_WWW.html

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

As if you really needed to be reminded, all of us carry too many flies in our vests, even in the winter when nothing is hatching. Honestly, however, a handful of midge patterns chosen carefully for shape, color and size will catch 99 percent of the trout.

Your job, of course, is to decide which among the thousands of midge patterns available are the ones you want to carry. Your only advantage here is, well, midge patterns are tiny, aren’t they, and so you could carry thousands (well, hundreds, anyway) of your favorite pattern and still be assured of floating when you step into that big hole in the Gunnison.

One key is to have a range of fly patterns imitating the different stages of a midge development. Trout target specific stages and can switch preferred patterns with amazing speed. Somehow, you have to follow those changes.

Here are a few patterns gleaned from the vests and fly boxes of many different anglers, all of whom have been known to swear at and by these miniscule bits of steel, feather and thread. You might have other favorites.

Lees Ferry Midge — Phil Trimm of Western Anglers in Grand Junction said this is one of the more-popular regional pattern, “a simple pattern with a thread base and glass bead head, really easy to tie.”

Miracle Nymph — Also a Trimm suggestion, this has a floss body that becomes see-through when wet to match the underlaying thread. Some historians say legendary tier George Bodmer of Colorado Springs created this pattern for the trout in the South Platte near Deckers while others say it was tied for the Miracle Mile on the North Platte in Wyoming.

Zebra Midge — A favorite of Copi Vojta of Roaring Fork Anglers in Carbondale.

Brassie — Vojta also carries this, possibly another Bodmer creation, tied with a copper wire body and peacock herl head, initially conceived to fool the midge-finicky trout in the South Platte River.

Copper John — Maybe not always considered a midge, but tied in 18-22 it can be used as larva imitation.

Kimball’s Emerger — Originally designed by Mike Kimball, who earned this fly’s reputation when he was able to fool the evening sippers on Armstrong Spring Creek in Montana.

Griffith’s Gnat — Tied like a miniature Woolly Bugger to resemble midges, midge emergers and midge clusters. First tied by George Griffith, one of the founders of Trout Unlimited.

RS2 Emerger — Another South Platte pattern, this one designed by Rim Chung. This and the WD-40, developed by John Engler on the Fryingpan River, have been adapted to all Western rivers where midges appear.

Industry greets new state rules with skepticism

November 28, 2007

Dave Nickum of Trout Unlimited said he is concerned oil and gas development may de-water sensitive streams on the Western Slope, and he wondered if the COGCC rulemaking process will tackle how energy companies’ water use will be regulated.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

DENVER — The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s proposal for how it will create new oil and gas permitting rules was met Tuesday with skeptical questions from the energy industry and concerns from conservationists.

During a series of meetings about the proposal Tuesday, attorney Ken Wonstolen, who represents the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, asked the COGCC’s acting director, David Neslin, if there is any indication the rules already in place aren’t adequate to assess environmental and public health impacts of energy development.

“The question is: Is that going to be a fiat rulemaking or based on administrative record?” he said.

“To the extent that there are disputes over draft rules, we will provide appropriate support as part of the rulemaking process,” Neslin responded, moving quickly to the next question.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Meg Collins said there were few surprises in the proposal, and she’s especially glad the COGCC is giving the industry two weeks to respond to it before it is widely released to the public.

But it’s too early to say what the meaning of the proposal is because the industry hasn’t had a chance to digest it, Colorado Petroleum Association President Stan Dempsey said. Most industry members had not seen the proposal before Tuesday morning.

Dempsey said he wants to be sure the commission isn’t duplicating other state regulations, such as those addressing odor control.

Parachute resident Sid Lindauer said he is concerned about how the proposal addresses noise and dust caused by oil and gas operators.

“From where I’m located, you can look often to the north and to the west 25 miles and see bunches of dust,” he said, adding he wonders how it might affect wildlife.

Neslin said no changes to the commission’s rules on dust are in the works. Division of Wildlife biologist John Broderick said the agency has no details on how dust affects wildlife, and the state has no recommendations for how the industry can minimize it.

Dave Nickum of Trout Unlimited said he is concerned oil and gas development may de-water sensitive streams on the Western Slope, and he wondered if the COGCC rulemaking process will tackle how energy companies’ water use will be regulated.

