Press "Enter" to skip to content

Central Colorado Water Update

Article by John Orr

Water – June 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

2008 water legislation in review

Water and Stream Flow

In May HB 08-1280 passed both houses by large margins. Although it’s rare, every so often the legislature passes a water bill that almost everyone regards as needed and beneficial. Now, water rights owners who lease water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to buttress stream flow won’t be risking their water rights.

At the signing Governor Ritter remarked, “This is a good way to avoid the use-or-lose proposition of consumptive use … At the end of the day, it really does make a difference.”

The big hope is that the bill will result in higher stream flows to flush sediment, and provide for recreation, and reduce stream temperatures (thereby making natural fisheries healthier).

Water and Development

After a setback due to opposition from developers, State Representative Kathleen Curry was able to guide HB 08-1141 through the legislature (although the bill was still awaiting the governor’s signature at deadline).

HB 08-1141 puts the burden on developers who are planning projects greater than 50 housing units to prove that they have a sustainable water supply. According to Curry, “It’s a huge step forward for Colorado. We haven’t tackled this question for 10 years.”

Developers, however, won an important concession when the legislation was amended to allow them to rely on the water plans of local water utilities.

Water and Uranium Mining

Residents of Park County, near Hartsel — where Horizon Nevada Uranium, Inc. is considering an in situ uranium mining operation — should feel a little more at ease with the project now that HB 08-1161, has made it through the house and senate and is awaiting Governor Ritter’s signature.

The bill was in response to another in situ uranium mining project in Weld County where local residents worried about contamination of their aquifer. The process uses chemicals to free up uranium and other minerals in an aquifer, pumps the slurry to the surface where the uranium is separated for processing, and re-injects the left over slurry. The bill requires mining companies to restore water to previous conditions or State standards.

One sponsor said, “If companies … are true to their word that they can do this without affecting groundwater, they should have no difficulty with this bill.”

San Luis Valley news

The costs incurred for the salmonella outbreak in Alamosa are starting to come in. Hector Chavez, finance director for the city, is expecting an overall bill of around $600,000. The Alamosa County Road and Bridge Department spent $45,000 for labor and fuel after lending part of their fleet to help with the crisis. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is looking at a bill of over $300,000. So far the Colorado Division of Emergency Management work bill has totaled $215,000, and the county nursing service’s tab is $34,000.

The Colorado Health Foundation awarded $50,000 to the county and an equal amount to the CDPHE for their response.

Costs associated with forming groundwater sub-districts in the San Luis Valley are also in the news. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District board reports that the first sub-district costs are running between $275,000 and $300,000 and the work is not yet complete. The district is tracking total cost for each sub-district individually so that the sub-districts can pay them back once they’re up and running and generating revenue.

Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel

So what’s the current status of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel?

As we go to press U.S. Representatives Udall and Lamborn are still pushing legislation to tag Reclamation with permanent responsibility for draining the mine pool. Lamborn surprised many in May when he said, “I don’t see how the Bureau can claim it has title to the mine tunnel but not take responsibility for clearing the blockage.”

Senator Salazar’s bill, which also directs Reclamation to participate in the long-term remedy for the LDMT, received a hearing in May in the Sub-committee on Water and Power. There, Reclamation Commissioner Robert Johnson testified against it, saying that action is premature until Reclamation finishes their risk assessment.

Thus far, no one has advocated clearing the blockage in the LMDT.

Colorado is also ponying up $325,000 [HB 08-1396] to study what contributions, if any, the Canterbury Tunnel is making to the rising mine pool ($25,000 is for the Colorado Attorney General’s office to investigate legal issues and $300,000 goes to USGS for their technical evaluation).

According to Peter Soeth from Reclamation ownership of the Canterbury Tunnel is muddy. He told Colorado Central, “No one quite knows [who owns the tunnel], except we know that it is not Reclamation or EPA. The records show it was built by the community and the Parkville Water District has a water right for some of the water coming from the tunnel.”

Meanwhile, Colorado Ethics Watch is claiming that the Lake County Commissioners violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law in the days leading up to the disaster declaration. The Commissioners maintain that they did nothing wrong, but Ethics Watch is not convinced.

The EPA is currently waiting on the equipment needed to enlarge a monitoring well, but plans to start to start pumping water to the Reclamation treatment plan in June.

Short Takes

NestlĂ© is moving ahead with plans to truck Hagen Springs water to Denver for bottling. They’re hoping to start the operation in the first quarter of 2009.

Buena Vista outfitter Reed Dils was honored for his long-term service to conservation and water issues at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum in May. Development was also discussed at the forum, and State Engineer Dick Wolfe remarked, “In some parts of the state … they’re finding it’s more profitable to grow houses than to irrigate.”

Colorado Trout Unlimited is calling for a “flushing flow” of 12,000 cfs or so down the Gunnison this year since the snowpack is so healthy. They’re hoping to scour some sediment and improve the riparian health of the stream.

Happy 50th birthday to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the managers of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Denver Water has closed Antero Reservoir to boats pending a strategy to combat the spread of zebra mussels from Lake Pueblo.

In May, Fairplay Water and Sanitation started moving dirt for their new treatment plant.

John Orr follows water issues at Please send story ideas and links to jworr [AT] operamail [DOT] com.