DOW Assistant Director John Bredehoft said that while the DOW has concerns about how the energy industry could deprive streams of their water, he said he couldn’t remember if the new rules will tackle that issue.

“We need to make note of that,” he said.

Kim Phillips of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County told Neslin she is concerned the proposal may not require enough transparency about the chemicals that companies use in their drilling processes.

“We’re often introduced to the idea that we should just trust that those (chemicals) are safe,” she said, adding the public should have the right to know about the health effects of drilling.

“This is a potential win for industry,” she said. “We need to do testing on specific levels of specific ingredients that we know to be harmful to public health.”

Other concerned residents were less skeptical.

“I want to say this really is such an exciting thing for us,” Palisade-based home builder and Western Colorado Congress member Duke Cox said to Neslin, praising the proposal. “We’ve waited for this day for a very long time.”

Enviros up pressure on Ritter over the Roan

November 28, 2007


David Frey – Aspen Daily News Correspondent

Fri 11/23/2007 11:00PM MST

Environmentalists and sportsmen’s groups are calling for a “final push” encouraging Gov. Bill Ritter to seek more protections from energy development on the Roan Plateau. Their effort comes in the waning days of the review period the governor asked for to study the drilling plan put in place before he took office.

The effort is part of conservationists’ two-pronged approach meant to keep gas rigs off the surface of the plateau to protect the landscape and habitat for species like deer and elk.

In addition to pressuring the governor to urge the Bureau of Land Management to ban drilling from the top, drilling foes are encouraging lawmakers to support language in the energy bill that would keep drilling off the Roan for at least a year. Reps. John Salazar and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, succeeded in getting that language included in the House version of the bill.

“Success with both the legislature and the governor’s review is going to be really important,” said Clare Bastable, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club. “What they decide to do in Washington is equally as important as the plan itself.”

Ritter’s office isn’t indicating what action the governor will take after the review period ends in mid-December. Spokesman Evan Dreyer said his options range from endorsing the current plan to making his own recommendations. But even if he offers his own plan, the BLM may not listen.

“There is nothing that obligates the federal government to pay any heed to us should we offer recommendations,” Dreyer said, “so in short, it is all still a very unsettled picture.”

The BLM has approved a plan that would allow gas drilling on top of the Roan, but with phasing intended to limit surface disturbance and protect wildlife. The plan was based largely on recommendations by the state Division of Natural Resources, which worried that drilling on the plateau could harm the species that call it home.

But that was under Ritter’s predecessor, Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican. After Ritter, a Democrat, took office in January, he asked for a chance to review the project. The BLM initially refused until Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., brother of Rep. Salazar, threatened to withhold consideration of President Bush’s nominee to head the BLM.

The energy industry is also stepping up its efforts to press for drilling on the plateau. Last month, the group Americans for American Energy released a study that claimed the state could reap $1.2 billion in the first year of drilling on the Roan Plateau, and that local and regional bodies would gain $6 billion in royalties and taxes over 30 years and $11 billion in industry investment. Environmentalists questioned those numbers.

“It only makes sense, I think, to go slow on developing resources like the Roan,” said Bastable, who said most of the gas leases already approved haven’t been drilled on yet. “We’re in no danger of losing revenue.”

In recent weeks, conservation organizations and hunting and fishing groups have organized phone banks, appeared in radio ads and have encouraged members to call Ritter and Sen. Salazar to encourage more protections for the Roan.

“Nobody’s saying that you can’t extract gas out of the ground,” said Bill Dvorak, of the National Wildlife Federation. “We’re just saying there’s ways to do it that will leave the wildlife habitat intact.”

Dvorak said he would like to see energy companies use methods like directional drilling to reach the gas under the plateau without drilling new wells. He said he worries not only about protecting the habitat on top of the Roan, but some of the remaining habitat below. That’s important winter range, he said, but it’s already been impacted by a “web” of wells and roads.

“We think eventually there will be ways to extract the gas,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, “but we have to have a little bit of patience so we strike the right balance and protect critical wildlife habitat.”

In addition to species like deer and elk, the Roan is also home to some rare populations of native cutthroat trout. That has raised concerns among anglers.

“They’re a pretty unique population of fish up there,” said Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Right now, while they’ve survived thousands of years in these small populations, a single accident up there, either from stormwater discharge or a tanker truck spill, could wipe these populations out. There’s no need to rush into this and go after this gas.”

The energy industry has said the gas could be extracted without harming wildlife. An estimated 8.9 trillion cubic feet of federally-owned natural gas is believed to lie 8,000 to 11,000 feet below, enough to heat 4 million homes for 20 years. Supporters believe that could be an important source of domestic fuel, from an area originally set aside for energy production.

Ritter’s spokesman Dreyer said the governor’s office hasn’t seen a big increase in phone calls or correspondences from either environmental groups or drilling supporters, but that will likely change as the governor’s deadline approaches.

Drilling opponents said they hope the governor will seek to keep gas rigs off the surface of the Roan, and the BLM will listen.

“He’s the head of the state government and represents the people in Colorado,” Neubecker said. “His voice, I hope, would be important in protecting the resources on top of the Roan in the face of, really, this juggernaut of oil and gas development in western Colorado.”

Law prevents work to clear pollution

November 28, 2007




November 27, 2007

In the mountains above the Keystone ski resort, a legacy of the past continues to pollute the future.

From the 1880s through the 1940s, the Pennsylvania Mine was one of Summit County’s most profitable. Today, all it produces is acidic and metal-laden drainage water that poisons creeks, kills fish and confounds local officials.

For nearly 15 years, the federal law meant to clean sources of water pollution such as the Pennsylvania Mine has actually prevented work to improve the water.

A 1993 court ruling said that, under the Clean Water Act, anyone who tries to remediate water at an abandoned mine becomes legally liable for discharges there forever. The ruling halted efforts by the state to clean drainage from the Pennsylvania Mine and ensured that little water cleanup was done at any of Colorado’s other 23,000 abandoned mines.

A decade of efforts to pass a socalled “good Samaritan” law, legal protection for groups and government agencies who want to clean up mines, has failed, mainly because of resistance from environmental groups. Both of Colorado’s U.S. senators backed such a measure last year.

“The Clean Water Act was written and designed to clean up problems like this, and it’s the only thing stopping us from doing it, and it’s so unfortunate,” said Elizabeth Russell, mine restoration coordinator for Trout Unlimited, which wants to be a good Samaritan at the Pennsylvania Mine.

A recent report on Colorado water quality pointed to abandoned mines as a major cause of heavy metal contamination in creeks running down from the high country. Most of the mining companies no longer exist, so there is nobody to hold responsible.

There are a host of nonprofit organizations, local governments and state agencies that would like to get involved in cleanup efforts, particularly in areas such as Summit County where dead, brown waterways like Peru Creek at the Pennsylvania Mine could be bad for tourism. But assuming the legal liability for all future discharges – in today’s litigious society – is a risk none will take.

While it may seem a good Samaritan law may be a nobrainer, like most issues of environmental law, it is not.

When Colorado’s U.S. senators, Republican Wayne Allard and Democrat Ken Salazar, backed a bill in 2006 to remove parts of the law that discourage cleanup, it drew opposition from environmental groups.

The groups worried changes could allow mining companies to come back into the mines and renew operations and not be responsible for discharges. The opposition was enough to kill the legislation, and it looks unlikely any will advance in 2007.

It’s an issue dividing environmentalists.

Russell said she recognizes the concern other environmental groups have about weakening the law. But, she said, “We’re the only ones out there trying to do the darn cleanup.”

At the Pennsylvania Mine, the lack of legislation has forced cleanup advocates to get creative.

Plans are in the works to create a nonprofit organization, the Snake River Water Foundation, that will take over ownership of a water treatment facility outside the mine. The foundation will have little cash or assets, so it is hoped no one would bother to sue it under the Clean Water Act.

“Nobody’s going to sue them because they don’t have anything to be sued for. There’s no money,” Russell said.

Numerous groups, government agencies and ski resorts are involved in the effort, though not Denver Water, because there are no human health issues for Lake Dillon reservoir downstream of the mine, which serves the water supplier.

It’s not the ideal way of doing cleanups – it’s taken 15 years to reach this point, and plans for the treatment facility still haven’t been drawn up. It will cost from $500,000 to $1.5 million, Russell said.

But, for now, it’s the only way of cleaning up the polluted water rolling down from the mines of yesteryear.